That’s what I would’ve said at a heart beat before this year. But the last four months have been my first real introduction to Achilles injuries, after I painfully strained my left heel running around a corner back in January.
The comeback from this injury has been slow. Running every second day. Increasing my daily mileage by 1 or 2 minutes per day (or week!). And if the niggles flared up, I’d drop back again. Two steps forward, one step back. Any runner will know what I mean.
Aside from the many stretching, strengthening and loosening activities I’m doing to help my Achilles (and surrounds), one thing I’ve found particularly helpful lately has been walking. And not just any walking, SPEED walking. This sort of walking.
As much as it humbles me to declare on the world wide web this new hobby of mine, it’s actually been a Godsend for my running. Here’s why:
My Achilles pain occurs for the first few minutes of my run and then disappears entirely before coming back at the end of the run, which signals that it’s time to stop. This stopping point was about 20mins; it’s now at about 50mins or more. And the pain also comes on when I run up a hill (of which there are many in central Auckland).
The reading I have done on the topic and my physios (yes, I’ve been through a couple) have all assured me that keeping movement, meaning blood flow, is important for the healing of my Achilles. Meaning that it’s good to keep up the running, so long as the pain was only mild. Good news. But at the height of my injury this meant very little running time (i.e. 20mins every second day). This is where speed walking has came in.
I’ve never tried speed walking before, except as a joke, but the other week I gave it a whirl. Walking as fast as I could, I managed to keep up with others running at 5min/km pace. This actually got my heart rate right up and also felt great on my Achilles (no pain at all because of the reduction of vertical impact and the power needed at push off in running).
Since then, I’ve taken a run/walk approach to many of my runs (10mins run then 2mins walk) and particularly when going uphill. Interestingly, I find the walking sections actually more demanding aerobically—I try to really push it here. So this means that not only am I giving my Achilles a break, but I’m extending the amount of time I’m able to be in an aerobic state—meaning my fitness levels are better maintained during this injury phase.
For example, with a 2min walk every 10mins, I’m suddenly able to turn 50mins of aerobic running into a 60-minute session in the aerobic range (with the odd additional spike in intensity). I could potentially extend these walking sections even longer to have say a 50/30 minute ratio of running to walking, which would be almost equivalent to the effort of a Sunday long run.
Of course, there’s no replacement for actual running, but while the body gets back to healthy the walking is helping me get out the door and stay fit … even if my pride is taking a little hit.