Calf muscles or knees? The Week 4 / Week 1 loo... - Couch to 5K

Couch to 5K

111,369 members144,045 posts

Calf muscles or knees? The Week 4 / Week 1 loop...that was fun!


I really have been meaning to stick some thoughts down here as I asked a lot of questions of you guys when I started out and several of you were really helpful to me.

Now I’ve got to a point where I may have some stuff that may be helpful to others I thought it was time for a catch up.

So…. did my calf muscles ping off into the gutter? Did my kneecaps crumble into my running socks? ….read on if you dare.

When I started this Couch to 5k malarky back in July it wasn’t the first time I’d tried running. It’s something I’ve been trying to make happen for many years. But there’s been a problem that’s always got in my way.

My knees!

When I’ve tried to build up a decent running schedule before, I’ve got to being able to run for about twenty minutes each time before I got a sharp pain in one knee or the other. Not just a pain either, but a feeling like it was about to seize up!

I had to stop running and walk/limp home. This happened every time. Like the moment of doom I always knew was coming. I say ‘always’ but I didn’t keep going relentlessly. It hurt too much!

One time though, I did try to push through it and I ended up walking like Spotty Dog from the Woodentops. Now that’s quite a reference, I admit. Unless you’ve piled on a few years you will have no idea what I’m talking about but if you want a laugh, type it into You Tube and you’ll get the picture. My knees just stopped functioning as joints. Me climbing the stairs was something to behold! My family would grab a cup of tea and sit themselves down for the entertainment!

So time marches on and the gut expands and, as a result of a period of time with Frozen Shoulder I go through a period of little or no exercise. Not good. Time to invest in my body and get moving again. This time though, I needed I different system. So I do a little research.

Midfoot, Forefoot or Barefoot Running. Not all the same thing but stemming from a similar idea. There are so many opinions on this but in the last several weeks, for me, it’s become something of a religion.

Let me say that what I’ve written here is my opinion and I’m not a health professional. However I have conversed and consulted with many who are and that has obviously influenced me.

Here’s how I understand it. Midfoot, Forefoot, Barefoot running is running without the initial heel strike. It’s how we run naturally without socks and shoes. Without a squishy sole to take out some but not all of the shock. It’s what our skeleton has evolved to do. Allowing the middle or the ball of the foot to contact the ground before the heel. Imagine an Emu chasing its prey and you're getting there...

According to my osteopath, the heel strike was the problem for me. Mechanically it makes perfect sense. You’re travelling along at speed and you jab your heel into the ground. It sends a shock right through your bones. Through your knees to your hip. Up your spine etc. If you didn’t have shoes manufactured to shock-absorb your heels you wouldn’t dream of running that way. Having said that, many runners get on just fine with heel strike. But many also get shin splints, knee and hip problems, spinal injuries as a result of just that. So you can imagine, with my background, this is something I wanted to explore.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t without its teething troubles. Initially, in weeks 1 to 3, I tried a combination of styles. As I’ve said the knee pain didn’t start until I’d been running for 20 mins plus and these were just one and a half minute bursts so I reckoned I was safe. And I was….. from knee pain.

But, oh my goodness! My calf muscles were shouting at me!

I figured it’d take a while so I pushed on. Easing off to roll over from the heels when it felt too much. But that wasn’t enough.

It all really kicked off during the first run of Week 4,. I'd hardly got started after the five minute warm up and I felt like I’d been knifed in the right calf. Something was very wrong. I tried running again… Worse! I think I may have let out a few loud swear words at that point. Fortunately too early for school kids to be around to hear them. I turned round and limped home. Different pain. Same result. I admit I felt pretty bad. I had to make this work but my legs had found a new way to let me down.

I rested my muscles as I was advised. Elevation and ice (frozen peas) too. After a week of hobbling around, things improved and I tried Week 1 again, having decided that I would stay with heel strike for the moment and allow my calves to heal and strengthen. During that week I went out with my wife to walk the dog. I remember thinking, ‘Yes! I dodged a bullet there. Nothing major - just a sprain.’ We walked on. Down to the shingle beach where my wife, bless her, decided we would walk.

My calves started to whine at me. But I thought I’d keep quiet. after all she’d heard quite a lot of my whingeing over the last few weeks. Anyway, I was through all that. I was back on the rails and heading for my 5k Parkrun. ……. Dame Fortune had other ideas. The calf pain got much worse as I walked through the shingle. I said I’d go back to the pavement and head home and they followed me. It got worse walking home. In the end I was limping again but this time it was both legs.

I was out of action for another ten days but fortunately none of it was really serious. No tears or snaps. Just lots of pain and muscle scar tissue. I did buy a percussion massager off Amazon though. Just a cheapie. And it’s worked an absolute treat!

So after all that I tentatively started Week 1 again, gently easing from heel strike to midfoot/flatfoot (very odd feeling) and just little pushes at landing on my forefoot and immediately stabilising it with my heel. I could feel some stretching but I was taking it verrrry gently as I became more aware of what I was asking my calves to do that they’d never done before.

Easy does it!

After a very successful repeat of Week 1 I went back to restart the fated Week 4. It went well! Moans and groans from well exercised muscles but no sharp pains or injuries. Time to push on.

This Saturday I just completed Week 5 with the concluding run of twenty minutes straight! No problem. Heart and lungs giving me what I needed and legs doing the job that they’ve been newly retrained for.

I’m chuffed to bits to be back on the rails and getting my body back on track and for those of you who have completed the marathon of reading this far, I thank you. I needed to get this off my chest and in doing so, I hope I may have helped someone who’s going through something similar.

As a quick reference I can heartily recommend the excellent blog by Bretta Riches, .. her You Tube channel is excellent too.

I emailed her with my woes and she got back to me with help and reassurance I needed to make me have another go.

Also, I must thank and congratulate Laura. The C25k coach. She’s done a brilliant job! I know it’s just a recording but her tone of voice and those encouraging phrases make all the difference.

Bring on the 5k and the 10k and maybe even a half marathon. And the simple joy of being able to run places just because I can.

Good luck all.


2 Replies

Running in the toes, which I do and have been trying to change, is associated with sprints and so would take some getting used to and, as I think you’ve discovered, a retraining of the legs. It does instantly give you the advantage wherein you cannot land on your toes and also overstride... so posture improves. A side effect is it also negates the need for shoe selection via gait analysis and opens up minimalist shoes as a possibility... though I will go through full body gait analysis in the next few months. I’m not sure of the effects of running this way on a programme such as this, I can see where there would be more repeated runs.

I was recently taken aback watching breaking 2 watching the three supreme athletes on the treadmill as two of them, with tailored shoes didn’t land neutral... they landed outside first. I believe this may be a product of shoeless running as children and it certainly wasn’t causing any distress over distance... but again they were nowhere near heal landing.

I believe once you go to front foot or toe, virtually all knowledge on how we regular folks should run and equipment needed goes out of the window, and we enter a world where Nike design minimalist running shoes, and charge us just the same as they do for the ones with all the added support!

I have recently stopped trying to change my gait and I’m running pain free again... but am susceptible to stiffening calf muscles on cooldown and inter-run walks.

Thanks for the information, I thought I was just struggling with my gait change, now I’m thinking I don’t need to change it.

Slo_Mo in reply to UnfitNoMore

Unfitnomore - Cheers for the feedback. Just found out how to find my older posts and it looks like I've repeated myself quite a bit. I'd forgotten how much I'd already shared!!

Hopefully I'm largely out of the woods now and I think if you're running forefoot already, go with it. Check out Bretta's blog too, it should help you a lot.

Keep in touch :-)

You may also like...