Question: Is it physically possible to get a calf injury whilst swimming?
Allow me to preface the answer with a little story from this weekend; we headed up to Shepparton for the 70.3 team event. The day before the big race, there was a 1500m open swim race in the lake. We all thought it would be a great idea to enter, since we are extreme novices when it comes to open water swimming.
The race was two laps of a murky brown lake. It looked a little like a Vietnamese iced coffee. It didn’t taste as nice as a Vietnamese iced coffee.
In the water at the start, I tried to stay calm and rid myself of anxiety. An older lady next to me asked if I was a good swimmer, perhaps hopeful of a good pair of feet to stick on.
“I’m rubbish”, I replied. “I’m just trying to make it out alive”. She smiled politely and sculled past me. I don’t blame her.
As the gun went off, I started to get going, imagining I was swimming through a big pool of cold Baileys. With my face in the Baileys, I couldn’t see anything. It was like an Old Gregg dream come true (apologies to all non-Mighty Boosh-watching readers).
The first lap was just terrible. I zig-zagged left and right. It was really difficult to stay straight with my head underwater, as the murky clay-like lake wasn’t really letting much sunlight in, so you couldn’t even use that to judge. I ended up having to breathe every other stroke instead of every three, which is fine, but it meant my neck started ceasing up. So then I would switch to the other side and I would end up swimming wonky again.
Half way through the first lap I was just thinking “this is utter crap. I hate it. I’m stopping. I can’t see a thing. I feel horrendous” but by the end of the first lap, I knew if I didn’t carry on I would never have the confidence to race in a few weeks time in Canberra. So I kept going through the ridiculous Baileys Lake.
By the second lap, I found my rhythm and started to speed up a bit (I went from SNAIL PACE: FIRST GEAR to SNAIL PACE: SECOND GEAR). Everything was going swimmingly. I was even starting to almost enjoy myself. So of course, I got a cramp in my right calf.
Now, cramping in an open water swim has been a nightmare of mine for some time. I get foot cramps in the pool literally every time I train. So I have always thought of how I might overcome the situation in the open water. The calf cramp was something new though. I tried to keep swimming. My leg was solid, and I just had to tow it along behind me like a human super-trawler.
After about 50m, I couldn’t take it any more, so I had to stop and yell out “FUQ” a few times (the only scientifically proven method to get rid of a cramp). Treading water and yelling out “FUQ”, the visibility in the water was so bad that one poor man swam straight into me. He started yelling “FUQ” as well “I thought you were a tree trunk”. Love a classic case of being-mistaken-for-a-tree-trunk.
So anyway, I was maybe 1o0m from the finish, so I just had to keep trawling the bastard behind me (the leg, not the tree-trunk guy). The ‘beach’ arrived, and I hauled myself (and my supertrawler catch) out of the iced-coffee. Obviously, I fell over onto my knees almost immediately, like some French and Saunders Ursula Andress Bond-Girl spoof. Oh the athleticism…
Finishing in 29:17 is prizewinningly slow. But you know what: I MADE IT OUT ALIVE. And I think I can knock a few seconds off if I a) don’t have to swim like a super-trawler towing a lead leg behind and b) have even the slightest amount of visibility.
And to answer my original question: YES. It is possible to get a calf injury whilst swimming. You see, the spazzy spasming muscle didn’t seem to calm down. It went so tight during my cramp out in the pond, that I couldn’t stretch it out. It was really sore to walk on, so I spent the whole of the next morning massaging it and tossing up whether to run the half marathon in the team event…
…I went with my (not-so-reliable) gut-instinct, and after a warm up, decided that I would attempt the run. There was a finisher’s towel at stake here, and man did I want that towel – I paid $150 for my entry, I’m not coming away empty handed (plus I really needed to upgrade from my ‘COSTA BRAVA’ beach towel that gets me zero credibility at the pool).
My team mates (Freddo Frog Dave on the swim and husband Jarrod on the bike) were absolutely awesome in their legs. I wanted to be as quick as possible in the run so that we could finish high up in the teams, but yesterday was definitely not my day. The entire run was uncomfortable – not only was the leg really tight, but I also suffered monstrous stomach cramps for the entire 21km. Nothing seemed to come together for me. But that’s ok. You can’t feel great every day. I was hoping to really test where I was at time-wise, as I really enjoy this distance and wanted to see if I could match my Run Melbourne time from July. But I guess I’ll never know. I finished in 1:45 so was still really happy. There were lots and lots of stops and walking, and I didn’t look at my watch during the race as I didn’t want to force my leg into a serious injury. I took it easy and tried to ignore the discomfort and enjoy the course. After all, I guess that’s what the full distance ironman event will be about – trying to ignore the discomfort and pain. So maybe this was good practice.
This morning it was difficult to walk, but the physio said it should be fine by the end of the week if I just ride and swim. Hopefully it will start loosening up tonight, as a couple of people at work questioned why I was walking like I had crapped myself…
So there you have it: it IS possible to get a calf injury from swimming. And no, you SHOULDN’T run a half marathon if your leg is playing up. Even if you do get to take your new towel to the pool and pretend like you did a whole half ironman (fake it ’til you make it kids). Hopefully I will actually earn myself a towel in a few week’s time. Fingers crossed.