What to do about a muscle strain 1 wk before my 1st 1/2 marathon?
May 24, 2013 7:30 AM   Subscribe

YANMD, but you may be a runner. I am trying to figure out what to do about a muscle strain/tear in my upper calf, other than the usual icing/NSAID/rest regimen. Race day is 9 days away, and I have taken the past week off any exercise, but am still experiencing pain when walking. Should I run at all the next week, or continue resting and wing it on race day? Are there any specific stretches/massages that might help me recover faster?

FYI, I have been training since early winter. My longest runs were 10 miles (2 runs, one about 2 weeks ago) and a few 9 milers as well. I am hoping not to back out of the race if at all possible. Also, the pain lets up when I am actually running-it seems to hurt more when I stop and start up again.
posted by sparringnarwhal to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
That really sucks; I'm sorry. How much better do you feel after a week of resting? Can you do any other sorts of exercise? How'd you get the injury?

I would be tempted to take the next few days off and then run on Wednesday to see how you feel - not a huge run, maybe three or four miles? You would be tapering this week anyway, so I wouldn't worry about this hugely affecting your time (it's your first half, anyway, so just running it is pretty great.) I've run halves after not running for a month, and I'm not a decent runner by any means.

If, after that Wednesday run, you feel okay on Thursday-Saturday, it might be okay to run the half. If you still have pain when walking, I think you should skip it. There will be other races to run, and turning a minor injury into a major one will do more to hurt your running career than skipping a race would.

While you're running, if it starts to hurt or you feel like anything's off, just stop.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:46 AM on May 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Maybe this is a dumb question, but have you seen a doctor? I think there’s a huge difference between a muscle strain and a tear, and if you have a tear, you shouldn’t be running at all until it’s healed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:01 AM on May 24, 2013

I'd find another half marathon to run in, one that's 8+ weeks away.

You can try the ice bucket etc therapy (find a 5-bal drywall bucket, fill w/ ice water, dip leg in/out to ice it), but really, take time off, don't stress it, ease back into running after a break and find a different race.
posted by k5.user at 8:20 AM on May 24, 2013

My personal guidelines which have served me well for nigh on 40 years on running, jogging, shuffling and now doing the "pre-geriatric shuffle"
1) If the pain progressively lessens/disappears during exercise (running) keep on running but do not increase intensity or duration
2) If the pain persists but does not increase/worsen while running reduce the intensity and duration by (at least) 10%
3) If the pain increases while running--walk or do an alternate exercise.

Guidelines but they seem to work for me. As roomthreeseventeen said--if it is a tear you will know it--if it is a strain (micro tear) it will probably get better or stay the same during exercise.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:20 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

for calf stretches i like to walk around on my toes or roll back on my heels and lean against a wall with toes pointed to the sky.

for injuries i see it like this - when put under the strain of training the body will always ache. it just depends on figuring out which aches are the ones you can run through, and which ones you can't. it takes time to learn which is which, but a sure sign that it's the latter is if you try to run through it and things get worse. i once pulled a hip flexor muscle before a half and not only had to not run the half but i had to give up running for three months. that's how long it took me to heal up, figure out how to stretch that area properly, and get back out there without re-injuring myself.

if you are really determined to keep going but you find yourself worrying about making things worse, see a physical therapist. they can determine if it's a runnable injury and give you more stretches (for other muscles linked to the calf that you may not realize are causing it to be strained) and proper advice than the internet can provide.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 9:13 AM on May 24, 2013

I can't speak to whether you should run the race or not, but I certainly understand the frustration of having trained for, paid for, and anticipated a race and then not feeling at top form for it.

If you do run it: give yourself permission to take it easy. The temptation on races is to go out at race pace; and if you're running at your limits you're far more likely to injure yourself or worsen an existing injury.

For me: I was stubborn and ran the Oakland Marathon on a leg which wasn't completely better from an injury a few weeks before. But I ran it an hour slower than my normal pace. I managed to avoid re-injuring myself; and I had a different, and fun, experience running at a slower pace with more time (and more attention) to enjoy the scenery.

Also, as punchtothehead mentioned: I gave myself permission to stop, or drop down to a walk, if I did feel it was hurting me.

OTOH, if you do decide not to run it: some race organizers will allow you to defer your entry to the next year's event if you are forced to withdraw from this year's.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:34 AM on May 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would put your chances of racing in the less than 50-50 bucket at this point. It is likely wisest to resign yourself to not racing. As it does not appear you know the full extent of the damage, the best rule to follow is: if it hurts, don’t stress it, because you will only be doing more damage.

The reason being is that with the pain you are describing, for this length of time, it is likely that you have a fairly substantial muscle tear that is going to take some time to heal. All strains are tears of some degree – grade 1 is minor, ~2 weeks to heal, grade 2 is torn 5%+, grade 3 is completely separated (requires surgery to repair).

Except grade 3, the best way for it to heal is in a relaxed position. If you work out on a torn muscle too soon, you risk tearing new muscle fibers and the buildup of scar tissue which results in non-useable muscle. 6 weeks is a good guess as to the low-end of healing time for a substantial tear. 6 weeks of R&R, that is.

I hope this is helpful, as I have quite a bit of experience injuring myself and doing the research. I had a similar injury playing soccer a few years back – I was begrudgingly out for 8 weeks.
posted by valentinepig at 12:30 PM on May 24, 2013

I didn't see you mention compression in your list - for me (calf strain 2 weeks before my 1st half marathon) ice + compression was a kind of miracle elixir I was stunned it took me 35 years to learn about. I'd try being totally dogmatic about the RICE formulation for a few days and make the call on the race then.
posted by range at 12:53 PM on May 24, 2013

I've used eccentric heel exercises to great effect. There are lots online; but I focus on raising fast/lowering slowly.

I'm currently in a similar position as you. I was going to run i a 10 mile race today, but strained my calf about ten days ago. The heel raises helped, and were it not for a (separate) hernia I'd be running today.

Of course, a doctor is a better source of info, but that's what has worked for me
posted by Gorgik at 4:06 AM on May 25, 2013

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