How much calf-pain should a new jogger expect?
March 14, 2011 5:27 PM   Subscribe

Is this calf pain normal for a new jogger?

Short: I started jogging about 3-4 weeks ago, starting very slowly with a long schedule to eventually be actually jogging nonstop for 30 minutes. Recently my calves have started to ache, and it hasn't gone away after 2 days of rest. Is this normal?

Longer version:
At age 40 I've never done any regular exercise apart from long walks. I can't remember which website it was (it wasn't Couch to 5k) but I decided to go with one that suggested doing 30 minutes for 2 weeks, 1 minute of jogging per 6 minutes walking. Then 2 weeks of jogging per 5 minutes walking (for 30 minutes). Then 2 weeks with 3 minutes of jogging and 4 minutes walking (for 30 minutes), and so on.

That was three weeks ago, and I think everything is fine. That is, the first week was rough but the second 2 just left me feeling tired but energized afterwards, a little tired and achey in a way that went away quickly.

Until Thursday when my calves ached and throbbed until the next day. On Friday I did the 30 minutes of jog-2/walk-5 anyway, thinking it was probably normal and would go away. It's Monday night and they are still throbbing, tense, and sore. Not enough to keep me off my feet or reach for some kind of pill, but rest and hot baths didn't make it go away.

I'm pretty sure I'm doing this correctly (starting slow and building slow, not landing on my heels, gliding smoothly forward and not getting so winded that I can't converse, etc). Obviously visiting a running shop for some 1-on-1 guidance can't hurt. But is this sort of all-day-lingering-calf pain something normal that I should just push through or is this something that means I need to stop NOW, rest until it's all gone, and not start again w/o proper guidance?
posted by Martin E. to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What kind of running shoes are you wearing (meaning did you get them at a real running store, with advice from someone who watched your gait, looked at you stand, looked at the pattern in which your walking shoes are worn out, etc).

Do you stretch after (kind of controversial - some people say static stretching is useless, some people say they need it)?

Some soreness can definitely be "pushed through," but some injuries will need rest. Throbbing and tense sounds not like run of the mill soreness but like you need better shoes, warm up/cool down (it sounds like you aren't pushing too hard) or stretching (calf raises, walking lunges).
posted by Pax at 5:36 PM on March 14, 2011

What surface are you running on? Asphalt, trails, or concrete? If it's the latter you might want to stop - concrete is notoriously hard on your body.

Is it pain or is it an ache? I've been running regularly for years and I still get aching legs every now and then (and not for any obvious reason either). Pain is bad, but aching legs are just something I have to push through.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:40 PM on March 14, 2011

I had something similar and I run regularily, and I'm close to your age.
It turned out that I was low in potasium.
I guess I sweat it out more than most people.

Bananas were recomended but I got the best results from taking a suppliment.
The results were within 24 hours.
Now I take a small amount most days of the week.
posted by Ignorance at 5:43 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you do any calf stretches? I had no trouble with my calves until last year, when they started cramping up something awful during my runs -- foolishly I kept trying to run and ended up straining my right calf and had to take a month off. When I got back to running, I looked up a bunch of different calf stretches, figured out which ones worked on the parts of my calves that were tight, and now I do those religiously before starting a run. I do one set in my house before I go out, then I walk about a quarter mile, do another set of the calf stretches, and start running.

To second Pax, it's probably worth looking into getting fitted for shoes at a running store. The worst pain I've ever had running was after I attempted to run in an old pair of sneakers I had lying around that apparently were not suitable for my gait!

Also, it's not entirely clear from your post, but are you trying to run every day? It might be worth backing off to only include the running part three times a week so your legs have a chance to recover in between. You're building new muscle, but you also need to strengthen tendons and ligaments in your legs, and those things get strong a lot more slowly than muscle does, and it takes longer for your body to fix any tiny injuries you sustain to them as you settle into the new exercise.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:46 PM on March 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for replies so far. I usually warm up with a few minutes walking and a bit of calf stretching and cool down with a little walking (unless I end up at my front door) and stretching while soaking in a hot bath. Running on asphalt--no grass options around here. No 1-on-1 professional fitting/guidance yet (that was to be my reward after 4 weeks to prove the new habit would stick and after I got past running-for-the-bus distances) but the wet footprint test says my feet are normal, the beginner's shoes I have fit comfortably with lots of cushioning, my feet and ankles are fine. Everything seems fine except the calves which are tense and sore, and they're not so bad except it doesn't go away. Doing this M-F and resting Sat/Sun.

