Heavy Legs, Must Stretch

stretch001I find it interesting how both of the issues that have plagued me over the last year can be connected back to one of the most basic activities a runner can undertake. Ever since I started running I have been plagued by heavy legs. It’s probably something that most runners have encountered, but something I could never get to the bottom of. When running, my legs feel like blocks of concrete and they become a focus of my attention. My breathing and recovery intervals are fine, but my legs feel so heavy that I often struggle to overcome the desire to slow down and walk. Amazingly, the answer was staring me in the face all along. My legs were heavy because my muscles were tight, and my muscles were tight because I was not stretching them enough.

Although it’s true that stretching was featured on my training plan, clearly it wasn’t something I paid a lot of attention to. Seldom was I in a position where I could dedicate time to stretching out my legs, back, and core muscles. I was always running here or there (sometimes with a struggle). But acting on the advice of my physical therapist, I have started to stretch more often and have developed a customized set of activities that focus on key running muscles. I also have a set of recovery stretches and strength exercises that are aimed and promoting healing and muscle building in my knees.

Everyday Stretching

  • Wall Pushups
  • Back Scratch
  • Hamstring
  • Quads
  • Heel to Buttock
  • Hip & Lower Back
  • IT Band
  • Bridge
  • Groin

Knee Rehab Stretching & Strength Building

  • Hamstring
  • Standing Calf
  • Quads
  • Heel Slide
  • Straight Leg Raise
  • Side Lying Leg Lift
  • Wall Squat w/ Ball
  • Clam
  • IT Band

Please note that I am not a trained medical professional and this information is provided in the context of my own experiences for reference purposes only. These plans were designed with my specific situation in mind. If you suffer from similar problems or are designing your own stretching program, please seek out the advice of a trained professional.

Recovery Mode

rest001The after effects of my weekend exploits are not as bad as I expected. Although there was some pain in my left knee the next day, it was nothing more than expected and subsided over the course of the day without the aid of painkillers. As promised, I have to shut down all running activities for the next few weeks to (hopefully) allow my knee to recover. Obviously, I would prefer not to stop but if it’s a choice between taking a break for a few weeks or having to stop forever – well, that’s not really a choice now is it.

I am planning to travel to Poland in June for the European Championships, meeting up with some friends from Ireland and heading to a couple of games. I return on the 16th, which gives me four weeks of recovery time. During these next few weeks I will focus on the stretching and strength building routines I developed with my physical therapist and do some bike work to maintain fitness, but absolutely no impact activities that will put stress on the knee.

As you can imagine, things will be a little quiet around here for a few weeks, but should start back up again around the middle of June. There’s a 5M race in Central Park at the end of June and training for the Philadelphia Marathon starts in early July, so there’s not a lot of time to sit back and relax.

The Brooklyn Half

05192012 Brooklyn Half 003With all the knee problems I had been having in advance of this race, I had not set myself a target time. Instead, I preferred to focus on getting to the finish in one piece. Surprisingly, I completed the half-marathon in a time of 1:56:26, just over two minutes slower than my first half-marathon in March. What was remarkable about this particular effort was that I stopped at almost every water station to hydrate (it was wickedly hot) and walked for 30-60 seconds to take some pressure off my knee. I’m not saying I could have gone faster without the walking, merely speculating that at full health I might have a sub 1:50 half-marathon in my old legs.

The day started early, with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee in an attempt to start my internal system and get the all important bathroom visit in ahead of the long run. Shortly thereafter Jess dropped off Sarah (a good friend of hers) and I close to the start. Sarah is a much better runner than I and is also part of Team in Training, a great organization who work to support fellow runners while raising money for good causes all year round. Anyway, we made our way to the museum and then went our separate ways as we began our pre-race warm ups. I inhaled a banana and hydrated with some free bottles of water than were being handed out behind the museum. From there I headed over to the corrals and started stretching out my legs. So far, my knee was holding up just fine.

I bumped into a colleague and runner, and we chatted for a while which helped to take my mind off how to manage my knee over the next couple of hours. As the start time quickly approach, we turned our attention to the PA system and began to get psyched up for what promised to be a fast course.

