In the grand scheme of things, I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to injuries. Other than a few bad spills (including a giant gash on my right elbow that took a good couple weeks to fully heel and is now an ugly scar) and mildly rolled ankles, I have yet (I say YET so as not to jinx myself because I know, as a runner, I WILL ONE DAY GET INJURED knock on wood turn around three times and spit, so as not to anger the thing from high atop the place /Aaron Sorkin) to get seriously injured. But I have had my share of … issues.
Last year, and a bit this year, it was my right hip. I think it’s just a little funky, probably from leg length discrepancy. But I’ve found that adequate stretching and strength training my hip and surrounding muscles helped the problem immensely. For the most part, it doesn’t feel painful or awkward now that I’ve started a solid stretching/lifting routine.
At the end of December and into this month, it was my left knee. It didn’t hurt. Just felt… off. Awkward. Stiff. I’d limp stiffly down steps. My stride was stilted at the beginning of runs but as my muscles warmed up, my step smoothed out. It would stiffen pretty quickly after runs. It was particularly bad when I woke up in the morning and throughout the day when I’d get up to do something after sitting for a while, which happens a lot when you have a nine-to-five desk job.
I was of course concerned. I noticed that the stiffness seemed to extend upwards, towards my hip, and decided it was probably my IT band. I did a little research to confirm it, and see if it was IT Band Syndrome. It’s not. It works itself out during runs and people who suffer ITBS seem to experience pretty awful pain during runs. But I think I’ve found solutions, starting with how I handled my hip issue:
1. Stretching. I’ve been taking pilates for a few months now, and using some stretches from the class, in addition to some basic running stretches, and asking the instructor for tips (she’s also a runner, it turns out), I found a few that worked really well. Using a towel or band, laying on my back, I extend my good leg (right) straight down along the floor, and raise my left leg straight, the band around the ball of my foot. Then I extend my right leg across my body, the more towards my shoulder the better, without pushing it. I did this on both sides, of course. But really gritted my teeth on the left side where the pain was. My instructor also had me stand up, left leg on a bar or chair or similar, back straight, arms extended. Then I turned my torso towards the raise leg, keeping my hips squared. That one really hurts. But works like a charm.
2. Strengthening. Namely the following: walking lunges. One-legged squats. Regular squats. Hip adduction, and abduction. Leg press (with both legs as well as alternate legs). And some balance exercises with ankle weights on alternate legs.
3. And finally: foam roller. Oh, baby. Love the pain. Embrace the pain. Almost cry through the pain. I’ve been foam rolling the CRAP out of my legs lately and it’s amazing and terrible at the same time. My left IT band hates it, and so do I sometimes, but oh, is it worth it. My left lower leg has been tight lately (calf, shin, even the top of the foot) I think because of overcompensation, but it’s better.
I’m going to keep at it, especially in strengthening. I keep reading theories about how most leg issues for runners are linked to weak/tight hips and/or weak glutes. So I’m trying to strengthen and stretch these, and all those surrounding, things will straighten out.
Now all of this was happening right before Christmas, when I was about to travel to Scottsdale, Arizona for my paternal grandfather’s 90th birthday (yeah, he’s pretty awesome) and the associated family reunion. Arizona. In December. Highs of 72. Lows in the 40s. I was practically drooling. But since I was still figuring out my IT band stuff, I was being cautious. I ran the Thursday before I left, but other than a Saturday hike with a family, I did nothing related to running for four days. I felt a lot better, about 90 percent. And Tuesday morning, 43 degrees and sunny at 8 a.m., I couldn’t stand it anymore. I got in shorts, a t-shirt and jacket (it was actually pretty chilly – my legs were freezing, but it was too wonderful to wear too many layers. Pluuuus I didn’t bring any), grabbed my Garmin and headed out to a park the valet guy told me about.
At first, I felt like shit. I was tired. My legs were cold. And my knee was stiff and I was sort of hobbling as a result. It worked itself out but it still felt hard. I checked my watch. I was hitting 8:40s-9:00 miles, which isn’t fast in the grand scheme of things, but is around my goal marathon/half-marathon pace (would be awesome to break two hours in my next half). I stopped the timer a couple times, mostly to cross the street at awkward places and one to take a picture on my cell phone because it was just too gorgeous. I was glad I pushed through because I got to the park and ran along a lake and it was sunny and perfect and I was surrounded by mountains. There were tons of ducks – at least three different kinds – and a heron.
It was wonderful. I’m so glad I did it. And even though I had to hit ‘stop’ a couple times (besides street crossing, I ended up chafing – I didn’t wear body glide because I’m an idiot – and had to, erm, adjust my shorts a little) I ended up doing just over 4 miles in 36:38 – my half-marathon goal pace. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Very soon I will have my first real race report on this blog, but I’m going to see if some pictures show up from it in the next few days. Until then, my readership (does anyone read this besides my nerdy boyfriend?) will just have to wait.