I consider myself pretty lucky when it comes to my health. In general, I don’t get sick often and I’ve never broken a bone in my body. Even in my running career, I’ve only had little niggles and just had a brief period of tendonitis in my lower leg after my first marathon in October. I think one of the main reasons why I haven’t had to deal with major injury in the past year or so is that I’ve always allowed for an appropriate amount of rest. I’m not the type of runner that can workout 6-7 days a week and have the energy to go about my daily life. (If you’re one of these people, then I consider you to be superhuman.)
But if you consider yourself a long distance runner and you have several training cycles throughout the year, you’re probably going to have to deal with a little bit of pain along the way. And just because the pain is minor, doesn’t mean that you feel any better about the fact that you’re “injured”.
A couple of weeks ago, I started to feel a weird tenderness in my right calf. I couldn’t really find the right words to describe it at the time. But it felt like a huge knot in the outside of my calf that followed with some uncomfortable pain shooting down my leg toward my ankle. It was weird. And I didn’t like how my legs felt before, during, or after my runs. I figured it was just something that I’d have to massage and wait out. But it the discomfort didn’t go away after a couple of days and I started to get worried. I had felt this kind of pain before–my right calf was feeling exactly how my left calf felt right before I was diagnosed with minor tendonitis in November.
I knew I didn’t want to mess with my leg anymore and risk lower mileage and easier workouts for 3-4 weeks. So I chilled. And didn’t run for a few days. I was sad that I couldn’t go for a run. I wanted to brush it off and pretend like the pain wasn’t there in the first place. Coach and I decided I’d test the leg out during a speed session with slower splits than previously planned. My leg felt great all day at work and I was anxious to do the speedwork once I got home.
It turns out I didn’t need the slower splits. My legs were ready to GO that night and I felt like I could run them even faster than I had. My legs feel like they’re “back to normal” now and I’ve had some great runs lately. I think I needed just a few days rest to let them work out the pain on their own. But the pain scared me enough to make me realize that I had to change something. There had to be a reason why I was experiencing the same symptoms in each leg within a few month’s time.
I’m still working on how to strengthen certain weaknesses, but I’ve settled on the fact that the pain stems from hip weakness. The only type of ‘strength training’ I do is typically yoga and I know that I need to be doing more to strengthen muscles that I don’t use when I’m running. If I’m always using the same muscles to move in the same exact way, I’m most definitely going to be injured this year.
There are two small changes I’ve made to my routine and I can already feel a difference:
The first– the Lunge Matrix. I do this just before or after my warm-up. In coach’s words, this engages certain muscles so that they can be used properly during either a speed or tempo workout. The first time I did the matrix, I did 10 lunges on each leg for each of the 4 lunge types and ended up walking funny for days. I was SO sore. At that point, I realized how weak those underused muscles were.
The second– the Myrtl Routine. I do this either as a substituted or additional cooldown after any type of run. I even do it at home while watching t.v. at night. It’s helping me find range of motion in my hips and use muscles that haven’t been stretched or strengthened in awhile. You wouldn’t think such simple exercises would make you feel strong, but this routine definitely does.
I’ve talked to a lot of running friends lately about hip weakness and there seems to be a resounding YES when I say that hip muscles are neglected by many of us. Hope this is of use to some of you runners out there!