Life has been pretty weird lately, with the death of my father, a hospital stay for my mom and a brother in law who’s decided to make a career change: senior corporate management for alcoholism. And, as I haven’t had the time or energy to be all that active here, I decided to post something that I intended to post back in April:
Back in October ’11, we went away to Cambria, a small town along the central California coast, for a long weekend as kind of an extended family vacation. It was a great time and all but one of the more memorable things for me was gaining the ability to run after having jaw surgery the previous week. This week, we again headed down to Cambria to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and, as was the case in October, my running has been hampered, this time by runner’s knee. And I was really hoping that, as was the case on my previous trip, I’d have a successful run and return home with the ability to continue running. Well, things didn’t quite work out the way that I hoped.
I took off on a 5 mile run with the sky partly cloudy but sunny, a beautiful day along the coast. But, within literally two minutes, it began to rain. Not just a light shower, but hard, cold rain. You’d think that I’d take that as a prophetic sign. As I continued my run, running on the Fiscalini Ranch Trail, the skies cleared and the sun came out, giving me spectacular views of the rocky cliffs meeting the Pacific – the birds were plentiful and, because of the rain, I had the trail all to myself. And, as I ran, the only thought that came to mind was: man, I’m darn lucky to live in California.
As I was on my last mile though, a familiar tightness started in my hamstrings and the pain returned to my knee. Crap. And, like the clueless moron that I am, I continued running, thinking that, with only a mile or so left, it wouldn’t get too much worse. Bad move. I’ve been reminded of my stupidity ever since when I attempt to do strenuous things like walking up stairs or bend down to pick something up.
So what’s next? Having absolutely zero experience with Runner’s Knee, I’m reaching out and getting some help from a running coach. This is huge for me as I’m the kind of guy who thinks that I can fix everything on my own – my home is littered with projects in various state of repair or construction to prove this fact. But, at some point, stubbornness needs to give way to common sense so bring on the coaching.
Injuries: some say that they can be avoided while others say that they’re a part of running. Some in the minimalist and barefoot movement will say that running injury free is possible if we run how are bodies were designed to run while ChiRunners will say that, if we can just rediscover the stride of our youth, we’ll all be well on our way to making injuries a thing of the past. While I can’t say for certain if any of the above is true, I can say that injuries are frustrating, irritating and sometimes make me wonder why I do this thing called running.
As many years as I’ve run, I’ve come to realize that injuries are a part of running and, as many claim to have one size fits all solutions to any injuries, it’s been my experience that they simply don’t exist. Take the recent experiences with Lauren Fleshman for example: an Olympic hopeful who has been sidelined by an IT band gone bad. And, as many resources as she has at her disposal, the opinions of exactly why she’s injured seem to vary quite a bit, which doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope since I’ve recently begun a battle with ITBS.
My only other “major” injury was shin splints -- I call it major because it kept me off the roads for darn near sixteen years. Like many, I too hit the interwebs looking for that single thing that would cure what ailed me (adding a bit of hair on my head while it’s at it?) but, time after time, that sure-fire cure didn’t work. Instead, it took a lot of trial and effort on my part to bring myself to a point at which I was running regularly. And, for almost two years, I was a happy runner. Sigh.
So, as I stare down the face of ITBS, or more commonly referred to as runner’s knee, I’m left wondering what the cure will be and how long I’ll be off the roads this time. And, in the same sentence, I’m left wondering how to avoid this in the future. After all, I tried to be careful, listening to my body to the best of my ability as I built up my miles. I also followed the 10% per week max increase by increasing roughly 5% week over week. And, I had a few weeks of lower mileage mixed in. I did everything right, so why do I hurt?
I remember a conversation that I had years ago with a fairly successful motorcycle racer. At the time, I was pretty into going fast on bikes so I had a ton of questions for him about his mental approach to getting through corners quickly. One thing that he said stuck with me: “If you’re going to ride fast, you’re going to go down.” I think, to a certain extent, this applies to running as well: if you’re going to run, you’re going to go down to injury at some point. It’s a necessary evil, and one that can test our dedication to the sport. As much as I want to complain about pain and being off the roads, I still maintain that I’m darn glad that I’m a runner and, especially now that Spring’s right around the corner, I can’t wait to be running once again, uninjured and for the pure joy of it – until I’m injured again.
Well, dang, injured again. Looks like I’ve tried to do too much too soon – not the first time this has happened. I spent roughly 15 years dealing with shin splints during my repeated efforts to return to running and now, after almost two injury free years, here I am again. But this time, it’s with iliotibial band (IT Band) syndrome or, more commonly, runner’s knee.
In discussing runner’s knee with other runners, the question has come up a number of times as to what exactly the iliotibial band is. And, thanks to the magic of Google, I can confidently communicate that the IT band is basically a group of fibers that runs from the area of your hip and glutes – I really didn’t want to say “butt” – down to your knee. When it’s healthy and doing its job, it provides stability to the outside of your leg when performing activities like running and cycling. When it’s inflamed and not healthy, it provides much pain in the outside area of your knee whenever you try to do things like go up stairs or bend down to pick something up – nothing has made me feel my age like the pain that runner’s knee provides.
I think that my particular case of runner’s knee started a while back while I was doing a three-month post-gallbladder surgery base building phase. Since I was off the road for about a month, I started slowly and gradually built up to 40+ miles per week. During that time, I started to notice that my upper hamstrings and glutes were unusually tight – to the point of being able to sit for only 10 or 15 minutes at a time before having to get up and move around. To combat this, I did some light stretching before going to bed at night and that seemed to help. But, once the base building phase ended and I started a speed building phase, complete with fartleks, hills and tempo runs, the syndrome came into its full glory.
At this point, I’ve reduced my weekly mileage significantly to the point at which I’m going out every other day or so for 5 to 6 miles while doing some increased, targeted stretching. And, as no battle against runner’s knee would be complete with out a foam roller, I purchased a pretty light-blue one and have actually used it. It’s funny, they seem so cute and painless when you look at them -- whoodathunk that they’d have more in common with a medieval torture device?
A week or two into the stretches and waterboarding sessions with the foam roller, I am getting significant relief but then again, I’m only going 18-20 miles a week. I’m thinking about adding miles here soon so we’ll see how it goes. One lesson that I seem never to learn though is that slow and steady wins the race or, more realistically, allows you to actually run the race. The one positive to pull out of this though is that, as I’ve already dealt with shin splints and runner’s knee, I only need to get plantar fasciitis to complete the trifecta!