Injury Comeback Story: Adam Iannazzone

Interview by Donna Newton; advice by Adam Iannazzone

We want to over-emphasize that neither Donna not the interviewees are doctors, and that we’re sharing experiences rather than medical advice. We’re not intending anything here to be a diagnosis of any sort, and urge people with pain and injuries to consult their doctors. Run strong!

Photo by Katie Dadarria

Photo by Katie Dadarria

DONNA: Hi Adam, thank you so much for sharing your injury experience with PPTC. First things first: How did your injury happen?

ADAM: I first noticed something crop up while doing mile repeats during marathon training (this was about 2.5 weeks before the race). I went out for a run the next day after some stretching and rolling, and immediately noticed something was wrong. If I had to guess, there was an underlying imbalance that had finally manifested itself after increased mileage. I was able to run the race after rest and some intense rolling, but the injury returned after the race, first on the same leg, then on the other leg.

DONNA: What did the pain feel like? Was it localized? Was it worse during running or at some other time (post-run, for example)?

ADAM: Pre Marathon: The pain felt like a weak spot across my calf. It was in the big meaty part of my calf, and gave me a slight limp. It was tolerable while walking, but immediately flared up when running, causing me to quit my run on the spot. After the Marathon, the pain migrated to my other leg (probably due to compensation in my gait). It felt like classic achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis with some calf weakness in the mix.

DONNA: Did you receive an actual diagnosis with a name?

ADAM: I didn't receive a "real" diagnosis per se. The therapist at Finish Line thought it might have been a tear in the calf muscle originally. The AT and PF that followed were mostly likely due to compensation in my gait (In other words, I wasn't fully healed when I started running hard again). But, those were never officially confirmed. The gait analysis at Finish Line shows that I favor my right side when I run, which they theorized led to the original injury in my right calf.

DONNA: Got it. Talk about your process with the pain: when you saw a doctor (and if you’d recommend them, the types of diagnostic tests used, etc.

ADAM: Before the marathon, I took off nearly two weeks and focused on really intense rolling with a foam roller and spiky ball. I also got one of those massagers from Bed Bath & Beyond. This allowed me to run a really good race, but the injury returned with a vengeance afterwards, causing me to go to Finish Line Physical Therapy. The therapist did a gait analysis on the treadmill and felt around my leg to try and determine the issue.

DONNA: OK. What was your healing process like, how long were you sidelined? How did you manage to not run, if you did manage? What did you do to not go stir crazy and to keep up your fitness? How did you alleviate despair, it that’s what you felt?

ADAM: Before the marathon, I just treated it as a long taper. After the race, I had to be more methodical. I started with very short and slow 1 mile runs in the grass and worked my way up from there. This served me well until the injury flared up on my other leg. At that point, I got a membership at the YMCA and hit the elliptical HARD. I went every day and spent at least an hour total on the machines (sometimes cycling out when people were waiting). One time, I even did 2 hours just before closing! It was my “long run.” Getting in regular cardio helped me feel like I was keeping my engine running smoothly, and it allowed me to maintain my terrible distance-runner diet. To pass the time, I would bring my phone and stream something on Hulu or YouTube. Someone recommended that I pick a show that I am only allowed to watch at the gym, and this always gave me something to look forward to.

DONNA: Why did you run in the grass? My own experience is that the unevenness of the ground can be tricky to compensate for, although the springier surface isn't as punishing as pavement.

ADAM: I ran in the grass just for the additional cushioning. Not sure if it really did anything, but I stuck to the trails that people have made along the regular park loop, so it was pretty level.

DONNA: I’m curious about the choice of the elliptical training. Did it take pressure off the injured area? Was it a recommended therapy by the Finish Line team? Did you mix it up with Spin or a stationary bike ever?

ADAM: I chose elliptical training on a whim, although I did mix it up with a stationary bike when the ellipticals were full. But I preferred the elliptical because it felt more like running. The cardio benefits were probably the same.

DONNA: What was the hardest part of the experience?

ADAM: The hardest part of not running was not seeing all of my PPTC friends. These were people that I usually saw multiple times per week, but it can be hard to find time outside of work, family, and training to spend time with people.

DONNA: Awww. I completely get that! Were there any especially helpful physical therapy exercises that you recommend or still utilize?

This is what I still do:

  • Rolling/Compression

    • Regular foam rolling

    • Rolling my heel on a spiky ball

    • Find a knot on my leg with the spiky ball, then extend and retract my foot. This moves the muscle underneath the ball and really works the knot loose.

    • Air Relax compression

  • Stretches

    • Eccentric heel lifts

    • Wall calf stretch

    • Pulling on my toes with an elastic band (or dog leash)

DONNA: What advice would you offer to other runners who are dealing with the same injury?

ADAM: My only other suggestion for injured runners is just to be patient. I jumped back in too soon and reaggravated the issue. I think that if I had been more patient during the first healing process, I would be much further along in my spring training at this point. Being impatient will only set you back further.

DONNA: Good advice. Thanks, Adam!

Alison Kotch