I was hoping for some sort of simple answer like "If you don't feel like you need ibuprofen then you're probably ok" or "If it continues after 5 consecutive days of no jogging, it need serious attention."
posted by Martin E. at 6:32 PM on March 14, 2011

I'm in your general demographic. I had persistent (though not crippling) calf pain for the first few weeks after I switched to barefoot-style running (not-landing-on-heels like you describe). I took a short break, then resumed with shorter runs, increasing distance in tiny increments. It took a while to build up distance but my calves feel a lot stronger now. I run slow like a grannie but barefooting has really helped my knees and ankles a lot.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:34 PM on March 14, 2011

Doing this M-F and resting Sat/Sun

Change up your routine: at this beginning stage take a day off between runs, give those muscles some time to repair. What you're describing - at this stage - doesn't sound serious and not entirely unexpected given your experience level. It should get better. If it gets worse, see a physio or podiatrist.
posted by smoke at 6:37 PM on March 14, 2011

Yeah, 5 days a week is a lot. You're just not getting enough recovery time. Go down to three days a week - maybe even 2 for a week or two until your calves recover a bit. It will be more productive in the long run, I promise! I've known far too many people who knock themselves out of running by doing too much volume early on - you really don't want to be one of them.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:05 PM on March 14, 2011

IAAPT (I Am A Personal Trainer) and USATF Certified coach who specializes in distance running and train people most days, but I am not YOUR coach and without meeting with you in person all I can do is speculate.

That being said, the two previous comments are good advice; it sounds to me like you're ramping up too fast, and you're not taking enough rest days.

Try taking it down to runs on MWF with TTHUSS off, and if that doesn't help try just running TTH.

I'd also really encourage you to get fitted for shoes as soon as you can; the right shoes can make a world of difference and the wrong ones could end up injuring you.

If reducing the volume (the amount you run) doesn't help within a week then I'd suggest seeing a doctor.
posted by dolface at 7:17 PM on March 14, 2011

As anecdata on "get fitted for the right shoes", I grew up buying el cheapo or whatever looked good in dept stores. I recently got fitted for running shoes and spent 1-2 hours because I'm right on the cusp and they wanted to observe a bunch of different shoes to find the one that was best for me (Thanks, Running Etc!).

It has made a WORLD of difference. I tried them outside the store and turned to my husband and went "omg, this is what running is really like!?" They're like magic.

When in the store my husband said to "keep trying them on until you have an ~aahhhhh~ moment where the angels come out and sing and it feels you aren't wearing shoes," I didn't believe him. Now I do.

FWIW, I had the same moment with my Vibram FiveFinger TrekSports, which I use for very different styles of running than my running shoes (trail/cutting/sport vs. pavement/straight).
posted by bookdragoness at 7:30 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The warm-down is much more important than the warm-up. I don't normally bother with a warm-up at all - I don't run particularly quickly and it sounds like you don't either! But the warm-down - just an extra little walk at the end when you finish until your breathing returns to normal is a must-do - during the warm-down your body is flushing out the lactic acid out of your muscles. Just stopping dead is not a good idea because the lactic acid will pool, turn into nasty stuff, and you will be very achey the next day and possibly a couple of days later. This sounds like what's happening to you.

And another vote for 'get some proper shoes'. When I first started running, I just used an old pair of trainers I had lying around. A month in and I had shin-splints! After finally going to a proper running shop (the kind of shop where they make you run on a treadmill for 5 minutes before selling you some shoes, not a stupid fashion trainer place), I had a decent pair of shoes to run in and these days I'm absolutely fine. If you invest in one thing to help running, make it shoes - they should be very flexible, almost if not completely flat, and should fit your feet very well. If you step into a pair of trainers and they are not immediately comfortable, find another pair.

Keep going - because you're coming in to this fresh from a sedentary lifestyle, you will get injured - sorry, but this is just what will happen - accept it, curse a little, get better, and then get out there again - soon you'll be running 5 miles :-)
posted by BigCalm at 2:27 AM on March 15, 2011

People who are new to running "not on their heels" often have a tendency to run on their toes - which makes their cavles incredibly sore. And no, pushing through the pain is not the answer. If you think that might be the problem, you could try making sure you're not running on your toes, aiming for a ball of the foot or mid-foot strike and actually letting the heel land (after the initial strike) and see if that fixes you up.
posted by zanni at 3:34 AM on March 15, 2011

Lots of good ideas here -

Ignorance's eat bananas (or drink coconut water or eat quince) to increase your potassium is known to help a lot with exercise induced cramping.

Nth go to a running shoe store - get fitted and have someone watch you run, run around the store to test the shoe, and know that running shoes have limited lifespan if you start to feel the cramping again.

And to expand on the too much running without enough down time theme - your muscles do not work as well and often become imbalanced and more painful if you only exercise in one way all the time. So, some sort of cross training can be helpful on your off days (this could biking or swimming or yoga or dance or if you insist on only running: run less often and include running backward, running with long strides, running with high knees/marching, etc).
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 11:22 AM on March 15, 2011

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