RESTORING THE STRIDE
I have no shame in admitting that I made the decision to train for a half marathon simply because all the cool kids were doing it. I saw the fun, the energy, and the camaraderie the running community exuded and I wanted part of it too. Fitness and social time? Count me IN!
Although my body was by no means race ready, I never questioned my ability to train to be ready by race day. I ran as a kid, I ran in high school, and I continued to run (casually) as an adult. I have great memories of running the military races with my dad as a child, and I had no doubt that if I followed a legit training program and prepared, I would cross the finish line and celebrate my accomplishments alongside many of my friends and mentors. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous but my jitters came from a confident place inside, and I was optimistic that I could finish strong.
It didn’t go as planned. Maybe it was the universe’s way of throwing me off my high horse, or maybe it was the clock reminding me that I am not that invincible young girl anymore. Shortly after I started my training program, my body began sending me clues that it was no longer in its reliable state, my strides weren’t as fluid as they once were, and I felt as if my joints were begging for a good DW-40 rub down.
I started running during pre-season so that I wouldn’t completely embarrass myself in front of the other veteran runners. I got up to about 6 miles before the commencement of the J&A fall/summer training season, and I was comfortable with my existing endurance level. Just a few weeks into the season, I began to feel a mild ache in my right knee. It was an ache that I had felt and shrugged off before, so I followed my standard protocol and shrugged it off once more. This time the pain didn’t go away. As I increased distance and speed, the ache increased its intensity as well. I was left with a fat knee and a hobble that lasted days after a long run. Yes, a hobble in my mid-thirties that wasn’t going away. Not my best look.
I casually mentioned the pain to my friend, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and she offered an evaluation. Eh, physical therapy never excited me. I didn’t feel like I fit the mold. I had no broken bones, surgeries, splints, sprains, or any other physical impairments. I didn’t fit the prototype of a physical therapy client, or so I thought. I avoided the appointment and politely changed the subject every time she kindly offered her services. I bought new shoes, tried to adjust my running posture, and even tried shoe inserts. Nothing worked. Eventually, the pain became so intense that I realized I would not finish the training season nor the race if I continued ignoring my knee. My ego would not allow that. I booked an appointment with Becca Ellis, Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of Restorative Therapy Company, and co-owner of PhysioYoga Concepts.
It felt cushy, meaning no x-rays, no scans, and no technology. While fulfilling Becca’s request to perform a variety of postures and movements- some of which had me on all fours doing hip rotations like a puppy marking its territory. “Just give me the X-ray,” I thought. I followed her instructions and quieted the pessimistic voice inside my head. I shifted my focus to her credentials, background, and the many testimonials I received prior to the appointment, athletes, especially runners, and reminded myself that Becca knew what she was doing. I whispered to myself, “Just do the hip rotations, Nicole.” Rebecca took measurements, she felt the stress points, and she listened to what hurt and what didn’t.
To conclude the appointment, she explained to me that the problem isn’t with my knees, it’s with my hips. What? Yup, 35 with no knee issues, but HIP issues?!?! Okay, wait. I did describe the pain in my KNEE, right? My hips feel fine! She expected that response and swiftly grabbed a book off her shelf and thumbed to a diagram that illustrated the anatomy of the knee and all those ligaments and muscles that support it. She demonstrated how the core muscles support hip function, and how the hip supports the knee. Without core strength and proper hip function, the knee cannot perform properly, hence the knee problems. The weakness in my core, I also learned, was causing me to arch my back, forming a strong curvature at the base of my spine and pushing my tush outwardly. Growing up I always knew my back was more arched than others, but I never interpreted my arch as a misalignment that would cause wear and tear on my joints- in this case, my knee! I was shocked!
Before leaving the appointment, Becca taught me a variety of exercises that would strengthen my muscles and provide more support to my hip. I received a nice portfolio with diagrams of each exercise and directions on how and when to do them. Following the plan was a piece of cake, the whole thing only took about 15 minutes to complete.
The pain vanished within a week (ONE WEEK!) and I finished two races that season just as I intended: STRONG. I have yet to achieve perfect alignment however, I continue to work on strengthening my core muscles and am now much more aware of my stance. When I arch, I feel it, and I am able to correct myself. Today my arch isn’t as exaggerated, and I feel great!
Becca Ellis of Restorative Therapy Company saved me. Not just from the possibility of letting myself down, but also in correcting an issue that could have led to osteoporosis, arthritis, and/or more pain that was likely to occur if I continued to ignore my poor alignment. Next time I’ll be more proactive and address the pain upfront and maaaaybe I won’t balk when a very credible medical professional offers advice. Turns out Becca was on to something after all.