One of my favorite running couples, Betsy and Aaron, came my way this last weekend, which gave us both a very good excuse to run together. The run was a rare treat; in the past we've not been at equivalent fitness levels - either I was on the mend or they were. Okay, Aaron probably would have whipped both of us if not for jalapeno peppers the night before, but that's another topic altogether.
Betsy spent a lot of the run in a state of concern. In her haste to be packed up and out of town she apparently overlooked the physio tape she uses to support her Achilles' tendon. I reminded her as I finished off my pre-run coffee that I was not that long out of the woods from my own chronic tendon troubles. The effort level for the run was going to stay comfortable for all of us; sending the least-wounded and gimpy of the trio back to my house to get the car and pick up the others was nothing any of us wanted to do.
If you've never had issues with your Achilles' tendon consider yourself fortunate. If I'm not mistaken (I'm not, I took the time to look in the book.), physical therapist and author Jeff Dicharry wrote in his book "Anatomy for Runners" that 80 percent of runners are injured. It's not only the injury part that is less than fun; add the inability to do anything fun while you're recovering. That pain in the heel may - or may not - go away after a healthy dose of what my military friends call "Vitamin M," which is another term for one of the more common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents which can be taken by mouth.
I don't consider taking NSAIDs as my latest (as my loving bride jokingly calls them) "hobby horse," otherwise known as the pet peeve of the month. I'll say I take far less than I used to, and more for those days when my head - and not the head of my metatarsals - aches. I learned over time that the prostaglandins and those other hormones and chemicals which would make my heel swell after a run that was too hard in intensity, to long in duration, or too soon for sufficient recovery was trying to, um, encourage me to either rest or take up an activity which was a little less damaging while I figured out what was going wrong.
There are multiple treatment options for this and other overuse problems, most of which I took the time to point out to Betsy. On those days when my calves feel very tight, usually on days when I've done speed training, I'll make certain to use a self-massage tool like the TP Baller Block or "The Stick." While it's a pale imitation to the hands of a good massage therapist, you can't go wrong budgeting for a hands-on session once a month...or more often if you're running high mileage. Make sure, however, that you massage the entire muscle, proximal-to-distal, medially, centrally and laterally. In plain English, that's from the crook of the knee to the heel. After you do that, don't forget to roll the arch of your foot.
The zero-drop shoes are pretty much out of the question, from personal experience. And just to make certain I'm not tugging on the tendon too much I add a small wedge of silicone rubber in the heel of my running shoes. If I'm on the road doing one of those things I get paid for, which includes a great deal of standing up, I'll even place the wedges in my work shoes. I've also been fortunate to find black leather walking shoes which don't look like sports shoes.
And say what you want about the treadmill being a piece of machinery sent from the infernal regions, but I'm all in favor of using them for training. Sure, they're boring as hell and you don't get any of that nice, cooling breeze, but I've done 75 percent of my training mileage since my injuries on them. I'm only a little slower than I'd like to be, and I'm getting in anywhere from 35-to-45 miles per week (easy running, hills, tempo running and speed repeats) without walking like a guy ten-or-fifteen years older than I am. Plus I can control how fast I run and how soon I finish; should that tendon decide to act out four miles into a planned five-mile run on the road you've got a sweaty and often painful walk to your car or the house...or wherever the run started. Should the slightest thing begin to feel wrong on the treadmill, one punch of the "STOP" button calls it a day.
Speaking of calling it a day, it doesn't hurt to have those rest days - or at least "days when I'm NOT running" - plugged into the schedule. Want to walk the dog or spend the day on the couch, that's fine. Doing something that isn't aggravating what you aggravate when you run I would count as "rest," too.
I can lay no promises or hard-and-fast timetable on recovery. Depending on the level of injury and the willingness to LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE, the only thing I can say is "it takes time." Impatience, stubbornness and hubris will most certainly make an injured runner more desperate, more angry, and more willing to accept "silver bullet" recommendations. No injury is caused by a single factor, and no single fix is going to take care of it.