Learning to Run---the RIGHT Way

I have learned so much since my last post.  In the first few weeks after the marathon, my legs were sore and very tired.  I know that running 26.2 miles (even with quite a bit of walking in those later miles) leaves microtears in my muscles.  The third week after the race, I began to run short, fast distances and raced a small 5K.  I ran 29:30, which is slower than many of my 5K tempo training runs over the last few years.  But it was hot, and I was only three weeks post marathon.  I still placed 3rd in my age group!

Here is a pic of me early in mile 1 taken from my parents' front porch (this is my hometown 5K-I'm in the blue shorts and white hat): 

In recent pics, and especially in the marathon pics, I see that I have a bigger-than-usual posterior pelvic tilt.  My hips scoop forward when I run.  Several things contribute to posterior pelvic tilt, including shortened hip flexors, inefficient gait, overstriding, and incorrect running posture.  My hips had never bothered me though.  I was doing a series of exercises called Myrtl at least once a week throughout the marathon training period.  I thought they were strong. My hip did ache a bit in the later miles of the marathon, though not in the weeks post-marathon or during this 5K. The week following this race, I continued with short, fast runs to try to whittle some time off my my next 5K.

However, on Saturday, May 16, I ran 10 miles, with fast one-mile intervals the last 6.  It was a tough run one month post-marathon.  That evening I noticed my right hip was sore.  It continued to hurt the next day and the following week.  I kept expecting it to get better, but it remained sore as I ran through it.  Then it intensified.  Finally, I took 7 days off running.  I was filled with hope on my first run back, but one-mile in, every step had begun to hurt.  I walked back home, defeated. 

This pattern continued for a month.  Self-treatments included foam rolling, rolling around on a tennis ball, stretching, hip-strengthening exercises, glute strengthening exercises, and periods of several rest days from running.  It never got better.  I figured it was either a hip flexor strain, hip flexor tear, or hip stress fracture.  I even worried about bone cancer.  I was in a dark place.  

Finally, I made appointments with BOTH a local chiropractor and a my orthopedic doctor.  The chiro had an opening on Monday, so I saw him first.  He found several issues, including uneven hips (the painful one tilts back farther), some joints with limited mobility, and form issues. Diagnosis:  hip flexor strain.   He adjusted several parts of me, and I left with 70% less pain than I arrived with!  He also gave me some information I already knew about good form--- increase foot turnover with short, quick steps, run with a neutral pelvis, run with shoulders back and head upright, not looking down, land with my feet under my center of mass--- but had NOT really worked to put into practice.   He didn't call it Pose Running, but that is similar to what he was explaining to me.  He also encouraged me to concentrate on forefoot or midfoot striking rather than heel striking.   

The very next day I tried running utilizing all of these techniques.  For the first time in over a month, I was able to run without pain.  Tweaking my form made all the difference.  I ran 1.5 miles that first day, FOREfoot striking with each step.  I was basically running on my toes, and it felt so unnatural. But my hip didn't hurt!  My feet, ankles, and calves hurt afterwards though!

I tried forefoot striking that week in short runs of 1 to 1.5 miles at a time.  It was painful and awkward, and I knew I was going to injure myself in other ways if I continued.  

I did some research and read that midfoot striking with a soft heel strike is recommended for those with IT Band and knee or hip issues.  Two recommendations were made:  get some shoes that "encourage" midfoot strike, such as Newtons or other minimal shoes and run with a metronome between 170 and 180 steps per minute.

I did both and I found my stride again!

I absolutely loved my Newton Fates and my metronome app from the very first run.  My form was no longer awkward.  I could  midfoot strike easily and land under my center of gravity.  The turnover was quick (I started at 178), so there was no overstriding.  I focused on maintaining a straight line between my shoulders and pelvis.

Relearning to run and using different muscles is exhausting, honestly!  Many muscles that should have been driving my run have been asleep at the wheel.  I am definitely quad dominant with weak gluteus maximus and gluteus minimus from all of my "flat-butt syndrome"/posterior pelvic tilt running.  Those underused muscles tire out quickly.  I have to be vigilant the entire run lest I fall back into old habits.  

I know form has always been an issue with me, but I was in denial. I believe when I stopped having two dedicated strength training days, these muscle imbalances became much more pronounced.  I strength train almost every day now.  I am up to running up to 3.5 miles with this new form (with only very mild hip soreness afterwards and the next day).  I'm healing. 

The lesson I've learned here is to not take running for granted.  I missed it those five weeks when I could not run without pain.  It's not just important to run, but to do all of those auxiliary things like form drills and lunges and hip work.  As an almost forty-five year old runner, I have to find a type of running that is sustainable for the long haul.  For me, that may not be running 5 marathons per year or 3 ultramarathons in six months.  

For now, I'd rather run 3.5 miles with proper form than 30 with my old form.  I should have done this years ago.  YEARS.