My Calf Muscles are Ripping Apart – And Other Strange Fixations

Lately I have been haunted by a strange sensation in my calves. It feels like a small electrical spark under my skin. I can’t say that it is a sharp or deep pain . . . just a mild twinge now and again.

My brain had me convinced that my calf muscles were ripping apart. Maybe these strange twinges were microscopic tears? Maybe my muscle fibers were cleaving with each awkward foot strike?

Soon I was running on my tip-toes in order to save my calves from utter ruin.

I’ve heard of runners who rupture a ligament and hit the pavement face first. Everything is fine then all of a sudden “snap”! Perhaps it was about to happen to me!

Plausible explanation don’t you think?

Mental Fixation
Angie talks about not obsessing over each ache and pain. You must push through the discomfort in marathon training. The tapering weeks especially are hosts to “phantom pains” that make our brains fixate on a problem that is really a non-concern.

I know about fixation. Whenever I watch a movie it stays in my head for 2-3 days. On Friday I watched Pirates of the Caribean 4 (in 3D) and I’m still thinking about mermaids.

Mental fixation for runners goes like this . . .

About mile 4 you feel like you need to pee. The urge is there but not a nagging urge. If you were driving a car you wouldn’t pull over.

But as you fixate on this urge it grows stronger and you begin looking around. Now you are viewing the scenery with a different frame of mind. Each tall shrub is a possible pee shelter.

You really don’t need to stop but somehow your mind has brought your bladder up on the center stage and given it a mega phone.

Cognitive Shifting
What if we could identify mental fixation and shift the direction of our minds at will? Psychologists say we can! They call it cognitive shifting.

  • According to Wikipedia
    Cognitive shifting is a method used in awareness management describing the mental process of re-directing one’s focus of attention away from one fixation and toward a different focus of attention. This shifting process can be initiated either by habit and unconsciously, or as an act of conscious volition.

I have long known about the method of cognitive shifting but my technical term for it is, “STOP FREAKING OUT!” also called SFO or STO-FRO.

When my brain is fixating on a problem (which sometimes is not even a real problem) I can awaken myself from the fixating trance through STO-FRO therapy.

So, now that I’m officially on the hook to run a Fall Marathon I will be doing a lot of training this summer. I’m sure I will have my share of soreness and real pain. So, I really don’t want to waste time with “pseudo pain”. I’m gonna have my STO-FRO gun ready.

The Real Cause of My Strange Calf Pain

After further investigation on my long run (12 miles) yesterday I finally figured out what I was feeling in my calves. You’re not going to believe this . . .

Uhem (clearing throat)

Drops of water from my water bottle were hitting the back of my calves. (I feel like such a nymph)

You might be wondering, “How can drops of water be painful?” Well, they were painful because I THOUGHT MY CALF MUSCLES WERE RIPPING APART!

Wouldn’t YOU be in pain if you believed your lower leg was hemorrhaging?

It wasn’t “real pain” but my brain was interpreting it as pain and freaking me out.

So I hope I have furnished you new runners with a valuable lesson. Keep your mind occupied with positive things during you run. Never ignore a sharp nagging pain that causes you to alter your running form. That last sentence came from Angie.

. . . But bring your STO-FRO gun on every run. You can holster it next to your water bottle.

16 Responses to My Calf Muscles are Ripping Apart – And Other Strange Fixations

  1. Trevor May 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    So, am I the only one who fixates or does anyone else go through this?

    • Tim May 25, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Hey Trevor,
      I enjoyed reading your blog! Hmmm…Cognitive thinking. I never was able to place a name on those little aches and pains that set it during a run. I have to agree with Angie that it is just a normal occurance that we runners just have to get through. I used to wear an i-Pod whenever I ran but then found it to be more of an abstraction. That is what I love about running. It is really a form of meditation and a time for me to just calm my mind down. Thanks again to you and Angie for providing a great Podcast and runners forum!

