I sat down with our coach Ryan Middleton to discuss how is 2018 season went. He made a smart plan with his coaches and PTs and trained most of the season through an injury. He used water running- suspended in the deep end with a flotation belt- to train without impact. The result was a huge PR at the Richmond Half Marathon, after thinking he might not even come back! Our interview is below, condensed for brevity. For the full interview, view the video here.
Nick: What was your injury? What caused it and what did the first few weeks look like?
Ryan: It was tough- back in early March I started having a nagging pain at the bottom of my achilles, and what really multiplied the time that I was out was that we had such a hard time diagnosing it. It was treated like tendonitis, then I was given stretches and tried to run and it got worse, and it was really a vicious cycle.
So you had to figure out what the injury was before you could map out your training?
Yeah. There was probably a good 3-4 weeks of going back and forth between doctors and trying to figure out what this injury was and what I was allowed to do. Am I allowed to run? Am I allowed to bike? What exercise if any am I allowed to do?
What did it look like when you figured out what the injury was, then bouncing back and beginning training?
Finally I landed with a PT that was a great fit for me. He said to me, “if I set you out for 4 weeks, you don’t run, you don’t bike, we limit your strength training, and you can get in the pool and pool run and swim as much as you want, if I told you in those 4 weeks and 4 more, in 8 weeks, I’d have you up to 60 miles per week, would you take me up on that?” I said absolutely. So, I saw him twice a week, I was doing exercising every day, and doing dry needling to loosen up knots.
I should say, it was a torn calf that we determined was the problem. And what we did to start training was move the run workouts over into the pool based on time and intensity, really trying to get the heart rate up. It was just me, my flotation belt, the deep end, and a rope around my waist. Over and over and over again with people walking by and laughing at me. We did this until we began to see the healing place. Then the PT put me back on a slow return to running.
Have you trained through a period of injury like this before, or is it new?
It’s new. I’ve had stress fractures before, I’ve had pulled muscles and different setbacks. But even those were 6 weeks at most. That was stretching it. This injury really went on for about three months, and I’ve never had something like that.
What did the first few workouts back running feel like?
It was silly. I was doing 10 minute workouts- 4 minutes running, 1 minute walking. So I had to laugh, but I was just so happy being back running again. I didn’t care that it was only 10 minutes and I walked 2 of those minutes. Really, for the next 3 weeks, that was what I built from. I never ran two consecutive days, I still had walk breaks. I would be walking down the road and cars would pass and I would think “this is so dumb.” But at the same time, I really understood why I was doing it- we can’t go straight from pool running to road running without some sensible progression.
What was the duration from full capacity to Richmond?
We probably had about 12 weeks to get a good block of training in. But keep in mind- I hadn’t raced since January. There are pieces that I sort of forgot, the pre-race nerves, the nutrition aspect. You have to really dial that in.
Going into Richmond, we had a good plan. We were keeping it even for 10 miles. I knew exactly where my heart rate needed to be. Coming out of Bryan Park my heart rate spiked maybe 3 or 4 beats above what I knew I could hold. I backed off, the heart rate came down, and we were able to get the pace back. Doing the math in my head, the further I went the more cushion I had. In the last 5k we were able to negative split, and it was a good day.
From the gun to the finish line, what were your nerves like?
Yeah… the gun went off and I remember thinking that things were highly competitive. In the first mile, I had a lot of trouble finding clear rode. I almost tripped a few times.
Just, from the number of people?
Yeah I was just surrounded. So it was a little unnerving to make sure that I wasn’t getting taken out too fast. I ended up seeing a familiar face, and he was shooting for under 1:12, and so was I, so I told him “I’m shooting for even 5:30s and we’re not going until the end.” So he said that sounded good to him. So we found some clear road and from there we really settled in taking turns. Then, next thing we know, we hit 10k at 5:30 even, then come out of Bryan Park and run 5:25s in, and hit 5:14 in the last mile.
Paces, I struggled holding that for a 5k. So to sit here and see that at the end of all of this… If you had told me going into this injury that I would run a PR of this stature I wouldn’t have believed you. But it has done nothing but solidify the need for cross training, one, but two, realizing that you can make big gains in the water if you’re not able to run on land. I’ve always known that, but to have to live it really made it stick for me.
Did that finish line feel any different than the others you’ve crossed?
It did, it did. It was very poetic, to be able to cross and feel that culmination of everything coming together. I’m never really one to count my chickens before they hatch, so I definitely didn’t settle until I crossed the line, but to really look back on this year, even though I only raced three times, two PRs coming after injury, after I didn’t know if I’d return from this, that was special.