Are you there, God? It's me, Jamie, and my shin splints
January 24, 2011 5:15 PM   Subscribe

Special Snowflake Shin Splint question: Mild shin splits: should a newbie runner push through or rest for a 10K coming up in 9 weeks?

I'm training for my first 10k and have (foolishly) increased my distance too much, too quickly. I started 3 weeks ago running 1 mile, and now I'm at 4 miles 3-4 times per week, never running two days in a row.

My left inner ankle and calf hurt about a mile into the run, a sharp, boney-ache. It doesn't hurt at all when walking, even up or down stairs, and today I did 5 miles on the elliptical at full power and there was no pain. If I continue to stretch and warm up beforehand, and ice afterward, can I continue to run? I also got new shoes about 3 weeks ago, when I began kicking up my running distance and intensity.

Should I take a week or two without running and do compensatory/other calve strengtheners and then get back into running more slowly? I WANT to run!

Also, if it does get worse, and I need to see someone, who do I go see? I have insurance and don't need a referral for a specialist.

This is my first sports-related (potential) injury. I was running up to 5 miles two or three years ago, but slacked off since. I never had problems back then. For the record, I'm average weight/shape, female, and 26. This is my first 10K, 9 weeks away, and I really want to run it and do my best! But I don't want to injure myself. I appreciate data points large and small, success and horror stories of your shin splint experiences. Thanks, guys, for tolerating my snowflake sparkles.
posted by shortyJBot to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
I'm not a doctor and I don't have any kind of professional knowledge about exercise, anatomy, or physiology, but EVERY TIME I've continued to exercise through persistent pain (distinguishable from a twinge here and there that doesn't last through the remainder of the workout and simple muscle soreness) without then taking some time off or switching exercise, I've regretted it and made matters worse. This is everything from shin splints to a bad knee to sprained ankles.
posted by mchorn at 5:28 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Three week is way too soon to be at 12-16 mpw. Get on Couch to 10k ASAP!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:41 PM on January 24, 2011

It will get worse if you try to push through. Take some time off. If you have a 10k, 9 weeks away, and you're already at 4 miles a day, you'll be fine for race day if you take 2-3 weeks off.

Take some time off, ice your shins, and get a foam roller and use that diligently. You'll be back up to speed in no time.
posted by unexpected at 5:43 PM on January 24, 2011

Hey shortyJBot, congratulations, it's a great race, very flat. Are you running on pavement or on a treadmill? If you're hitting the pavement, you may be hitting it too hard, and a few more days of rest in between runs should really help. I think you're very well positioned if you're at four miles now. I'd suggest more off days in between runs, and if you want to hit it, go ahead and hit the low impact machine, like you did. Good luck!
posted by rainbaby at 6:19 PM on January 24, 2011

Nthing that you should take some time off. I starting getting shin splints 6 years ago, also while ramping up my mileage & intensity too quickly, and I kept running because I thought it was no big deal. Well the shin splints have become something of a chronic condition - I don't run much anymore, but when I do they come back quickly if I do too much too soon. So yes, take some time off - 9 weeks is plenty of time!
posted by feidr2 at 6:33 PM on January 24, 2011

Nthing taking some time off and icing your shins. You may have looked this up (& ianad &iaarunner), but it's my understanding that shin splints are muscles tearing away from your tibia. One good exercise to help those muscles out is to walk around on your heels.

I'm just getting back after shin splints put me out for over 3 months. Hang in there!!
posted by thewestinggame at 6:36 PM on January 24, 2011

To clarify, I assume pavement, which is harder. If you're having the splints working on a treadmill, absolutely dial it way back, and make sure you get some pavement runs in before the day of the race.
posted by rainbaby at 6:38 PM on January 24, 2011

R.I.C.E. = rest, ice, compression, elevation

Take a week off. A 10k is really not that far and 8 weeks is plenty of time to train for it. If you can run 4 miles at a time now, adding those two final miles will be nothing.

But if you don't rest you're going to do more damage in the long run and might not even be able to run the race at all.

Go see your GP. Ask him/her for a Rx anti-inflammatory. You could take 200mg OTC ibuprofen 4 times a day, or you can take one 800mg pill every morning. Also, if you are serious about running in the future, having this Rx handy will help you on days after long runs, like 10-15 miles.

And do some light stretches during your off week. Don't run again until the pain is gone.
posted by Brittanie at 6:56 PM on January 24, 2011


"My left inner ankle and calf hurt about a mile into the run, a sharp, boney-ache."

