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The dumb triathletes guide to a calf injury

Well thankfully the tittle hasn't put you off reading this article.

There is a lot of research and science around injuries to endurance athletes and triathletes. Just ask your training buddies – they will be sure to tell you all about their last injury in great detail. No doubt they will also give you a recommendation to the best ever [insert physio/chiro/acupuncturist/osteo/herbalist/myotherapist].

Before forking out your hard earned or trying to wade through the google results for “pain in my calf after running” try ticking off this simple eight step checklist (of course if pain persists consult your medical practitioner immediately):

1. Stop running AND cycling.

Note the capitals, bold and underline of the word ‘and’. Most athletes and their physios do not understand the strain on the calf during cycling. You can see in the graphic the blue and purple calf is used throughout the entire pedal stroke. It is assumed because there is no impact in cycling, it is fine to continue cycling. So, being a true triathlete they replace their runs with yet more bike and the problem never goes away (it may relax a little fooling you its fixed), then becomes chronic, then the specialists get involved and surgery is next step.

Do yourself a huge favour and just take a minimum of three whole days and nights off running and cycling.

2. Schedule more strength and mobility sessions

Either at home if you know what you are doing or with a PT (if they know endurance sport) or in a group class like these fabulous strength and mobility small classes. The calves are the workhorse muscles. With every step of your run they store the energy and spring back with every foot lift. They respond well to strength training and can be trained every day if done correctly.

Caution: A few friends have read this article and immediately asked me "how can I strength train my calf when I can barely walk to the couch"? Please note the very first sentence of the above paragraph - "...if you know what you are doing". My recommendation is to splash the $25 for a small class or the $120 for a quality PT and get your strength work right the first time. Everyone loves the at home, in front of the TV, after the kids are in bed solution. You know yourself, if it actually gets done the quality wont be there.

With a calf injury now is not the time for shortcuts or convenience training solutions.

3. Love your feet

Your feet cop a beating in endurance sport. Find a podiatrist that doesn't suggest orthotics on your first visit and then book in an annual check over. After that you can buy a foot grinder thingy and keep your feet nice and banyan free.

The foot and ankle contain:

  • 26 bones (One-quarter of the bones in the human body are in the feet.);

  • 33 joints;

  • more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments; and

  • a network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue.

These components work together to provide the body with support, balance, and mobility. A structural flaw or malfunction in any one part can result in the development of problems elsewhere in the body (such as calf or back pain).

The next best thing you can do for your feet (and thus body) is simply stand on a golf ball and roll it around the soul of your foot until you hit a sore spot, then really work that spot. Keep doing this on both feet every day. I keep a golf ball under my desk at work.

For simplicity sake I have bundled the foot together but both the above actions and looking after your feet should be undervalued at your own peril.

4. Get a massage

With calf pain like most other overuse injuries the location of the pain is not usually the root cause. A whole body massage is required to relieve the knots and tight spots all over your body. Tight shoulders can cause problems all over the body. Folks that have not been cycling for over five years will often get tight shoulders from cycling, then go for a run, get a sore calf and presume the run was the culprit.

Schedule your next visit for next week while you are there. It is important to really get on top of these problems quickly and rarely will one session be enough.

5. If your shoes are six months old or logged over 600km just get new shoes

If your current shoes were not your normal shoes go back to your old brand. Avoid being sold the extra this or the less that and just buy a good brand of normal running shoe that fits your foot width (length is obvious), width can be tricky.

Even if your shoes are not that old, it is worth getting a new pair of shoes and rotate them during the week. I will have a few pair of shoes on the go at all times - new shoes that aren’t ready for a long run yet, old faithfuls for my long run, lighter flatter shoes for my grass running and maybe a pair of experimental shoes.

6. Self-massage, rolling, myofascial release & Normatec

Get to work on these key body maintenance regimes. Sit in front of the TV and roll your calf around on a netball or similar with the other leg weighing it down. Get a cricket ball, lie on your side and release your TFL (watch this Youtube vid).

If all that seems a little too difficult book yourself in for a session in these awesome Normatec boots and watch your favourite Netflix drama.

7. Stop running & cycling

If you have started training again and the pain comes back start this process again from the top. This time however you need to stop for 7 whole days.

Do your strength work, use the golf ball, get the second massage, come back to this article and do it all again but this time properly.

8. The planned comeback

This time when you restart your training, start with the run only (yes I realise this is possibly different to what you have been told by an expensive physio or specialists). Run easy for 10-20 minutes on grass and feel free to walk a little every now and then. If your 10k PB is between 40 and 50 minutes then your easy pace should be 6-6.20 min/k or slower.

Have the next day off and try a little self-massage to feel how the legs and calf feels. If ok, try another easy grass run for 15-25mins. If you feel ok the next day run again on grass for 20-30minutes. After these two runs have another day off and focus on step 6 above.

Now it is time to run for three days in a row. Follow a similar approach of easy pace running, mixing in both grass and hard surface running.

Before each run do a little 10-15minutes of calf, glute and hamstring strength to activate these muscles. After these three runs rest again for a day and then try four straight days of easy running following the same process. Remember that increasing the pace is not necessary and will only damage your chances of success. Getting your speed back in a few months is easy – as long as you can run.

If you feel your running is back after the four straight run days it is time to bring back the cycling. Follow the same easy bike sessions while you are introducing the bike. To help control yourself book your indoor cycle class here.

Follow these eight steps you will be running and riding like a champion in a month or two. If the pain is hanging around then step 9 is to visit your GP and/or physio/specialist.

If you have any questions please email me at

#trailrunning #run #Injuryproof #Injuryprevention #coaching #strengthforendurance #strength #triathlontraining #endurance #strengthandconditioning #Tritraining #running

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