I remember when I first took up the sport of running well over 7 years ago, I could not read enough on the sport. In fact up until a few weeks ago I had well over 100 books on the subject sitting on a shelf in my office. I read everything I could get my hands on--everything from books to magazines to websites. I read everything from Running for Dummies to what many running experts consider to be the encyclopedia of running, Dr. Tim Noakes book, Lore of Running. I even went so far as to get my running coaches certification from the RRCA in July 2009.
With all this knowledge I just knew I had what it took to keep me running injury free--but that all changed in August 2012. During a long run at the end of August I started developing calf pain--not cramping per se, just a tightness in my left gastroc. It had been a really hot Texas summer so I thought this was due to poor intake of electrolytes--although I had never experienced this before and I never had this issue with my Chicago marathon training.
I went home did some stretches and took a few days off. After several disasterous attempts at managing the long run I decided to defer the Marine Corps Marathon to October 2013--I just did not have it in me to get through those long runs, my left calf just would not relax.
I started seeing a sports chiro and this is when I started putting it all together--Was it my shoes? My fueling? My running surface? My lack of recovery? While it could have been any of these things, the reality probably lies within the center of my being--no, not my soul--MY HIPS!
While shoes are important, according to new research, they may not be as important as we once thought. Same thing goes for fueling, running surfaces, recovery time, etc. But one common thread that seems to be floating around these days is that a runner's hips can be the cause of many issues--everything from knee pain, to ITB issues, even plantar fasciitis.
When I started training with Jay Johnson he had me start doing a series of exercises to help strengthen the muscles supporting the hips. If the hips/knees can't extend and flex properly via strong hips and glutes--this means my calves have to do much of the work to propel my body forward. The body would rather engage the big muscles (especially the glut maximus) to do this job than the small muscles of the gastroc and soleus.
I reluctantly started doing my MYRTL exercises, along with a series of planks (supine, prone and side) and other drills. I equate these exercises like my anti-hypertensive--as long as I take my medicine I am able to keep my blood pressure under control, but if I should stop, no telling what would happen. Same is true with these exercises--while they do a tremendous job for my hips, they don't do a lot for my vanity--like a biceps curl or a triceps dip does for my arms--but they are far more important to my goal of staying healthy.
So you may wonder why it took so long for this old chassis to break down. Well, running injuries are funny--more times than not, they do not happen overnight but instead they are the result of weeks, months and years of poor bio-mechanics and muscle imbalances.
My sports chiro explained it to me like this--let's say you take your car into get new tires before you go on a trip across country. You take your car in when the mechanic tells you that your car is out of alignment and that it would best to get your car aligned BEFORE getting your new tires. But you believe the guy is trying to get more money out of you and you leave with four brand new tires. Months pass by and all is going well--your car seems to be driving well, that is until you are driving down the road and you have a blow out. Now what was once an annoyance with a little pull to the right, has now caused major damage to your car--had you just spent the time and money to get the car aligned, you may have been able to prevent major damage to your car.
Same is true for these all important ancillary exercises--when we take time to work on the muscles that support running we keep the body in better alignment. When we take time to cross train we allow for more recovery of the muscles while still supporting our endurance and strength. When we take time to allow our bodies to fully recover between races, hopefully we can prevent our bodies from having a blow out that will keep us from running for weeks and months.
As for all those books on my shelf--80 percent of them went to the half-price bookstore--the information which was considered sound and logical for the day is no longer considered to be the same today. We must understand that with new technology and a better understanding as to how our bodies function, much of what we learned is no longer sound advice. It may be that history will prove us wrong, but for many, many years runners ran in nothing but shoes they found at their local department store. They only drank water on their runs and they didn't care where they ran, whether concrete or asphalt, they just ran. As more people take up running, the number of people reporting injuries will rise, too. Just remember though, you are an experiment of one, so take the information you learn and see if it applies to you.
Stay well and healthy!