Healing Our Achilles Heels

Achilles Heel

What a year 2020 has been, huh? One curve ball after another has all of us learning the art of being flexible and accepting change. One of the changes I had to accept in the name of COVID safety measures was the cancellation of numerous running races I was scheduled to compete in. Though pretty small in the big picture, we endurance athletes still had to grieve the losses of those races.

For me personally, I made the decision to pretty much shut down any serious training over the summer in order to preserve precious energy and also spend time doing some other things. Normally, when I’m in full training mode, I’m logging 50-60 miles a week which includes a longer endurance run and a couple key workouts. During the months of July and August, I averaged 16 miles a week with no workouts. I was also sitting and snacking more which added a few extra pounds.

On September 7th (Labor Day) I decided to run a virtual 5k that my wife Shelley was taking part in. I wasn’t planning to run it all out but I still wanted to get the legs turning over faster than I had the previous couple months. Unfortunately, I broke a few of my own guidelines that I’m normally preaching to runners I coach.

First of all, I got very little warm-up before we started. Second, I decided to wear some racing flats I hadn’t been wearing the previous couple months. These mistakes combined with all the sitting and lack of training created a “perfect storm” that led to some nagging Achilles tendonitis in my right foot that I’m still rehabbing 7 weeks later.

In my 12 1/2 years of running, I had never dealt with an Achilles injury this severe. I’ve had other injuries through the years but nothing that lingered quite like this one. I’ve heard stories of others dealing with Achilles issues but never realized how much of a booger they can be! Thanks to my extreme persistence, tireless research, and much prayer for wisdom, I feel like I’m getting a little better each day. I was able to log 52 and 60 miles the past couple weeks and this week I’m headed toward another 60 miles with very little pain.

One thing I’ve learned is that injuries can be great teachers. There are so many lessons to be learned from the injuries we experience. They force us to slow down and evaluate our bodies on a deeper level. Like many, I’m guilty of sometimes taking my healthy days for granted. When we pick up an injury, we’re suddenly motivated to learn everything we can about that specific injury. We’re also dedicated to the necessary rehab it will take to overcome the injury and strengthen our weak areas.

As with many injuries, I’ve learned there are no “quick fixes” for my stubborn Achilles. Over the years, I’ve also learned there are no “get fit quickly” schemes.

Whether it’s wealth or fitness, it takes hard work to get results that last. Deep down, we all know this and yet we still try to find a magic pill or shortcut to help us achieve results without the necessary sweat equity. Wouldn’t it be great if we could gain fitness as fast as we lose it? How about losing those stubborn pounds as quickly as we gain them? In my experience, if something sounds too good to be true…it probably is. Nothing worth having comes overnight.

What is the “Achilles heel” you’re currently dealing with?

 

For those also dealing with a stubborn Achilles tendon, here’s a protocol that seemed to help speed my own healing process. Though I’m not a doctor, I am a “mad scientist” of sorts in terms of experimenting with various nutrition and training methods…

  • “Ice Dipping” – Fill a bucket with ice and water high enough for the Achilles to be submerged. Then “dip” your foot into the bucket for 30 seconds before taking it out for 10 minutes. Repeat this 8-10 times. I use the timer on my phone while getting cozy with a book or movie. This process allows blood to rush back into the foot/Achilles area similar to a cold/warm therapy. The Achilles tends to be more stubborn due to the poor blood flow in that area. This is a simple way to encourage more blood flow.
  • Graston Technique – My wife has been performing this technique on my Achilles/calf twice a week for 5-7 minutes and I have no doubt that it’s helped me enormously. We use coconut oil as the emollient and the handle of a butter knife as the tool. Again, the idea behind this is to encourage more blood flow to the injured area. Here’s a short video that demonstrates the technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hn8jPv2ofM
  • Stretching/Foam Rolling – Since the Achilles tendon attaches to both the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calf, it makes sense to stretch these muscles daily. Tight calves will lead to unnecessary strain on the Achilles. To stretch the gastroc, keep the leg you are stretching straight with your heel on the ground behind you. Hold this for 30 seconds before gradually increasing over time to 3 minutes. For the soleus, do the same thing except bend the knee while keeping that heel on the ground and leaning gently forward. Just get a nice easy stretch rather than forcing a harder stretch. As for the foam rolling, spend 1-2 minutes after your workout rolling each calf (inside, middle, outside) and feeling for any tight spots.
  • Continue Activity – Though I did back off on mileage right after my injury, I still did some light running mixed with cross-training like cycling and elliptical. You still want to encourage some blood flow with “active” recovery rather than just sitting around. Just listen to your body and add a little more over time.
  • PerfectAminoXP Nightly Load – Normally, I like to mix one scoop of PerfectAminoXP powder with water before bedtime for added recovery. But while trying to overcome an injury, I do two scoops in order to throw a little bit more at the injury. When we sleep, our bodies release natural growth hormones which allows our bodies to be even more receptive to putting additional amino acids to work. (Interested in trying PerfectAminoXP? Use code HITZ10 for a discount)

 

 

The Importance of Sleep for Runners

The Importance of Sleep for RunnersDo you have trouble sleeping? Find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night? Do you wake up in the middle of the night only to have difficulty falling back to sleep? There’s just no getting around the importance of sleep for runners.

