In the lead up to the Equinox 24 hour race (report here), I had been struggling with various health complaints and injuries. I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to complete the race and thought I was in big trouble. Here is how Acupuncture kept me going…..
The last few months have been exceptionally busy and kind of stressful in the lead up to getting married. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as tired (or as happy) as I did after my wedding but it had taken a toll on my health and on my running. My training over the summer of 2013 has been inconsistent and poor at times so I felt ill-prepared for racing and apprehensive in buildup to Equinox 24.
I have had an ongoing issue with a trigger point in my hip flexor that I managed to successfully treat with Acupuncture but then a few weeks before my first ultra-distance event, I started having problems with my calves cramping up after a couple of miles of running, even when moving slowly and aerobically. This happened on about 5-6 separate runs and the discomfort was such that it reduced me to stopping and walking home a couple of times. Was this due to electrolyte issues? Unlikely. Had I increased my training volume or intensity? No, I was hardly doing any training……….for a while, I felt stumped.
After a fair bit of research and reflection, I concluded that this was most likely due to hormonal / nervous system imbalances that had developed as a result of long term stress and fatigue. It was like my body telling me that it was so tired that it was flat refusing to allow me to run by turning off my calf muscles. When I came to treat them, I found that they were full of gargantuan trigger points that responded very positively to acupuncture release and I managed to restore full function with one treatment. Despite this, after a couple of easy runs feeling good, the problem started to creep back and I had to admit that rest and repair were required as well as additional treatment.
If this weren’t bad enough, a couple of days before the event, I had a classic ‘dodgy curry’ episode which meant that any food that went into my body came back out again within 10 minutes and this continued until the morning of the race. My preparation was certainly less than ideal and if it hadn’t been worried about letting my team mates down, I would almost certainly have pulled out.
Generally speaking, I would not recommend exercising on the same day as having trigger points released with Acupuncture. This is the advice that I always give my patients and I want to make that clear from the outset. Often, the muscles can be sore post treatment and there is a risk, albeit a small one, of making a problem worse if you do not rest sufficiently.
However, I felt that as I was both the practitioner and patient I had nothing to lose so after the first lap when I had felt the familiar feeling of my calves tightening up after about 8k, I set about needling my soleus and releasing the spasm. This produced a strong twitch response and a moderate amount of soreness but my legs felt fine going into the second lap where I experienced less cramping than the first. My hip flexor also started to tighten up after about three laps so I applied the same technique to it and after some big twitches, the trigger point melted away leaving me to feel right as rain. I repeated the process after each run and although my general levels of fatigue increased, my calf cramps and hip issue had completely gone at the 50km mark.
I really thought I was stuffed after the cramps started on lap 1 and I was amazed at how well the treatment helped me recover. I have obviously used it extensively in the past to treat injuries but I did not expect to be able to run pain free only a few hours after the treatment with no problems. As I have said above, these were exceptional circumstances and I would not recommend that anyone get themselves into a situation where they need to run straight after acupuncture but I felt compelled to write about it here as it was such an awesome experience. I feel sure that I couldn’t have gotten through the race without it.
Knowing that I was not going into the race in a particularly good state of health and fitness, I decided I would use my heart rate dictate my pace and not my split times. My reasoning for this was that I felt that if I kept my heart rate relatively low, I would be predominantly aerobic which would mean that I would put less stress on my body, mostly burn fat for energy and preserve my glycogen stores and hopefully not get carried away wasting energy by racing other runners (there is little point in racing people in this type of event). I Settled upon a heart rate of 160mpm which mean that I was fairly brisk on the descents and flat sections but trotting up the hills.
I have been following a Paleo-type diet for quite a while now and I surmised that I wanted to eat as much ‘real food’ as much as possible between laps. This consisted of relatively small amounts of cooked ham and chicken, with lots of roast sweet potato, apples, bananas and dates to try to refuel my glycogen stores + some coconut milk. As I wasn’t sure how efficiently my body would be replenishing glycogen under these circumstances, I also took the decision to eat a gel after each lap and I even had one half way round on my last couple of laps when I felt like my blood sugar had dropped off a little. In addition to this, I also consumed a fair bit of coconut water for its natural electrolytes but other than that, I drank water to thirst.
I got caught up in the excitement on the first lap and my heart rate soared but after that, my pacing and nutrition strategy seemed to work really nicely. Even though I was not looking at my pace, my times were all within 3 minutes of one another and although I obviously became fatigued, I never felt like I had a significant dip in energy. I will certainly be following this approach next year but hopefully, I will go into it without any injuries and I won’t need the Acupuncture 😉