Power Analysis of Achilles Tendinitis Injury to Heroic Feats by Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a cheesy but appropriate quote to use for this article. Stories of triumph coming out of misfortune are not new in sports, but it is helpful to tell these stories and be reminded that all athletes go through injury and challenges out of their control. The brave and motivated come out even stronger than before their misfortune. 

I have been coaching Allan Schroeder since January of 2017. He lives in Boise Idaho, races road and cyclocross, and was a D1 collegiate track runner (hurdles). Allan has a few key ingredients which make him a talented athlete: loves to train (would ride his bike all day everyday if he could), savvy race tactics, proficient bike handler, writes concise and helpful comments in Training Peaks, and communicates with his coach on a regular basis ?. 

In March of 2019 [Figure1], he began to have pain in his left leg from his ankle up to his hamstring and was diagnosed as Achilles Tendinitis. Although we never pinned down the exact root cause of the injury it is characterized as an “overuse” disorder and it was likely caused by a variety of factors (new low cadence work we were trying out, new strength training regimen, running around town). Most often, this injury manifests in athletes who perform certain exercises without the proper conditioning beforehand. Although Allan had been working hard on a gradual and solid base block, symptoms formed.

Figure 1 Performance Management Chart

Allan immediately worked with a physical therapist (per my persistent encouragement) who helped him navigate Achillis Tendinitis. Although he had certain exercises and protocols to minimize the inflammation and prevent the injury from reoccurring, time was the key factor which would heal this injury. “With tendinitis, you just never know how much rest is enough, so even when you’re starting to feel better, there’s a certain amount of suspicion you have towards your own body. I would take time off, it would get back to feeling normal, I’d head out for a ride, and then things would deteriorate quickly and I’d have to start the process all over again. I ended up going through this cycle three times throughout March and April, all the while watching friends and the competition putting in big spring rides and a lot of hours on the bike. It’s a weird thing, you know, feeling like the one thing you really want to do each weekend, is also the one thing you absolutely shouldn’t be doing” says Allan.

Along with the physical challenges of this injury, come mental and emotional side effects. To manage these side effects Allan and I worked closely together at this time to maximize the time and opportunities for him off the bike: updated his race resume, networked with potential sponsors for 2019, dialed in nutrition habits, improved sleep quality, read books and resources to enhance mental strength. Keeping busy and focusing on athleticism not only minimized the negative side effects which came with hampered training but provided opportunities to improve his performance in ways he hadn’t before. “I thought that if I could make sure that I had these things DIALED, then when I could finally get back to riding and training, everything would be in place to come back into fitness quick, and hopefully end up stronger than I was before. And now, looking back, I can undoubtedly say that focusing on those things when I couldn’t ride was incredibly beneficial. Because now that I am riding (a lot (for me)) it’s much easier to continue to focus on the little things when normally stretching and diet would sort of fall to the wayside because I’m too tired to deal with them” says Allan.

Table 1: Weekly Summaries of Recorded Riding (racing and training)

After taking weeks off the bike and then being symptom-free for 7 days, we eased back into training with a 3-week gradual build (3/18/19 to 4/7/19) [Table1]. These weeks we worked in aerobic and low-tempo zones with a focus on pedaling form and cadence work. Unfortunately, Allan began to have symptoms again and we took another 4 days off the bike. We then eased back into training (week of 4/15/19) [Table1] followed by a weekend off the bike for his mother’s birthday, what a sweetheart. Keeping a close eye on symptoms, the next 5 weeks (4/29/19 to 6/2/19) [Table1] were dedicated to building base with steady endurance work while racing on the weekends. 