Unfortunately, many people could answer yes to one or more of those questions. Millions of people would be considered chronically sleep deprived which means they’re never fully rested. It also means they’re less alert on the job or other routine tasks they try to perform throughout the day.

As runners, we simply can’t afford to be sleep deprived. Without a doubt, quality sleep for runners is the most important recovery tool we can utilize.. And when I say “quality” sleep for runners, I’m talking about the deep REM (rapid eye movement) sleep that helps facilitate the recovery we need from all the mileage we demand from our bodies. As we enter into deep REM sleep, blood flow to the brain decreases and shifts toward muscles, giving both our minds and bodies time to rest & recover. The more REM sleep I get, the more refreshed I feel and ready for peak performance during the day. I notice a real difference in those first few steps out of bed after a great night of sleep.

Most of us who follow sports have heard the initials HGH which stands for human growth hormone. Unfortunately, many professional athletes over the years have illegally received HGH injections in order to improve athletic performance. But as we get into a deeper sleep, our bodies actually release HGH naturally. This natural hormone is released by the pituitary gland into the bloodstream which then helps rebuild damaged tissue and strengthens muscles.

When we’re in a chronic state of sleep deprivation, HGH production decreases and our bodies simply cannot recover properly after our workouts. In fact, too little sleep will lead to an increase in cortisol production-another hormone associated with responses to stress. Too much cortisol will slow our recovery time. Our bodies have an amazing ability to adapt when given proper rest. For example, after a hard session of repeats or a race, the body will tend to release more HGH in that night’s sleep in order to aid in the recovery effort. I also find myself going into more extended deep sleep after I’ve done a harder long run.

A Few Tips to Improve Sleep for Runners

1.) Reduce caffeine consumption

I know, this one is tough for many of us who love our caffeinated drinks. I would encourage you to make it a rule to keep all caffeine consumption before noon. Enjoy that 1-2 cups of coffee in the morning and switch to caffeine free drinks like tea in the afternoon. It may take a few days or even a week to notice the difference but eventually your body will thank you in the form of sleep as you reduce and strategically time the intake of this stimulant.

2.) Don’t run within 2 hours of heading to bed

When we exercise, we increase our heart rate. A higher than normal heart rate will prevent us from falling asleep very quickly. Getting your run in the morning or early afternoon is ideal. This allows your body the time it needs to return to a normal heart rate, especially after a harder workout when the HR goes higher. I’ve noticed a decreased quality of sleep after I’ve chosen to run shortly before going to bed.

3.) Limit evening alcohol consumption

Many people, runners included, have the nightly habit of winding down with a glass of wine or a good craft beer. And initially it’s true that we become more relaxed. But we pay the price in the early hours of the morning when we should be enjoying some deep sleep. When we consume alcohol shortly before we go to bed (especially more than 1 drink), our livers have to process that alcohol which will increase heart rate. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night sweating after a heavier night of drinking? This is part of the body’s response to getting rid of the alcohol. It’s one of the reasons we toss and turn as we try to resume sleep. Simply put, consuming alcohol very late into the evening places more stress on the body and will affect sleep for runners. If you must have that pint of beer or glass of Merlot, finish it by 6pm to ensure a better night’s sleep.

4.) Natural sleeping aids

As someone who has typically had more difficulty falling asleep (unlike my wife), I’ve experimented with various natural sleeping aids. chamomile tea has been one of the ways I’ve enjoyed winding down before bedtime. Chamomile is a natural herb that people have been using for centuries to aid things like stomach relief and sleep. You’ll find several brands and varieties of chamomile tea in your local grocery stores.

Another natural sleep aid I’ve seen benefit from is a capsule called Power to Sleep PM by Irwin Naturals. This supplement contains things like magnesium and Valerian root which are well known for their calming effects on the body. I find that when I take the recommended dose of 2 capsules, I usually feel a tad groggy after waking in the morning. Taking 1 capsule seems to be just right, especially in conjunction with a cup of chamomile tea.

Perfect CalmFinally, a third supplement I’ve been taking  in the evening that can improve sleep for runners is a brand new product by BodyHealth called Perfect Calm. The key ingredient in Perfect Calm is magnesium. It’s an incredible relaxation-enhancing supplement that helps restore healthy magnesium levels, provides calcium-magnesium balance, and supports the body’s natural response to stress. I’ve been doing 1 scoop in 6-8 ounces of warm water about 30 minutes before heading to bed and I’ve been pleased with the relaxing effect. As a runner, this is the kind of supplement you can immediately begin seeing results from.

The Issue

While almost half of the U.S. population takes calcium-containing supplements, most of the products do not contain anti-stress magnesium, which is a problem because magnesium, calcium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D all depend on each other to properly function. Although an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium unless we’re subsisting on a diet mostly made up of dried seaweed and coriander leaf we’re not getting enough!

