This spring I hurt myself running. There wasn’t a specific incident – I’d noticed some escalating pain in my hip after running, but I pushed through and went out day after day. I kept running until mile 9 of a much anticipated half marathon. After mile 9 I hobbled. Post race, the pain was bad enough that I had to take six weeks off of running. When I started running again, I found that shortening my stride helped minimize the hip pain, but I’d still have pain after a long run.
I started running a little over 3 years ago. One day I’d laced up some shoes and headed out the door. Like Forrest Gump, I just kept running without really thinking about it. The period after the hip injury was the first time I ever thought about my running form, or considered that how I was running could cause injuries.
So August 15th I went to Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy for a running assessment. Several friends had recommended Denise Smith after seeing her about their own running. All had said that she helped them with running pain, plus they had become stronger runners. I went to my meeting a little nervous, a lot excited, and not entirely sure what to expect.
Step one: A friendly chat.
Denise ushered me into her office and sat down with me. She told me a bit about her background – she has her masters in physical therapy, 18 years of experience, and a series of running technique certifications. When she talked about running technique, I felt like I could see the passion that drove her to open her own business. My interpretation: runners tend to focus on speed and distance, but there is a natural running form that can be learned through coaching, drills, and practice. With the right form a runner puts less stress on her body, is less likely to injure herself, and will more efficiently use her motion.
Then I talked about me. Denise asked a bunch of questions about my running background, how often I run, cross training, strength training, etc. Lastly, what were my goals in meeting with her? My main goal was simply that I don’t want to injure myself again. Taking time off of running sucked, plus there was that pain. More than anything else, I wanted to focus on injury prevention. I’d also love to be faster (who wouldn’t?). And I don’t strength train. I want to, but don’t know where to start.
Step two: The running assessment.
We went outside and Denise videoed me running at different speeds. Back inside Denise went over the video with me. She pointed out how my foot was landing in front of me acting as a brake for my momentum. It should be landing under me. I was dropping my foot early during my stride. Plus my ankle was doing a weird flopping thing (my words not hers). She drew lines and angles to help me understand. She switched to videos of good running form, then back to mine. This might sound demoralizing, but it was actually exciting to see how I could improve.
The funny thing is that this is actually an improvement over how I used to run – remember I shortened my strides after I hurt my hip. Check out this picture from a race in March.
Look at those long strides
Step three: Drills.
We went back outside and one by one we went through a series of drills. First we did a side to side pendulum. It was easy – I swung my foot out and let it land under me, bouncing from foot to foot. First in place, then slowly moving forward, then transitioning to running. Bounce, bounce, bounce, forward, then run, and back again. We went through 11 different drills each of them training my feet to land under my body. Each drill in place, then moving forward, then running. Next we did the drills to a metronome – 180 beats per minute.
The drills were easy. The running part didn’t really feel any different from my normal running.
But it looked different. Denise recorded my running after the drills. Back inside she put it on the screen next to my earlier run. Not perfect, but better.
Step four: Homework.
Drills. I should do the drills before my runs to train my body that my foot falls under my body. There were eleven different drills, but I should do the ones I like. I could also do the drills midrun if I notice my foot landing in front of me.
Hip dips. A cross between a plank and a pushup. I need to do 30/day for 30 days to strengthen my hips.
Metronome. Use a metronome while running. I should eventually be at 180bpm, but I should start lower with what was comfortable for me.
What did I think of the first meeting?
Denise was awesome. She’s friendly, knowledgeable, and has tons for experience. The way she broke down technique and running was easy to understand. While we watched the initial video of myself and she described what was happening, I could see how by landing my foot in front of my body I was causing myself to brake. With lines and angles, it was clear the differences between the best form and what I was doing. Plus she helped train the Russian Olympic triathletes. I felt like I was in good hands.
The drills are easy enough that I’m not worried about getting them wrong when I do them at home. We’ll see how they work out.
Two weeks in
Denise encouraged me to call or e-mail her if I had any questions. I haven’t since I haven’t really had any questions. I go back to see her tomorrow and I’m interested to see if/how my running has changed.
The drills: I like the drills. I stuck with my four favorite – the side to side pendulum, the front to back pendulum, skipping, and running backwards. Occasionally I’d throw in the karaoke. I’d run through the drills a couple times before running, but I really liked doing them on their own. I’d do them one after another. On one long, hilly run, I tried to do the pendulum at the 6 mile mark, but my brain went blank on how to do it. I’ll have to work on this.
Hip dips: I did 30 hip dips per day for the first week, then completely forgot about them until I came back to write my update. Whoops. I guess 30 days in a row starts today.
Metronome: I love the metronome when I’m doing the drills. I had trouble when I was running with other people. I talk and end up completely ignoring it. Maybe I’m still running in time? Hopefully.
Running: I ran Fort 2 Base today. At the beginning of the race, my feet seemed to be landing under me with little effort. The farther along I got, the more I had to remind myself and think about my form. “Relax your shoulders. Feet underneath.” My calves felt tight during the middle of the race. This is new – not something I experience before. I’m not sure if it comes from the new form. I’ll ask Denise about it tomorrow. After the race I had zero hip pain. Recently after a longer run, I would have a little pain that’s usually gone the next day. Could it be this easy? Two weeks of drills and I’m all better? Probably not – but I’m looking forward to see what’s next.