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(22/4/2018) Blog 7- Achilles Talk with Zac Newman


Are you stiff in your heel each morning?

Does your heel get stiff after sitting during the day?

Is it stiff after runs?

Have you been diagnosed with achillies tendinopathy?

Are you unsure how to get on top of it?

Well, then this interview with 66 minute half marathoner Zac Newman will be invaluable reading for you.

Many believe Zac Newman has yet to reach his full potential over the marathon. He has run 2:25 for the marathon three times, including the windy 2016 Melbourne Marathon. Despite recently celebrating his 37th birthday, Zac’s form in recent years suggests he is only just hitting his straps. He is a stalwart of the Melbourne running scene, is coached by Craig Mottram and works full time in marketing.

Zac was flying at the end of last year running a 30:25 at the 2017 Steigen classic in Geelong, a 30 second pb. This had been his goal for the year, to run 30:30 or below. He did it but it came at a cost to the 36 year old’s Achilles tendons.

Mate, it’s now the end of April, that’s 3-4 months of seriously battling Achilles tendonopathy, hows it feeling? What are you up to with training now? How has this progressed?

Thanks Dane, great to share my experience on this fantastic new blog and hopefully it helps some readers out there who are battling the same issues.

It’s feeling really good now, although I have had to be very patient which isn’t always my strength!  Recently, I have learnt a lot about load management and respecting recovery. For years I have been fortunate enough to avoid the dreaded Achilles trouble that has plagued so many runners.

I have had quite a few stress fractures, hip / sacrum issues. However, with those injuries I have just rested and after a small rebuild I’d come back generally quickly. However, with an injury like this, I’ve had to keep moving. I was 5 weeks out from a marathon that I was in very good shape for. It was a battle running with constant pain or waking up early to warm the Achilles up in the morning just to manage an easy 30min run.

Training wise the past few weeks I have been able to get back into sessions, which has been a huge step forward.

It has been a progression from February, where I was running around 20-30mins every 2nd day. With a gradual build into some more steady state / pickup runs in March. In April I have been able to introduce some fartleks and longer interval training.

In the past week I have been able to move into flats for the first time since January.

The key has been monitoring the day after sessions, and it seems that it has got to the point where the sessions and extra load is making it stronger.

Mileage wise it is still very light around 100-110km , Sunday run is capped at 90mins and all single runs, the next stage will be adding in doubles and pushing sunday runs out to 2hr+ mark.

For those that don’t know I was in charge of Zac’s rehab, he has also had the assistance of his coach Craig Mottram (who battled Achilles tendon trouble in the twilight of his career). Zacca, why do we have to respect Achilles tendon pain? Should a runner completely rest and Achilles tendinopathy for 6 weeks? Why not?

I had been told that Achilles tendon pain could become chronic if you don’t get on top of it or respect it from the get go. I was put in a tough position landing this injury so close to tilt at a pb in the 2018 Lake Biwa marathon.

It was sore but I could still run on it. I trained through it for the first few weeks and we tinkered with the program. It was a tough position as I was fit but ultimately the risk of long-term damage won out.

Achilles rehab is difficult; I don’t think complete rest is the answer. The lack of blood flow to the Achilles tendon means it can be slow to heal. However, loading it up too heavily early on sparks it up again.

So, it’s very challenging finding a happy medium. Having Dane and Craig in my corner to assist was invaluable, I had never had Achilles pain, so the post run / early morning stiffness was quite foreign to me.

The conservative approach involved loading up with easy runs, and then the off days being focussed on putting that time into rehab and cross training.

In retrospect, explain ‘why’ you most likely got the Achilles tendinopathy?

Leading into 2017 Steigen 10km race in December, the main focus was always Lake Biwa marathon and building for a sub 2.20 crack, although the mileage wasn’t crazy high compared to most marathoners for me it was the highest I had reached, topping out at 150kms per week. I felt really strong in sessions and possibly pushed the envelope. I started to go a lot faster on some of my shorter workouts (straights and bends or 1k reps) but at the time just went with it as I felt like I had reached a new level.

In hindsight for the 10k track race I really should have worn flats but I have always associated track races with spikes. I only had cross country spikes, so I ended up borrowing a pair of Reilly Shaw’s spikes the day before the race. They were brand new, out of the box. I did 2 or 3 strides in them and I was away. 23 laps later I was starting to feel pretty damn tight in the calves but I was on for a big pb, so I just thought, push and deal with that after!

The next few days I was tight in the calves but just put it down to being old! Training resumed gradually however the pain in my heel hung around. I kept dismissing it as lower calf stiffness rather than Achilles trouble but I was possibly in denial! I was still able to train through it for a couple more weeks.

I had this half marathon booked in Tassie so I went down with the hope that a mini taper before it could eventuate in another PB. I felt good for the first 10k, until I tried to go with a move from the pack of strong runners I was with and I felt no strength in my calfs. Aerobically, I felt fine, so I knew something just wasn’t right.

In the end, I had to roll the race in, finishing in 70:13, well outside my target time. I was unable to join the crew to do a warm down and support the marathoners – including your stellar win, Dane.

But the days following confirmed that I was in a bit of strife and I needed to get some treatment ASAP! Are you back doing a few incidental hills and faster intervals again? Do you have a race planned yet? Or is all of this still in due course?

