It started with a really minor ache in my knee on our 20 mile run that I didn't complete. I was okay with that as I know when to push through the miles and when not to since my knee injury in Sept 2011. After getting sidelined for 3 whole months and then slowly working my way back up to anything I knew I wanted to avoid any big alterations to my training schedule from an injury.
The knee thing comes and goes but I started to have a few other things crop up. There was the week where running just felt really weird. That was when my chiropractor adjusted me and told me that my left hip was a bit turned out. He told me I needed to work on stretching my hip flexors as well as loosening up my IT band (with the foam roller). I listened for a couple days. The past few weeks have been calf pain. Nothing major, just little aches. Over the week it traveled down toward my Achilles which caused me to cut a run rather short. Walking back to my car with that dull nagging pain and realizing that this was the fourth week with some minor ailment confirmed to me that I had to talk to someone. I have been pretty darn tired of these weird little aches. They've been small but I know how they can grow and I'm ready to cut anything off at the pass. I'm sure my knee injury last year was a blessing in disguise because it's made me ultra-aware of anything that doesn't feel right.
The main thing that happens to athletes is overuse injuries. This can be exacerbated by a few things like improper shoes, form, or a weak core, but the first place winner for injuries is too many miles and not enough rest. The risk for injuries increases exponentially for newer runners, like me. Because let's face it, I really didn't start any sort of consistent training program until the end of this May. Garmin files prove it. I ran about 170 miles last year total and this year from May - present I've already run 425.
When I started this season I tried very hard to be diligent about my stretches and strength training. As the months wore on though and I settled into a comfortable schedule those exercises kind of dropped into the "when I feel like it" zone. Laziness is a big reason why this happened because I just ran 8 miles darnit, do I really need to spend 10 whole minutes stretching? Do I still really need to keep doing single leg deadlifts, side plank leg raises and bridges? Well, according to the PT I saw yesterday that my coach referred me to, why yes, yes I do!
I'm really thankful for the resources I have been connected with in this program. My insurance doesn't cover PT until my absurdly high deductible is reached and even then they only cover 30%. I was able to be seen by a fellow athlete and runner for a free 20 minute consultation that turned into a 90 minute session with some cold laser treatment, electro-therapy and a lot of awesome information on stretching and discussions about what was likely going on these past 4 weeks: my foot flexibility - or lack thereof. My calves are so darn tight that I can't flex my foot up towards my toes more than a couple degrees. I found out that normal flexibility should be at least 15 degrees. Vince, the PT, told me that I had very strong calves but because I'm built with quite a bit of muscle I absolutely can't skimp on the stretching. I also really need to keep up with the core strengthening exercises I was doing because core strength is so important and likely my glutes aren't pulling their weight. When one thing starts to fail because they're not up to par, it's pretty easy for other parts of your body to overcompensate and BAM! you're feeling aches and pains all over.
The main stretch I'm working on to loosen up my calves and Achilles is a calf extension drop stretch done on a stair. This is when you're on the ball of your foot and drop the heel back over the stair and feel this intensely painful and torturous stretch up your calf. Or at least for me it feels that way. The sad part is that my heel drops like 2 inches, maybe. The good part though is that even after only two days of doing 2 sets for 60 seconds on each side, twice a day, my calves feel a little looser. I was able to run last night in track and felt pretty great!
Vince told me that I really need to think of these stretches and exercises just like a prescription that a doctor might give me. Saying that to me kind of hit home how important consistency really is. It's more important than running at this point. I've also been told to cut mileage in half for the next 3 weeks to let my body rest. I have a half in a couple weeks that I was hoping to set another PR on but he reminded me that I'm 29. I have years and years of setting PR's and running ahead of me if I take care of myself now. Even though I know this, sometimes it really helps to have someone remind you of this. It's so easy to get caught up in the "now" but running is really about keeping yourself strong and healthy for the future. Isn't that one reason why we run in the first place? To stay healthy? Getting some extra rest in now and maybe shifting that focus to some biking, climbing and even swimming could be the difference between myself managing to get by right now with random aches and pains vs coming back as a stronger, faster and well rested runner.
Don't get me wrong though, I'm still running! I want to run. I can blog about what I am going to do all day but it doesn't mean that this isn't tough. Vince said to continue to run on the days that I've been running to keep up with my schedule but cut that distance in half. I need to spend some time thinking about this because our program is up next week and I'd still like to devote my Saturdays to longer runs of 8-12 miles. (Originally I had planned on 12 - 16). But if I plan a 12 mile run that means I only can run 3-5 miles during the week. That... sucks. And honestly, that won't work for me. I've got to figure something out that does work and that likely means giving up the longer weekend mileage for a little bit. I've never been very good at running distances over 6 miles on the weekdays so for now that's at least a good thing!
After my next race I have 2 months until my next half in December. They do a super in depth running analysis at the studio/gym that my coach works at. He is our coach but also is a personal trainer and triathlete superstar so he's awesome to have on board for this too. It's $150, so it's a little pricy, but it would be really wonderful to get some detailed feedback on my running style and what I might need to change or even if I'm on the right track but could use a few tweaks here and there. Both Vince and Jeremy watch you barefoot on the treadmill and in shoes. They make recommendations and then in a month or so there is a follow up. These recommendations would also include a rough schedule going forward. To understand the bio-mechanics of what is going on when I run would be incredibly useful for me because I know there are always things to work on. I'm not a skinny, flat chested, built like skinny dude, runner and that isn't changing anytime soon. I know that I am likely more prone to injuries but with that I know I can get the knowledge to prevent them. If anything I am at least in tune with my body and eager to learn.
Vince made a good point. He said that running for me right now is something I'm clearly passionate about. It's something that is a great outlet and it's fun. The last thing I'd want is to keep running the high mileage weeks right now and end up with an injury that could become chronic that either takes me off the trail or makes running so painful that it isn't fun anymore. The last thing any runner wants to hear is to cut back but while it's tough, I'd much rather take extra time off now than be forced to take time off in February when I'll be full-swing training for Big Sur. Got to keep my priorities in check because I am going to run an awesome first marathon! Maybe not an award winning time, but I will certainly be much happier if those 26.2 are pain-free. (Well, as pain-free as a marathon can be!) Cheers!