In five weeks I will be doing the Brighton Half Marathon. This will be my first half since rupturing my Achilles in June 2015, almost three years ago. I used to do races like this all the time, mixed in with an occasional marathon. If you’re a regular reader of this blog (don’t worry, I’m not offended) you will know that I have gradually been building up the strength in my Achilles along with pace and distance in my runs. It’s been a long and exhausting journey, and there have been a few things I have learnt along the way.
The usual half marathon programmes recommend progressively longer runs once a week interspersed with tempo and easier runs. My first piece of advice is to focus most of your efforts on the distance runs. These are important in building strength in your tendon and confidence in yourself that your Achilles can handle 21km. I have been building up distance over the past year and this is an important aspect of with this type of rehab – ensuring you have the time to build up healthily. Rushing to build up distance too soon is dangerous, so pick a race that gives you more time to increase distance gradually.
Running every other day is a good rule to stick to in order to give your tendon time to rest. Often though it is best to take several days off in between runs, particularly if you feel any discomfort in your Achilles. This is time that can be used to cross-train or focus on sports which still build your aerobic fitness whilst allowing your tendon to recuperate.
A problem I have found post-rupture is that my hips and knees have developed more niggling injuries due to the imbalance that exists between my good and bad leg. I’d also recommend Pilates, which has been good at building my core strength and has had a noticeable impact on reducing the niggling injuries. It provides focus on days off from running and has taught me exercises which activate long forgotten muscles which, like the rest of your affected leg, have fallen victim to wastage.
Tempo runs are important for building pace and can be done for as long as your tendon responds well to them. The flatter the route the better, to ensure you aren’t putting unnecessary strain on your ankle on the climbs (something to remember when picking which race to do). Having a faster running partners for these are immeasurably useful as they push you out of your comfort zone (see my earlier article). Be careful not to do too many tempo-runs – it’s important to remember that completing the race healthily is the most important thing. Faster half-marathons can come in time. At least that’s what I keep having to remind myself.
I continue to be mildly amazed at the ability of my tendon to respond to the increasing demands I put on it when for so long running seemed a far-off dream. It has been the ingredient of time which, fingers crossed, should see me over the line. If, like me, you have suffered a ruptured Achilles, I hope articles like these offer some useful advice. I would love to hear from you and how your rehab is going.