When this happens, stop running. If you MUST get the miles in, walk the rest of them. Otherwise, cut the run short and walk back to the start. At distances this short, you shouldn't be in sharp pain.
posted by Brittanie at 6:58 PM on January 24, 2011

Whenever I've had shin splints, it's always turned out to be shoe-related. Not every shoe works for every person. Try a different pair of shoes.
posted by ErikaB at 8:47 PM on January 24, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you so much, guys! I have just been running on the treadmill, so it's more cushiony. I am going to take at least a week off of running and change my shoes, just to make sure they aren't the culprit. I have been drawing the alphabet with my feet while sitting for strength, and I've been doing stretches. I hadn't heard of walking on my heels--thanks!

Rainbaby, thanks for the congrats! Thewestinggame, sorry splints put you out! You too, feidr2, mchorn, and --I'll take your advice and take some time off. Brittanie and ErikaB, I will use your advice! And I hadn't heard of couch 2 10K--lots of C25k, didn't realize there was a 10K version.

It's frustrating because all of me wants to run except my left calf!
posted by shortyJBot at 4:27 AM on January 25, 2011

Usual disclaimer: I am no scientician nor pro runner, just a hacky 5k 3-4x per week. Safest thing is clearly to sit on a couch and stuff yourself full of cheetos. What follows worked for me but may result in both your precious sparkly snowflake feet being amputated, etc. Long-time freeweight gym junkie, smashed an arm mountain-biking a few years back and started running while recovering to replace the workout high. Went too hard too soon, shin splints ouch.

Def take 5 days off the road, you won't lose much cardio and you'll recover leg strength (remember this and taper your training again pre-race: your legs will feel amazing race day). Yes on the icepack + foam roller. And don't jump straight back into full-distance road running. My own entirely witchdoctored self-diagnosis was that my quads / hamstrings hadn't yet caught up to the distances I was covering and when knackered on the last third of the run my form would break down, with me trying to push my bodyweight forward from my arms and launch from my feet and whatever else I had left rather than driving thru with the legs. Cardio was there; form and muscle strength weren't. Shin splints followed.

You left-footed by any chance? If so when tired you might be using your dominant side to drag the rest of you along behind it: sorta hopping with your bodyweight slamming down every second step and using your right for balance. Was an issue for me at 185lb, maybe not so much your size. I def favoured one leg. Try analysing your form when running: not constantly, just check in and out every half-mile or so. Are you planting harder or pushing off one side? Flick thru your breathing, your stride, your balance / weight distribution, whether your feet are tense or relaxed (always a giveaway for me, when I'm struggling my left foot gets tight), where they're planting relative to your body, etc. Better athletes than me will have a deeper understanding of all this, but part of the kick I get from running is briefly switching from zoned-out ipod mode to a dissociative awareness of how hard you're working, feeling your breathing and body in rhythm, and enjoying the hell out of punishing yourself. Then you zone out again.

Treadmills / ellipticals are good for cardio and pacing but don't punish bad habits or build strength the way road running does. The splints are a warning sign: don't push your luck, you're asking for stress fractures. I switched to shorter runs, loop 3k out, then intense stairclimbs (3x rep 125+ steps up steep hillside, running @ 2 stairs per stride), then fall over and breathe like a seal for a bit. About half the distance I'd been covering but the stairs sorted out my upper leg strength and forced better form without requiring the distance (and hence the risk of injury). Next run I'd switch to treadmill to focus on cardio / pacing, then grass running rather than pavement (with the stairs to finish). After a few weeks of alternating all this I'd try one mid-distance road run (4-5k) to see how I pulled up. When that worked, I eased back into longer runs keeping the alternate training: alt-rest-alt-rest-rest-street-rest pattern, gradually upping the length / frequency of the road work. If there's no stairs round your way maybe try your local college track and use the stands. I'm now running mostly road, but still hit the stairs a couple times a week and throw in a beach / sand run every fortnight for kicks.

Anyway, that's my heartbreaking story of staggering idiocy. And somehow it worked and I never got shin splints again *knocks on wood* Hurrah! [THE END]
posted by bookie at 4:56 AM on January 25, 2011

When I was training for a marathon a few years back, I had shin splint pain/problems. I went to a sports orthopedist and did some physical therapy. I was told that, since they ruled out a fracture with xrays, I wouldn't be doing any damage if I ran through the pain.

I continued to train, though it was painful. Ran the marathon, finished. No damage done.
posted by thatguyjeff at 7:10 AM on January 25, 2011

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