The roads were well marshaled and even though there was a big crowd (15,000+) there were minimal delays in getting the runners going and very few bumps through the opening miles or two. We wound our way down and around the east side of Prospect Park, entering after 3 miles at Park Circle. I felt good at that point. I was holding a nine minute mile pace and my knee was giving off no signs that it wouldn’t hold up. Jess came out to cheer and I caught sight of her on the park’s West Drive. Many people have said it, but it’s so true – seeing a friendly face and getting a shout out provides a great boost to a runner.

We exited at Park Circle and proceeded onto Ocean Parkway, heading over the big ramp and down onto the flat, straight expanse of concrete. With the sun shining, there was little or no shade to provide relief. Prior to the race, I thought this would be a quick section, but the straight roads and hard concrete reminded me so much of the West Side Highway section of the NYC half. Both were long and difficult, more so for the mind than the body. However, it was around mile eight that my knee started to hurt. Just a little at first but enough to set off alarm bells in my head. Wanting to avoid a major injury, I began to take walk breaks to give the knee a break. At each water station I slowed down and re-hydrated while ambulating along for thirty seconds to a minute. After the quick respite, it was back up to jogging speed until the next station.

By this time I was still pulling a relatively fast pace. As we turned right off Ocean Parkway onto Surf Avenue, the crowds got larger and louder. I checked my time and I was headed for something under two hours! Immediately I got a lift and pushed on, passing Jess (who had a big smile and kiss for me) as I hit the boardwalk and upped my speed through the last quarter mile. As I crossed the finish line I couldn’t help but smile; I had done it and in a decent time too. The next 24/48 hours were going to be telling though – just how would my knee feel tomorrow morning and had I pushed myself too far? Only time will tell.

Patellar Tendonitis

patellaA couple of weeks ago I wrote about a recurring issue with my knee, specifically a sharp pain in behind the top of my knee cap. The pain only started in the weeks after the NYC half-marathon and initially I was self-medicating. As time went by and the problem remained, I started to get worried. Last week I had a doctor’s appointment regarding another issue, so I decided to bring up the topic of my knee pain. His initial diagnosis, based on the flexibility of my joint and location of the pain was bursitis, but he recommended I go for an x-ray to be certain. When the results of the x-ray came back and confirmed there was no structural damage he referred me to a physical therapist.

I found a therapist near my home and started to attend regular sessions. During my first visit the staff put me through some rigorous tests and determined that I was suffering from patellar tendonitis. Tendonitis is not a particularly debilitating injury, although it does get quite painful when trying to climb stairs or simply sitting down for extended periods. However, as I had continued to run on the injury over the previous week’s my body was not getting a chance to heal. And, according to the physical therapist, would not recover unless I stopped running for 4-6 weeks.

The news could not have come at a worse time, particularly with the eagerly awaited Brooklyn half-marathon quickly approaching. I was only two weeks away, but here was a medical professional telling me I had to stop running. Stubbornly and against all advice, I refused to stop until after the half-marathon – although I did concede and agree to skip the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K scheduled for May 12.

Despite my stubbornness, the staff at the physical therapy office agreed to work with me to get me through the half-marathon, using a combination of stretching, strength exercises, and K tape. Essentially, the two activities that I had stopped paying attention to following the NYC half-marathon (minus the taping of course). Because I had neglected to stretch and build muscle, my quad was pulling my patella in an uneven manner (one side was stronger than the other) and therefore causing irregular wear and poor traction to put additional strain on the tendons. For the next few weeks I have to take it really easy with the running, trying to maintain my current condition while stretching and working out with weights. The goal is to get me through the half-marathon without further aggravating the injury and then taking time off to allow it to heal properly.

