Saturday, November 8, 2014

Marathon training injury

I just ran five miles and nothing hurts. This is quite an accomplishment because for the last  three months, I haven’t been able to get past three miles without my knee killing me.

Let me fill you in on what has been going on with my running.

My last post was in June and all was well. My marathon training was on track and I was steadily increasing my weekly mileage. On June 24th, I ran a very hilly 20K and finished with a time of 1:49:15. My time was a few minutes better than the year before so I was happy. On July 4th, I ran a very hilly and rather challenging 10K with a time of 50:51. This course is out in the country and follows dirt roads, gravel roads, and about two miles of wooded trail. I had run the race last year and wasn’t sure if I would ever want to run it again. But as the race drew near, I found myself signing up. I managed a second place age group win and now think this might be one of my favorite races. It’s a tough course and the finish line is at the top of a steep hill. I felt like I was going to die around mile five, but crossing that finish line was fantastic. The next day was Saturday and rain was forecast for Sunday. Even though I had just run a 10K, I decided I could still do a long run. I wanted to do at least 18 miles.

When you train for a marathon, you have to learn to pace yourself which means running slow. Slow for me is a pace of 9:40.  You wouldn’t think running slow would be hard to do, but it is. I would look at my watch and see 8:20 or 8:15 or sometimes 7:55. “What’s the hurry?” I would ask myself. “You’re not racing. SLOW DOWN!” Runners talk to themselves a lot. On my long runs, by mile 14, I was usually tired because I had started out too fast. By mile 14 I would have to take a short walk break or just slow way the hell down and finish the run in an embarrassing shuffle.I was getting better at running slower, but had a ways to go.

On that particular long-run day, the one after my 10K, my right hip started to hurt at mile 15. A year ago, I hurt my left IT band training for a half marathon. I was able to fix it by backing off my milage a little, using a foam roller, and doing tons of stretching and strengthening exercises. By race day, I was good to go. I’d never had a problem with my right leg before. My right leg was always the good leg.

Because I am a runner, I kept running despite the pain in my right hip. I only had a few more miles to go. By mile 16, I was limping and now my knee hurt. Luckily I wasn’t too far from my car at this point and decided to stop and hobble to my car. I did some stretches and drove home. The next day, my right leg hurt from my hip to my knee. What had I been thinking? I’d just raced a 10K. I should have rested, not try to run 18 miles. 

So I rested for three days and then went out for a three-miler. There was a slight twinge in the hip, but nothing too bad. I dug out my foam roller and found all my old IT band exercises and started doing them again. They had fixed my hip before, they should be able to do it again. On my next five mile run, the IT band pain flared up and spread to the outside of my knee. With my left leg, the pain had stayed in my hip. 

The next day, my knee was stiff and hurt. Runner’s knee? A few days later the knee was fine and I went for a three mile run. No problems, but I decided to skip my weekend long run. I still had plenty of time before my marathon.

The next weekend I decided I was OK to run 17 miles. At mile 10, the hip started to hurt. At mile 12, the knee started to tighten up and hurt. But I pressed on. By mile 15 I was done. Every leg muscle on my right side was tight and throbbing. After doing some research, I decided to take some time off from running. A week was all I could stand and after a thee mile run that was mostly pain-free, I signed up for a 5K race.  On August 8th, I ran one of my favorite 5Ks with a time of 24:09 which was good enough for a Master’s win. I was worried about the IT band and the knee, but everything felt great. Thinking my IT band might be fixed, I started increasing the milage. At this point, my marathon was two months away and the the farthest I’d ever gone was 17 miles. I needed to hit 20 for mostly psychological reasons. If I could run 20, I could run 26. But If I couldn’t get to 20, then I’d never be able to get to 26.

On August 14, I ran a 5K with a time of 24:05 and on August 23, I managed a time of 23:29. I was able to run a 5K just fine, but when my run went past 28 minutes, the pain would start. This confirmed that it was my IT band and not runners knee.

I bought an IT band strap, but it did nothing. I bought a knee sleeve and a knee brace that was supposed to help. They helped a little, but after eight miles, I was unable to run any farther. The pain in my knee was like an ice pick. With the marathon nearing, I saw a sports chiropractor. She confirmed my IT band was ridiculously tight and tried some massage and manipulations, but time was running out. Unable to get past 10 miles without being in pain, I deferred my marathon to 2015. Marathons are not cheap and I didn’t want to just throw it away.

I cut my milage back to 12 miles a week and never ran for more than 28 minutes. Anything beyond that made the knee throb. I foam rolled, I did every IT band exercise I could find. The problem seemed to be my glutes. They just weren’t firing when I ran. I sit for a living. I sit in front of a computer all day and even though I get up every few hours, it’s not enough.

With the marathon out of the picture, I researched the glute muscles and how to get them to wake up. Weak glute muscles make everything else work harder. My quads were doing all the work which was making my IT band tight which was making my knee hurt. In a way, there was nothing wrong with my knee, it was just the weakest link in the chain.

$100 Gift Certificate for a First Place Win.
On September 14th I ran a 23:34 5K and the knee felt great. But I wasn’t going to be fooled. The glutes were still refusing to participate.

My marathon came and went and all I could do was look up friends’ times. A lady I had planned on running with finished in five hours and 36 minutes. Another friend finished in just over four hours. The glute research continued.

I watched training videos, I did exercises, I changed my running form. I made sure my foot was going straight down and that I was landing mid-foot. I shortened my stride and increased my cadence.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was time to try for four miles which would put me past the 28 minute danger zone. I strapped on the knee brace, which seemed to help a little, and headed out. The knee brace has velcro straps that go around my knee and hold it in place. At one point, the tip of the strap hit my left knee. I hadn’t pressed it down all the way. This happened several times. I had to stop and redo the strap so it wouldn’t dig up my bare leg. Then I realized something. That strap shouldn’t be anywhere near my left leg even if it was sticking out a little. If my feet are pointing foreword and I’m running along, my knees should be a few inches apart. The brace added maybe half an inch to my right leg. For the rest of the run, I concentrated on keeping my feet, knees and hips pointing straight ahead. I completed the four mile run in 38 minutes and the knee and hip were fine.

I’ve seen knock-kneed runners run. Their knees cave in and their feet go out. They look weird, but somehow they can still run. Was my right knee caving in when I got tired?

A few days later, I tried for four miles again. This time I thought about the position of my legs for the entire run. Feet straight, knees straight, glutes firing on all cylinders. Again, no pain.

Today’s five mile run is the farthest I have run in a long time. I completed it in 48 minutes. At one point, my inner thigh/groin area started to hurt, but that went away when I moved toward the center of the road.

Am I fixed this time? The exercises, the change in form, the reduced mileage, is it working?

An IT band injury is usually an overuse injury. I thought I was training smart for my marathon, but apparently I wasn’t. I’m going to do the five mile long run three more times before I push toward six. And only when I can comfortably run six will I try for seven.

I’ll be 50 years old next year. I really wanted to run a marathon before I turned 50, but I guess running a marathon at age 50 will have to due.

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