Figure 2 modeled Functional Threshold Power (mFTP) by Chronic Training Load (CTL) during Tour de Bloom (5/5/19)
Figure 3 Functional Reserve Capacity (FRC), Intensity Factor IF), Duration, and modeled Functional Threshold Power (mFTP) at Tour de Bloom (5/3/19)

After much deliberation coming out of his second stint off the bike, we decided to have him race Tour de Bloom, the week of 4/29/19. Allan is on Team Bobs-Bicycles.com out of Boise, Idaho. Even though his fitness was lacking, the comradery of spending time with his teammates and getting back in the routine of racing would be helpful for his race performance later in the year. “The racing went about as expected, got dropped a lot, but I came out the otherside with the achilles feeling fine so from there on, it was full gas” says Allan. Allan went in to Tour de Bloom with the right mindset and he came out of the race more motivated despite getting dropped. At this time, you can see that Allan had a low Chronic Training Load (CTL) [Figure 2], a high FRC (Functional Reserve Capacity) of 25.3kJ and a lower than normal mFTP (modeled Functional Threshold Power) [Figure3]. This represents how he was lacking fitness (low CTL), could go for a longer period of time above threshold (high FRC), but that his threshold was lower than normal (low mFTP).

Figure 4 modeled Functional Threshold Power (mFTP) by Chronic Training Load (CTL) during Idaho State RR Championships (6/16/19)
Figure 5 Functional Reserve Capacity (FRC), Intensity Factor IF), Duration, and modeled Functional Threshold Power (mFTP) at Tour de Bloom (5/3/19)

Over the next several weeks (4/29/19 – 6/2/19) [Table1] we incorporated workouts to maintain his aerobic fitness as best we could with aerobic and tempo work during the week, while racing on the weekends to sharpen race senses, keep him motivated, and build comradery with teammates. His 20minute power was building nicely over this time to come together for the Idaho State Road Race Championships. By the time of the Idaho State Road Race Championships, we had brought his fitness back up to a respectable 94CTL [Figure4] and increased his mFTP to 374watts [Figure4]. At this point his FRC was down to 16.0kJ due to the training but his mFTP was significantly higher [Figure5]. He hit 2019 records in 5minute, 20minute, and 60minute power at the Idaho State RR Championships [Figure6]. 

Figure 6 Highest Recorded Power for 5 sec, 1 min, 5 min, 20 min, and 60 min in 4 week blocks

Race Report from Idaho State Road Race Championships by Allan: 

On race day, things played out pretty much as expected:

  • A group of 6 gets away in the first 10 minutes with 1 from each team and a couple extras.
  • They build a gap of up to 5min.
  • A flurry of attacks every now and then but nothing really happens. 

Towards the end of lap two we sort of accidentally cut the gap to the break in half after a series of attacks and riding hard for like, 10 minutes. The break has been up the road for 50+ miles, in the heat, at this point so I figure they’re really starting to drag. Having imploded on the final run up to the finish the first year I raced this race, I knew that the last 7 miles can really break you down; it’s rough pavement, constantly rolling, hard to keep any momentum when your legs are fried. SO, last lap, there’s a downhill into a long straight, into the gravel. I do something I usually give people constant flack for; attacked the downhill. Mercedes Benz p/b Insiduous Designs (local Idaho amateur team team) sees it happen but hesitates, so once things flatten out, I go all in. Hit the gravel sector with maybe 10s, but come out of it, look back, and can’t see the group. More full gas tt effort, with a tailwind which definitely helped. And, that final road has a lot of turns, so if you’ve got like 15s, you’re pretty much out of sight. Ended up catching the break with 7ish miles to go. Still TT mode because I was afraid the pack would catch us anytime, so they all just kind of sat on my wheel. Hit the last climb hard, dropped the last guy from the break (Chris Stuart from Team CLIF Bar Cycling, elite-amateur cycling team) with 1200m to go, crossed the finish line solo, which was cool.

Allan showed courage and tenacity through his time managing this nagging injury. His consistent base-building work leading into the injury, commitment to aerobic and tempo work after injury, healthy and productive mindset going into races he was not fit for, and courage to take risks during the Idaho State Road Race Championships aided him in his heroic performance against stiff competition to win solo. 

About the author: Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD is a level 2 USA Cycling coach as well as a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in sports nutrition and is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). With Kristen’s nutrition expertise and diverse experience in the sport of cycling as a racer and a mentor, she provides a comprehensive approach to her coaching. She works with athletes from the beginner to elite ranks in road, cyclocross, and mountain biking disciplines. Kristen is also a category 1 domestic elite road racer and seasoned mountain bike and cyclocross racer. Learn more about Kristen.