I’m Not In

not_in001Yesterday was the big NYC Marathon Opening Day event, the day when all of us lottery entrants hope that our names are drawn and we can start planning those long and arduous months of training. Like the many thousands of other non-guaranteed lottery entrants, I attempted to open the road runners site around noon only to discover that it was offline. What followed was a somewhat painful wait for confirmation filled with repeated clicks of the browser’s refresh button. Later that evening, when I was finally able to access my marathon profile, I received the unfortunate news that I was not one of those lucky few selected to participate.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t get in because the date of the race has a certain significance to me and it would have been nice to run my first marathon on that day. I’m generally not a sentimental person, but in this case it was particularly disappointing to miss out. However, like any good scout I had planned ahead and am happy to say that I will take part in the Philadelphia Marathon on November 18. A couple of months ago, when details of the Philly event were release, I booked a hotel room for the weekend and marked the first day of registrations in my calendar. With that task completed in early April, it was just a case of confirming one or the other.Even though it would have been nice to have run my first marathon at home in NYC, I’m delighted to have Philadelphia as an alternative. My sister and her family live nearby, so we will certainly make plans to meet up and I have heard from others that it’s a really nice course along the Schuylkill river.

As for the NYC marathon, I will most certainly be in next year. Thanks to my diligence and competitive streak, I have already racked up 4 qualifying races this year with two more to come in May – well on my way to completing the requirements for guaranteed entry to next years NYC marathon via the 9+1 program.

Knee Pain

knee-painEver since I ran the half-marathon I have had some discomfort in my left knee. The problem manifests itself in two ways; when I’m going up steps or when I sit with my knee bent for an extended period of time. I had been self-medicating with Aleve (it’s the easiest on my stomach while still providing effective pain relief) on-and-off but was getting a little concerned that the problem had shown no signs of dissipating. Admittedly, I have been running three to four times a week to stay in shape for the Brooklyn half-marathon. Although common sense suggests that rest would be the best thing for my knee, I kept pushing myself.

Ask any expert and they’ll tell you – listen to your body. Out of stubbornness and the belief that I could run it off, I kept popping pills to mask the pain and pushing myself to log additional miles. Although common sense suggests that rest would have been the best way to allow for recovery, for some unknown reason I was not heeding the warning signs. After a couple of weeks the pain had not subsided, so I decided to ask a professional. I was due a visit to the doctor anyway, so as we were going through various topics I asked him about the pain in and around my kneecap. I had done some self-diagnosis (always a bad thing) and thought it might be runner’s knee. The doctor did some basic tests and determined the ligaments and cartilage to be in great shape. He said it was probably bursitis, but had me get an x-ray to eliminate the possibility of some other hidden problem. I’m still waiting the results, but in the meantime I got a cold wrap for my knee and have started using it to reduce swelling and inflammation and hopefully lessen the dependency on painkillers.

I’ll circle back to this in a week or two, once I know the results.

Joining A Group

RunningGroupI have been running for a little over a year now and have always tried to take good care of myself. Without a coach or team to provide advice, I have essentially been flying solo for all this time. That’s my choice, but clearly I am missing out by not being around more experienced runners. Sarah, a friend of Jess’, has been running for a long time and occasionally shares some words of wisdom when she hears that I’m struggling with something. I take this advice seriously, as she clearly knows what’s she’s doing but it made me re-think my solo approach.

With the move to Brooklyn all done, I checked the road runners website and noticed that there were a few clubs in the area that provide good resources for novices and intermediates.

I’ll take some time to review the specifics of each and might venture to run with them once or twice. My schedule is going to play a significant role in determining what I can do, as I start back to school in September. This means that I can really only plan on doing my long runs on Sunday mornings as I’ll be attending classes every other Saturday. Anyway, I’ll see what these groups offer in terms of resources and what their runs schedules are like. If I’m lucky I’ll something that works for me. More to follow on this particular topic soon …

The Scotland Run

scotland_001On Saturday I ran my second 10K and first warm-up for the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on May 19th. In my previous 10K race, the Joe Kleinerman 10K in Central Park, I completed the course in a time of 54:45 while averaging 8:46 per mile. To be fair, I had not trained all that much for this race as I had spent about two weeks following the NYC half-marathon recovering and easing back into running. In the weeks leading up to Scotland Run I got in a few 4 mile runs but was not feeling exceptionally fast. As a result, I did not have a particular target time for this race and was simply aiming for an improvement over my previous 10K best.

