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On the run: If workouts are causing pain, don't forget to listen to your body

By: Tommy Manning Special to The Gazette
August 4, 2016 Updated: August 4, 2016 at 9:42 am
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Physical therapist Heather Linden works on the foot of an athlete in the Sports Medicine department at the Ted Stevens Sports Services Center at the U.S. Olympic Training Center(Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

My main training goal over winter and into spring was preparing to run the Boston Marathon.

For several months before the marathon, I experienced pain in my heel. I didn't think anything of it because something - knee, hip, ankle - always is bothering me.

At first I thought it was heel bone pain, but the more I ran the more I wondered if it was my Achilles tendon.

As one who normally has been very good at listening to my body, I ran through the pain each day not thinking I had an injury. I was not trying to be a tough guy; I just usually know the difference between pain and injury.

On April 18, I ran the Boston Marathon and the day proved a total disaster; I don't want to talk about it. What followed, though, was enlightening.

Weeks after the marathon, I remained so sore that I realized something major was wrong. So I scheduled an appointment with a physical therapist who had been recommended by several runner friends.

Melissa Bryant at Select PT in downtown Colorado Springs quickly diagnosed the problem: I had Achilles tendonitis, but it was because my right calf was super tight.

Instead of being a normal muscle, my calf was two huge knots - like two rolls of quarters under my skin - pulling on the Achilles tendon, which led to the lingering pain. And my left ankle had a full inch more range of motion than my right when Bryant compared them.

The calf issue also caused my biomechanics to change while running, which led to the worst marathon of my career. Bryant said it would be a quick fix; unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.

I only ran four times in the six weeks after the marathon. But now I'm running almost pain-free, continuing physical therapy and working on regaining fitness.

I tell you this to remind you to listen to your body. Too many runners don't take the time to do this or don't take the proper steps needed to avoid injury.

There's a difference between nagging pain and injury. I'm not one to go running to the doctor every time I have a little pain. But if the pain persists for a few weeks, maybe it should be of concern. Going to see a specialist at that point is a good idea.

If you do have an injury, you need to take time off to heal properly. Too many runners only take a few days off when they need much more time to repair. These runners never truly heal, do not return to their previous running form or ability, and are prone to aggravating that injury.

Taking time to heal and doing strength exercises or physical therapy - whichever is needed - is key to returning healthy.

Then once you start running again, coming back cautiously is another key to avoiding reinjury.

Being patient early on will save weeks of running you might miss if you happen to reinjure yourself later.

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Manning is a former member of the U.S. Mountain Running Team and a math teacher at Fountain Valley School. Read his columns on the first Thursday of each month in Out There.

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