Are you planning on running a marathon with Achilles Tendonitis?
Well I did just that and here is how it went. Plus how I cured it afterwards.
This was to be my first marathon after having said that I would never do one as it felt an impossible task for a 54 year old. However seeing my husband, Bill, do 2 marathons at the same age, it spurred me on to see if I really could do it.
I had attempted marathon training the year before but I had followed a program that although it said "for beginners", it was way too advanced for me and I ended up with IT Band syndrome so had to give up the training. I was gutted.
This time round, I got a coach off the internet to devise a program specifically for me taking into account my level, time available for training and what I wanted to achieve, which was basically to finish it in the best time possible.
Training went well until about week 10 (out of 19) and I started to get a slight niggle in my Achilles. I ignored it.
Roll on a few more weeks and the niggle turned into a stiff ankle first thing in the morning but I could still run so I carried on training. I just couldn't bear to miss a training run as I felt it would affect my marathon.
My Achilles bothered me for the first 5 minutes of each run but then it seemed to improve so I thought "Great, that's OK then".
I did start doing some sporadic heel stretches which I found online and I foam rolled my calves after each run which was a new pain experience and not for the faint hearted.
So basically I carried on training right through to marathon day as I was NOT going to abandon my training for a second time. Talk about stubborn and possibly stupid.
By the time marathon day came, I didn't care which parts of my body hurt as I was damn going to run that marathon.
I won't go into too much detail, but I did it!!
I loved the whole experience and being able to say I was a marathoner felt fantastic. I ran the whole way and finished in 4:12 which I was so chuffed with.
And my Achillees?
Yes it hurt but I had got so used to the grating pain with each step that I tried to ignore it. I got sore toes too half way through and that pain seemed to be worse than my Achilles Tendonitis and I was more worried about my toes nails peeling off. I ended up losing 2 toe nails.
My Achilles by this stage was feeling pretty trashed and we had to walk 30 minutes back to our hotel. I limped back trying not to stretch my ankle but I was on a high having that medal round my neck so I didn't care.
I then took 10 days off running to recover and then launched myself back into running. That was a big mistake.
By the end of my second run, my Achilles decided enough was enough. I could hardly walk, the rubbing, grating, scratching pain was there all the time and getting to the bathroom in the mornings took me ages.
With head hung low, I went to my doctor who sent me for an MRI scan. As the doctor uttered "no more running", I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.
Basically by ignoring my Achilles Tendonitis it had turned into Achilles Tendonosis. You can read about the differences here.
Being me, I headed straight to the internet and looked up every treatment going. I was really frustrated though as everyone seemed to respond differently to different treatments and what I was after was the QUICK CURE.
So with not being able to run I decided to pick treatments that I could do at home and work my way through them until one worked. In order, this is what I did and what I though of each one:
I read that alternating ice and heat encouraged blood flow to the Achilles. So twice a day I dipped my ankle in a bucket of iced water, left it there for 10 minutes and then dipped my ankle into a bucket of pretty hot water.
Result: It did nothing for my Achilles but give me red ankles!
I had tried KT taping for a previous injury and was skeptical but thought I'd give it a second chance.
Result: It did nothing for me.
I rolled everything I could from the waist down but boy did it hurt sometimes. There is no point rolling the actual Achilles as you will just inflame it more.
Result: Might have loosened up my leg muscles but my Achilles still felt sore.
Eccentric heel drops (Video here) seemed to be the standard protocol for Achilles tendonitis so I did these a couple of times a day making sure I did them on the floor rather a step as I had INSERTIONAL Achilles tendonosis.
Result: They definitely helped with the stiffness but you have to be diligent about doing them over a couple of months. I think if I had done these when I was at the tendonitis stage rather than the tendonosis stage, I might have rehabbed much quicker. I still carried on doing them though.
I invested in a Strassburg sock and wore it every night. The sock basically holds your foot in a slight dorsiflexion (toes towards your shin) and keeps your Achilles slightly stretched.
Result: Wow what a difference first thing in the morning. I could get out of bed and walk, not limp, to the bathroom. This gave me hope.
I was not being very diligent with my eccentric heel drops so thought I'd try an alternative. I bought a double foot rocker stretcher so I could do both ankles at the same time. I put it in the bathroom and did the stretches every time I brushed my teeth.
Result: I liked this a lot and my Achilles definitely felt more relaxed afterwards.
I'm a great believer in acupuncture and it has worked brilliantly for me when I had a stiff neck. I had 4 sessions along with massaging in essential oils.
Result: I was so disappointed but it didn't work for me. Gutted.
After having exhausted my home treatments, I decided I needed help.
My local physio recommended electric shock wave therapy (ESWT) treatment and not knowing what to expect I agreed. I thought it was a kind of manipulative massage. How wrong I was. ESWT was pure torture. It only lasted about 3 minutes each session but I can only describe it as someone placing a pneumatic drill against your sore Achilles and pressing it whilst you swear, curse and shout. The idea behind it is that it re-traumatises the area forcing new blood to flow there which in turn helps the healing process.
Result: I had 10 sessions of torture over 4 weeks and I hate to admit it but it did help. Each session was a tiny bit less painful and by the last treatment I could feel that I was on the mend.
This was not a planned treatment but I'm going to include it here. My club had organised a day out by a lake. To get there we had a steep rocky climb up and down. The walk up took a couple of hours and there was a lot of leg stretching and foot twisting. I was hesitant to say the least.
Result: I felt brilliant at the end. My Achilles felt great and I felt great. I think the stretching of my ankles had an effect rather like the eccentric heel drops or the foot rocker. This event was almost like the start of the healing process.
I was forced to take 2 months off running. NO running whatsoever. During that time I did all of the above treatments.
After 2 months, I started doing short gentle jogs (10 minutes max) and gradually built up the time and distance.
After a month of gentle jogging I felt I was able to resume running with my club. My Achilles still bothered me a bit but I continued wearing the Strassburg sock at night and continued using the foot rocker.
You know it is difficult to say exactly as I tried so many treatments. I don't think there was one specific treatment but rather that several helped and complimented each other.
My top treatments would be:
Us runners are really bad at being patient but I think a few days off in the early stages could have prevented my 2 months of misery.
The other important thing for me was to work out why I got Achilles tendonitis in the first place. I worked out it was due to new trainers which had a much lower heel drop than what I was previously used to. I basically put them on and did all my training in them without letting my feet get used to them gradually.
I still get twinges in my Achilles and I know when I have over done the training. If my Achilles feels sensitive then I take a day off or do a VERY easy short run. I don't think I will ever be fully over it but I now know that I can control it.
I've also totally changed my view on training.
I've ditched the gut wrenching intervals and totally exhausting long tempo runs which basically just ran me into the ground and got me injured. Instead I am doing low heart rate training. I've been doing this for 8 months now and I have been TOTALLY injury free.
If you're reading this and thinking it was all my own fault, you are right. If I had been more clued up about Achilles issues in the early days then I would never have let it get that far.
So if you are planning on running a marathon with Achilles tendonitis, if you can, listen to your body and not to your ego. Yes I did eventually get to run my first marathon but having to take the whole racing season off afterwards was quite a big price to pay. But I can say I am a marathoner :).