The Joe Kleinerman 10K started and finished on the east side around 102nd street and circumvented the park in a counter-clockwise direction. The Scotland Run was slightly different in that in started on the west side around 68th street and traveled clockwise around the park. Interestingly, I had never run the park in that direction so although all the sites were familiar, it felt somewhat strange to be running up sections I was used to traveling downhill and vice versa.

The weather on the day was perfect and I lined up in the 5000 corral. The early stages of the race felt slow and there was definitely some dodgy moments as I picked my way through a heavy crowd. Imagine my surprise then when my watch showed 8:30 at the first mile marker. With that as motivation I pushed on and knocked out the next two or three miles at an average pace of 8:10 – including the triple threat on the west side and the Harlem Hill. The east side provided some respite and allowed me recuperate slightly and hold back some reserves for the final push.

I kept the pressure on over the final couple of miles, and cresting the last hill, felt a wave of emotion come across me as the sights and sounds of the crowd at the finish line hit me. Although I suspected I was going to post a good time, when I glanced at my watch and saw I was on course to beat my previous time by three minutes I felt elated. The grin on my face as I crossed the line defied the pain I felt inside, but was just a reflection of how proud I felt about my accomplishment.

Brooklyn

bklyn_001After spending the last year and a half based in Central Park, I’m moving my training runs to Prospect Park in a few weeks. Why so? On the personal side, things have been going extremely well with Jessica and we’ve decided to move in together. Our place in Boerum Hill is about a mile from Prospect Park, so most of my outdoor runs will be based there in the future. I’m sure I’ll miss the proximity to Central Park – especially on race days – but otherwise I’m looking forward to getting out of Manhattan.

A friend had mentioned the Brooklyn half-marathon a while ago and I was watching out for it on the New York Road Runners calendar. The race was listed as TBD for quite some time, leading to speculation among many in the running community about a change in date or course. Nevertheless, details of the race were published two weeks ago and the registration date set for March 26th. I was out of the country at the time, and arrived home that afternoon. Knowing the popularity of the race, one of the first things I did when I got home was to open the NYRR site and sign up for the race. Lucky I did, as the race sold out in a matter of hours.

Having completed my first half-marathon only a few weeks ago, I’m excited to do it all again. The course sounds very interesting and the finish, along the Coney Island boardwalk, is something worth looking forward to.

Planning For The Future

planning_future_001Now that I have completed my first half-marathon, I don’t plan on letting up. On the contrary, I am going to continue setting myself more challenging goals and keep pushing myself to reach beyond my limits. That said, I have been taking it easy since the half-marathon. I spent the following few days recuperating, focusing on my swimming as a means of staying active and stretching out my muscles. I ran 5K last Wednesday at a decent clip and felt no pain in my legs, and following a trip to Ireland, got back on the treadmill to clock up 4 miles this morning. I’ll revert to 4-6 mile runs for a couple of weeks to avoid putting too much stress on my body while maintaining my fitness levels and planning for upcoming races.

At this point, I am scheduled to take part in the Scotland Run (10K) on April 7 and the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K on May 12. Interestingly, both races are a full loop of the park but in a counter-clockwise direction – something I have never done before.

Like many others, I was also watching the New York Road Runners site for updates on the Brooklyn Half-Marathon. I caught the news late last week that registration would be open on Monday, March 26 at noon and managed to sign up shortly thereafter. It appears that many others were on the ball too, because ten hours later the NYRR twitter feed broke the news that the race had reached capacity and registration was closed. The race itself is scheduled for May 19th and is one I am really looking forward to as the course includes a long downhill stretch over the second half that follows Ocean Parkway all the way to Coney Island.

My marathon situation should clear up over the next month or so. April 1st is the first registration date for the Philadelphia marathon and the field for the NYC marathon is announced around April 26th. The marathons are two weeks apart, so I can realistically only compete in one of them. My first preference is to run the NYC race, but Philadelphia is close and is a popular course among east-coast runners, so if I don’t get into the NYC race I will be just as happy to run Philly.