As previously posted, Achilles tendonitis can be a difficult injury to overcome. Just about every type of running that gets you faster is ill-advised for Achilles tendonitis sufferers. So, what exactly can you do to optimize conditioning and race up to your standards or even set PRs again? Don’t give up, you can get fast again. Here are eight pointers on getting fast once more.
One: The number one point is that you have to gain consistency in your training. Without that, you will never improve regardless of your approach, workouts or drills. That requires that you listen to your body and know when to say when. If you do not learn this critical lesson, you’ll be back here wondering what went wrong.
Two: As you design your workouts, gradual (more gradual than non-tendonitis sufferers) incremental increases in your quality workout are critical. But, just because it is written in your training plan, that doesn’t mean you do it! If your Achilles is tight, sore, stiff – then you need to listen and back off. Reduce or eliminate that session or substitute another workout.
Three: Introduce one-legged and balance exercises to your routine. Do these 2-3 times a week (it can be more if you like and if you can tolerate it). Get good at these and always practice perfect form. Do not get lazy. You are retraining muscles. If you retrain them improperly you will be injured once again – either from not rehabing correctly or from injuring yourself through poor body mechanics.
Four: Do not make any sudden pace changes. All speed variations should be gradual. Do shorter repeats and allow pace variances due to gradual increases to pace. For instance, you may start with 100s or even 200s; then move to 300s and then to 400s. Just because you used to do 400s as your staple quality repeat, you shouldn’t do that now. Also, your target pace may be 1:45 per 400 however since you want to avoid jumping into that pace from a standing start, you may actually run 1:48 or 1:50. Until you get very comfortable (as far as your Achilles is concerned) with these efforts only then try longer repeats.
Five: Downhill work can be used to improve leg-turnover by running down hills fast. Fast downhill running reduces strain on the Achilles tendon because gravity reduces the amount of push-off or thrust from your calf muscles. By the way, this will simultaneously work your quads and get you ready for any downhill marathoning like St. George or Tucson. This is very good neuro-muscular training for getting faster.
Six: Running uphill and doing hill repeats is great for developing power and speed. Venture into hills only after getting very good at all exercises, downhill running and some progressively faster interval workouts. First try very controlled uphill efforts by running stadium stairs at your local college or high school stadium. Instead of pushing off from your forefoot by using your calf muscles (and thereby increasing stress on your Achilles tendon) drive your knee forward to lift your body. Use your quads in lifting your body to the next stride. And of course, stop at any moment you feel negative sensations in your Achilles. Even if this is in the middle of a stadium repeat… stop! Get out of the mindset of having to “complete” a repeat or “complete” a workout. It’ll be your fastest route to re-injury.
Seven: Plyometrics definitely improve power output and therefore speed. Unless you have steadily and consistently improved with all the previous types of workouts and without incident I have to advise not to do these. Perhaps at some future date. These may be reserved for the longer term re-introduction to training.
Eight: Once you have successfully been able to re-introduce quality workouts into your running program do not let them go. A primary instigator of tendonitis flare-up is changes in training routines. Keep quality training in your program year round. This is not only better for your Achilles it is also what research now supports in training. The old “build a base with miles first” approach is antiquated and harmful to Achilles tendonitis sufferers.