Over the past few weeks I have been able to get back to doing some more regular workouts that I am used to, getting up on the toes and feeling more power through the legs.

I am still erring on the side of caution with hills but with monitoring each session and how it pulls up, I’m sure they are not far away!

At this stage the plans just centre around the XCR season, and the second half the year with a view to have a tilt at half marathon at the Gold Coast and a marathon later in the year.

Side Note: Just yesterday (21/4/2018), after I chatted to Zac, he went onto run his first competitive race since his Achilles trouble. In round 1 of the Athletics Victoria winter XCR season, the Jells Park Cross Country Relays, Zac ran a highly competitive 18:43 for MUAC in his 6km leg.

How are you feeling in the morning now? Has this changed from back in January? What’s the significance of monitoring morning pain?

The morning stiffness has now subsided whereas in January it was a real struggle for the first 1hr of the morning. Even general walking at work was painful.

Morning pain became my guide as to how well the Achilles was coping with the previous days workload. It acted as a barometer and we tweaked the rehab plan accordingly. What strength exercises are you completing for the Achilles tendon? How has this changed over the last 3 months? What’s the importance of strength exercises in Achilles rehabilitation?

After seeing you I was instructed to get some weight plates and hit seated heel raises and standing heel raises every morning and night. I actually slowly progressed this to 50 repetitions on each side a couple times over. During my main rehab phase in Jan/Feb, I was religiously doing these, and building strength by adding more weight. It is monotonous but I also knew the importance of it to get me back out of the road.

I have kept this up and still continue to do so, some days I’ll be honest I have missed them or only done it once, and can feel the difference, its something that I have to continue to be diligent with. For an acutely reactive Achilles tendonopathy is sustained calf stretching and walking around in bare feet a smart idea?

I was advised by yours truly, to stay off bare feet as much as possible and I have been wearing ‘Oofus’ slides and have found they have assisted greatly in the recovery.

What shoes are you running in for sessions and easy runs? Has this changed? What are you doing in regards to footwear at home etc? Are you wearing heel raise inserts? Do these help at all?

I’m currently wearing Hoka Claytons with 9mm heel raises, I also wear orthotics and have so for my whole running career.

The Hokas have been amazing, the amount of cushioning has helped immensely with my recovery and they are still responsive enough to use for tempo and longer interval workouts.

I have recently transitioned back into my Nike Lunar Racing flats. Footwear at home is the Oofus slides, and avoiding bare feet as much as possible. You were initially aiming for Lake Biwa marathon but then had to pull out. How was your mental state during the whole process? What have you done to make the whole process mentally easier?

It was certainly a frustrating time once the decision was made for me to stop aiming for the 2018 Lake Biwa marathon.

As with runners we always tend to look forward and want more and sometimes we are too quick to move on from the really good performances.

After having the high of a track 10k pb in December, I was so fixated on the marathon and getting to the next level, that I didn’t totally celebrate the PB.

I have been in situations in the past where I have had build ups to marathons and rarely raced and then got injured before hand and you don’t have anything to show for it, other than some decent training sessions.

The past few years under Craig’s coaching program. I have been able to find the right mix of training and racing, enabling me to get pbs across all distances. I have used this time to reflect on that.

Craig’s strong group dynamic also allowed me to focus my energy on supporting a few athletes who were preparing for Comm Games Trials. Or chatting to other athletes who had been in the same boat and had come back stronger gave me the confidence that I will eventually get back if I’m patient and attend to my rehab. I made a conscious effort to take the opportunity of being injured to reset and not take being fit for granted.

My supportive girlfriend, Shamila may argue that it wasn’t all roses, as there was definitely some grumpy days but her positivity and enthusiasm to use my extra time and energy to get out and enjoy other activities around Melbourne, meant getting outside of the running bubble on weekends, this definitely allowed me to relax and take the focus off the Achilles.

What have you learnt about Achilles tendons and getting them better? What advice would you have to any fellow runner going through the same ordeal?

I have learnt a great deal about reading the body day in, day out, being patient and managing the loads, via easing back and following a plan.

Also, with an Achilles, the strength exercises do make a huge difference; even missing one day of them can set you back.

It’s absolutely vital that you get a strong and experienced team in your corner. Having such a knowledgeable, experienced physio like Dane has enabled me to return to running, and a coach like Craig who has been so positive and maintained that this injury can be overcome has been pivotal in the whole recovery process.

What’s the long term aim for Zac Newman for 2018?

Long terms aims centre around more road races, and focussing on getting pb’s in the half marathon and getting to the line for that crack at the elusive sub 2.20 marathon.

Mate, thanks for your time I’m sure the readers will find your insights invaluable.

Readers please realise that everyone who gets Achilles tendonopathy should be individually assessed by a running physiotherapist for individualised treatment plans, a graduated running program and appropriate exercises.

Zacca had a reactive mid portion Achilles tendonopathy that he ignored for 4 weeks before seeing me. He took 12 weeks to get on top of it, I’ve had a lot of people get these better in 8 if they respond ASAP.

It must be noted chronic degenerative Achilles tendonopathies or Insertional Achilles tendonpathies can take longer to get right.

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