This is the story of my struggle to become a runner…
During the spring semester of my freshman year in high school I joined the strength / powerlifting team and continued this sport all the way through high school and into my freshman year of college. In high school I was one of the top competitors in my weight class for all 4 years, and my senior year I won my weight class at the Show-Me State Games. As result, I developed and carry a lot of muscle mass on my 5 foot 1 inch body.
During my freshman year of college (spring of ’95) I ripped out the bottom half of the cartilage capsule in my right shoulder socket. I had laser surgery and many months of physical therapy. When I was recovered I never went back to weight lifting at the same level as before the injury.
Since then, or at least as long as I can remember, I had issues with my calves my adult life. I have never enjoyed running and can remember it being difficult even in grade school. However, I do not have a clear memory if this was related to my calves, but it could have been.
The issue with my calves were I could induce cramping while:
- sustained walking at a brisk pace
- walking on an incline (like up all the ramps at Busch Stadium)
- walking while carrying or pushing something heavy (like my niece in her stroller one time at The Zoo)
- doing jumping jacks, jumping rope, climbing flights of stairs
- running for more than a half mile
The cramping always occurred in the same place, the lateral compartments of both calves. However, the right was always worse than the left. The cramping event is basically the same thing as an erection, but it was in my calves. The outside of calves get very hard and very tight. I have joked I could hammer nails with them while they’re cramped. The muscle actually bulged out of my calf about 1 centimeter. It was very painful, and I would lose range of motion in my foot and the ability to walk. The only remedy was to sit down and wait for my calves to relax. After cramping the outside of my calves were sore and I could feel it for several days. I later learned that each cramping event was severely damaging the effected muscle tissue.
In 2008 I chose to start doing triathlons as way of having a healthy hobby. I figured to have the lifestyle of a triathlete is to live a healthy life at least 5 days a week. Plus I have friends that are cyclists and marathoners, and I wanted to be a part of that and I really liked the idea of being multi-disciplined. Because I knew my calves would be a problem (not to mention they were a quality of life issue too), in December 2008 I started once getting a full body stretching session and A.R.T. done on my calves. I also got myofascial integration massage every three weeks. I was told I was a pronator when I ran and I started practicing having better lower leg posture (This later turned out to be false. I am actually a neutral runner with a mid-foot strike). I also started stretching my calves about twice a day and was periodically using a foam roll. During all this I was training my three triathlon events twice a week.
It should be noted until then that I had never had my calves diagnosed by a doctor. I had mentioned the condition to my general practitioner, a orthopedist I saw for a different problem, and my chiropractor. In all cases the response was either “I’ve never heard of that” or “sounds like tendonitis”. I had also asked my runner friends and they’d never come across my symptoms. It became clear to me this condition was either rare or misunderstood or both.
Up until March 2009 my calves were still a periodic problem. There were days when I would run less than a mile or for less than 10 minutes and they would cramp up. There were other days when it felt like I could run forever, like I was Forrest Gump. One day I even ran 2.8 miles, which is the furthest I’ve ever run in my life! I was so happy! People had mentioned to me that hydration and nutrition may be a factor in the “randomness” of this cramping. That being properly hydrated before and during a run, and making sure I had just loaded up on potassium, sodium, protein, magnesium, and vitamin B had all been mentioned to me. It had been suggested drinking 8oz of Gatorade for every 20 minutes of running, even while running.
On April 5, 2009 I did a timed indoor triathlon (10 min swim, 30 min bike, 20 min run). My goal was to finish the event running, and I did it!
Eventually I began to notice how much all this was costing. In fact, from that December through April I had spent $1,700 on taking care of my calves. I quickly realized I could not continue doing this forever and decided to see a sports medicine doctor. He took my history, x-rays, and did an ultra-sound on my calves. He discovered I had tendonosis (and not tendonitis) in the tendons around my ankle. This was part of the damage done from all the cramping. He was concerned I had Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome. In July 2009 I tested positive for compartment syndrome in the lateral and deep posterior compartments. I actually set a record for his office for the blood pressure in one of my compartments!
I was concerned the recommendation from the results of the test is going to be surgery. I had read about the surgery and it sounded barbaric to me. However, the other option is therapy and I’d seen how costly that can be. I saw four orthopedists to find someone who preferably worked with athletes, was experienced at doing the surgery (since the condition is rare), and had a good recovery plan. In August 2009 I had surgery, a bilateral fasciotomy with all four compartments released.
In Nov 2009 I finished physical therapy and in Dec 2009 started training for the 2010 tri season. I did 3 tris in April/May/June 2010 and ended up getting shin splints. That was my first injury for just being a normal runner! Kinda cool after everything else! After I recovered from that and got back to training I did a biathlon and a 5k in October 2010.
Since then I have run over 440 miles, and all my aches, pains, and injuries in my legs have been typical stuff any runner would experience. I am just a normal runner now.
From surgery to runner…