The Solution

Perfect Calm helps the body achieve calcium-magnesium balance. In addition to supporting the body’s healthy response to stress, magnesium supplementation can also benefit cardiovascular health, proper digestion and—along with calcium, vitamin K2, and vitamin D—bone health.

A 2015 systematic review of supplemental nutrients for tackling stress in women noted that low levels of magnesium negatively impact cognitive (brain) health and the ability to cope with stress effectively.

One serving of all-natural Perfect Calm provides nearly 90 percent of a full Recommended Daily Value for magnesium.

Ingredients

A highly absorbable blend of magnesium carbonate and citric acid—which, combined with water, creates magnesium citrate.

Perfect Calm comes in 8oz and 16oz sizes and in two delicious effervescent flavors – Tangerine and Berry Lemon.

Here’s a short video of Dr. David Minkoff, founder of BodyHealth, introducing Perfect Calm:

Here’s to some sweet dreams ahead and great sleep for runners!

How to Use a Foam Roller for Injury Prevention in Running

 

Foam roller - injury prevention in running

 

Roll Those Injuries Away!

It all started on a chilly evening in early December 2012.  A friend of mine asked me if I wanted to join him in a track workout where he was planning to do a 12 x 200 meter interval session with each repeat being 3-4 seconds faster than 5k race pace.  Thinking I could use the leg turnover, I happily responded, “Sure I’ll join you!”

We did less than a mile and a half of warm-up (should have done at least 2 miles) and then hit the dirt track at a local middle school.  The first 7 repeats felt pretty good but then I felt a slight twinge in my lower right hamstring on the eighth rep.  As I continued to push, it got worse so after 8 repeats, my workout was finished.

What was I thinking by doing 200 meter repeats in chilly weather without a proper warm-up?  Part of the reason I shortened my warm-up was to get started with the workout before we ran out of daylight.  I paid the price for that mistake.

For the next couple months, I continued to re-aggravate this injury anytime I would push the pace below 6:45 per mile pace.  It was frustrating to say the least.  I finally decided to visit a massage therapist that a friend of mine recommended.  Pam lived up to her reputation of making grown men cry as she worked on numerous stubborn areas, especially in my legs.  Pam said I was as stiff as anyone she had worked on.  As she put it, “It’s like you’re running on boards!”  That’s pretty stiff.

It was then that she asked me if I ever used a foam roller, to which I replied no.  She said it would be one of the best investments I could make, especially considering all the stiffness my body was carrying.

 

Why a Foam Roller Helps Runners

Over time, running can create overuse injuries and tight muscles.  If these aren’t addressed, it can create pain that prevents us from doing what we love which is putting one foot in front of the other on a daily basis.

A good foam roller can help iron out areas that have become tight.  We all have trouble areas where knots can develop.  By taking a foam roller and targeting these knots, we allow our muscles to have a more full range of motion.  Think of a knot in a rope.  When you remove the knot, you lengthen the rope.  For every knot you add to the rope, you shorten it.  You want your muscles to have their full range of motion when running, otherwise, those knots can progress to muscle strains or even muscle tears.

Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way by enduring a lower hamstring strain that lingered for over three months before I finally turned a corner.  For some people, their injury may occur in the calves.  Others may experience pain in their ITB (illiotibial band).  Regardless of where the pain crops up, tight muscles can lead to a chain reaction where various parts of the body carry too much load and finally give us a warning signal.  It’s when we continue to ignore these warnings that injuries occur.

Common areas to work on with a foam roller include…

  • Calves
  • Hamstrings
  • ITB
  • Quads
  • Gluteus muscles (aka “glutes”)

 

How to Use a Foam Roller

In the video below, running coach, CJ Hitz, will show you how to use his favorite foam roller to address the ITB, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.

 

 

My Favorite Foam Roller

best foam rollerIn my opinion, Trigger Point Performance Therapy makes the best quality foam roller on the market.  I happen to own “The Grid” version of their foam roller which offers even more targeted massage action with the grooves and grid pattern on the roller.  This matrix pattern also helps increase circulation.

Trigger Point also makes a “Grid Mini” which is the most travel friendly foam roller on the market and easily attaches to any gym bag, backpack, or can fit inside your suitcase.  On the bigger end of the spectrum, they also offer “The Grid 2.0” which is double the size of the standard Grid foam roller.

 

Conclusion

If you can get into the habit of rolling out those trouble areas once a day, or at least every other day, you’ll be on your way to nipping potential injuries in the bud before they rear their ugly heads.  Some runners prefer to use the foam roller immediately after a run.  I prefer to use it before going to bed along with a ten minute routine of exercises I do to end my day.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get rolling!

 

**If you’re looking for a powerful recovery aid for those intense workouts or races, look no further than PerfectAmino by BodyHealth. I’ve been using this quality Amino Acid supplement for the past couple years and I also recommend it to those I coach. Give it a try by using code HITZ10 for 10% off your order at BodyHealth.

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