  2. Matt Bell May 25, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    You are not alone. I believe controlling what is going on in the ol’ noggin is critical for all athletes and has a huge impact on performance. I must admit that my own gets in the way all too often. The IPOD helps occupy thoughts during runs but I am discouraged that most race events discourage and even prohibit use. Consequently, I try to train without earbuds regularly so as to learn and strengthen “cognitive shifting” without the influence of a good tune or podcast like yours… Mind over matter can be difficult – it too requires training and practice. Don’t even ask about my golf game! ;-0

    • Trevor May 25, 2011 at 8:05 am #

      Thanks for the comment Matt.

      I ran my 12 miler last Monday without earbuds for that very reason.

  3. Trevor C May 25, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Actually, I have only lately discovered the joy of running without pain.

    I was diagnosed with EIA (athsma), thanks to the advice to get checked out by my wife, who is a nurse and a much better runner than I.

    • Trevor May 25, 2011 at 9:41 am #

      Hi Trevor,

      Nice name dude. My wife is also a nurse and a much better runner than I.

      Sometimes it is definitely wise to get checked out by a doctor.

  4. Latosha Jenkins May 25, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    This is laugh out loud funny…something I would do…but it is “mind over water bottle?”

    • Trevor May 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

      Mind over water bottle.

      I like that!

  5. Anna May 25, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    Hi Trevor,
    As I was reading your post, I thought “wow, I have that same feeling in my feet.” That is too funny. I do obsess even when I am walking to work about the twinge in my calf, hamstring, head, arms…fearing injury.
    Glad to know that I’m not alone! So funny!

    • Trevor May 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      Thanks Anna,

      I’m glad to see I’m not the only one “twinging out”.

  6. Angela Coulombe (aka Lymerunner) May 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Hi Trevor, on the boat over to the start of the NYC marathon last year, I met a man (Bill), who at 65yrs and running his 12th marathon, gave me the best piece of running advice ever. He told me that during the marathon, the right side of my brain and the left side of my brain would be fighting it out. The right side would be saying: I’m tired, I want to stop, I’m not having fun, I hate this. The left side would be saying: I am strong, I can do this, I have trained for this, I’m not listening to you, right side… He told me to only listen to the left side, that when the right side tried to be louder, to keep repeating the mantra: I am strong, I have trained for this, I can do this. From about mile 16 onward, the battle of the right side v the left side was on. It was refreshing to hear from a seasoned marathon runner that they go through this battle (not just us newbies) and to hear that by telling yourself again and again that you can do it can pull you through. Thanks for a great post!!!!

    • Trevor May 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      Hi Angela,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog. It’s good to hear from you again. I remember you telling this story when we interviewed you.

      Great advice!

  7. Michael May 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    I get these twinges as well. I pay attention to them for a period of time to avoid injury, but after awhile I reach a point were it is time for these thoughts to unwind and dissipate. So I actually try to visualize the thoughts as sentences that crumble to dust and blow away. I replace the thought with something positive or focus on the horizon.

    I also run with an Ipod, but on my long runs I take out the ear buds for the last three or four miles and get in tune with my breathing. It is relaxing during the most intense part of my run. It feels awesome.

  8. Maggy May 28, 2011 at 5:09 am #

    I haven’t solved the “imaginary full bladder ” problem….Always feel I need a leak …have never managed a half M without it, then feel cross I could have beaten 1.50.00 if I hadn’t gone (twice)……

  9. Rebecca June 7, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Hi Trevor,
    I ran in the rain today and had a similar sensation on my thighs as the rain pelted them. Thankfully I was able to release the kraken and make it through my run. I was drenched by the time I finished but felt so amazing… I kept thinking, “Remember this feeling the next time you don’t feel like running.” Aaahhhh, satisfaction! It was only a 2.75 mile run too but I found my warrior. 🙂
    – Rebecca

  10. Emmitt Cannon July 31, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    Calf pain is quite painful. I do take pain killers when i get some severe calf-pain. A light stretching exercise can also help relieve the pain. .,”‘:

    Warm regards“>

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