I was a little apprehensive coming into this race for a number of reasons. I had only been back running less than a week, and was still favoring my left knee after the recent injury. The previous weekend I flew back from Poland and in the intervening days I had managed only a single leisurely 4 mile run. I was definitely hesitant to put a lot of pressure on my knee, but after setting an easy pace on the treadmill I found that there were no lingering effects of the tendonitis. It seemed as though the break, along with the ice pack, stretches, and strength exercises were actually making a difference.
The morning of the race I headed off to the park. I resolved not to push myself too much, preferring to finish the event and chalk up another notch in my 9+1 quest for entry to next years New York City Marathon, rather than risk further injury and setback. I knew I had a long summer ahead and my mind was also on my training for the Philadelphia Marathon, due to start in mid-July. If I was going to be ready to take on that workload I had to make sure my knee was in the best condition possible.
That morning was hot and humid. I had been somewhat sheltered up to that point, having only run in relatively mild or cool conditions. I learned that morning that running in the heat and humidity is really not for me. The whole race was a struggle for me because of the heat, the drop in my fitness level from a month off, crowding at the start of the race, and general stiffness in my legs. But primarily from the heat and humidity.
We started on the west side of the park and circled the southern end. By the time I hit the the first mile marker I was already struggling and somewhat reluctantly checked my watch. Imagine my surprise when I saw it registered just shy of ten minutes. As I said, I had resolved to take it easy but ten minutes for the opening mile was much slower than planned. There was some crowding at the start that led to bunching and slow downs, but certainly not enough to have that much of an impact on my time. From that point on I knew it was going to be a rough day, so I settled in and tried to make the most of it.
By the time we reached the west side at the 102nd St transverse I was starting to take walk breaks every half mile or so. My knee was fine but my legs felt heavy and the humidity left me feeling sluggish. I remember feeling an immense sense of relief as the finish line came into view. I had picked up the pace enough over the middle miles to end up with a respectable time of 47:40, averaging 9:32 per mile. This was by far my slowest ever race, but given the conditions, my recent break and the fact that I was still protecting my knee, I felt like I had accomplished an important milestone in my comeback.
Over the course of my recent downtime I was reading a lot about various running injuries and preventative measures that athlete’s can take to avoid common problems. Curiously, it seems as though the feet and ankles are the most overlooked area of the casual athlete’s body.
This often leads to various foot injuries or joint problems in and around the ankles. I say curiously since the feet and ankles are central to the running form and take the majority of the front line beating. Perhaps we runners (and I include myself in this generalization) should spend a little more time focusing on the various impact and stress points instead of blindly trying to build muscle mass. Outlined here are some basic foot and ankle exercises, collectively designed to build strength and help limit the wear and tear that results from long miles on the road or track.
|Single-Leg Directional Hops
||Improves ankle and knee stability for a stronger push-off and landing.
To Do: Standing on your left leg, with the right knee raised to hip height, hop forward, landing softly. Hop back to start, then hop diagonally (to the left) and back to center, hop to the left and return to start.
Do 12 reps; switch legs.
||Develops energy transfer from landing to push-off; strengthens the lateral knee muscles for improved stability.
To Do: Lunge the left leg forward. With quick force, push the left foot off the floor and into a diagonal lunge to the left, keeping the hips straight. Push the left foot off the floor again, landing in a lunge to the left side, keeping the upper body stacked over the hips. That’s one rep. (Each rep should take about three seconds to complete.)
Do six reps; switch legs.
||Builds strength from the feet up through the hips for better transfer of power.
To Do: Standing in the bottom of a squat position with feet hip-width apart and shoulders stacked over hips, shoot your legs out to the sides and your arms out to shoulder height (like a regular jumping jack) without moving your upper body.
Do 16 to 24 reps.
|Single-Leg Mountain Climbers
||Strengthens foot-strike muscles; engages hip flexors, quads, glutes, and core.
To Do: Starting in a plank position, with abs engaged, bend your left knee and pin it against the right knee. Hop your right foot forward to waist distance, landing lightly on the ball of your foot and keeping the left leg from touching the ground. Then, shoot the right foot back, keeping knees pinned and left leg raised. That’s one rep.
Do 16 reps; switch legs.
With all this extra time on my hand, I have been able to revisit a topic I wrote about a couple of months ago. As I mentioned at the time, I have been considering joining a running group to provide myself a little more support and hopefully benefit from the knowledge and experience of other runners. Admittedly, I’m not sure how well I’ll adapt to group running but I figure I’ll give it a try and see how things work out. If I like it and I fit into the group culture then that’s just another positive environment for me to be in and a place where I can potentially learn enough to take my running to the next level.
I have to be realistic and don’t want to waste anyone’s time while evaluating my options. Therefore, I have come up with a short set of criteria to help me determine which of the available groups works well for me.
- Location – This is a very important criteria. I don’t want to have to run 4/5 miles just to get to a meeting point. It would be great if I could find a group within a 10/15 minute jog from my home, ideally with Prospect Park as the base.
- Schedule – Extremely important given that one of the things I’m looking for is support and motivation, especially on long runs. With school scheduled to start in September, and classes running on alternate Saturdays, my long runs will all be on Sundays. Ideally, the club or group will have their long runs on Sunday morning with a few other runs during the week.
- Group Size / Runner Level – Although part of the reason for joining is to have the group motivate and push me, I don’t want to be paddy last! I would like to know that the group has runners across all standards, so I can find fellow athletes to learn from and give something back too.
- Cool Logo / Shirts – The least important of the criteria but it matters enough to warrant a mention. The vest color and logo should be interesting and cool, and something that grabs people’s attention at races or when you’re out there on the street!
Most of this infomration I was able find on the various groups websites, but for some I had to reach out to the primary contact email address and wait for a reply. After collecting all the information, this is how it shakes out in reverse order:
- BRRC – The group meets on Prospect Park West which is comfortable distance from my home. However, their schedule doesn’t really work for me. Midweek runs are Tuesday and Thursday evening’s (I prefer morning) and weekend runs vary in distance. They have a lot of runners around my level, which is a plus. Unfortunately, green is not my color.
- PPTC – This group meets at Grand Army Plaza, about a mile from home so it’s relatively convenient. Unfortunately, their long runs are on Saturday morning and the only other group runs are a short loop of the park on Sunday and a large group run on Wednesday evening. The club has a wide range of skill levels, so I could definitely blend in well. However, I don’t look good in red.
- SBRC – Their location works great for me! They meet at Carroll Park, which is about 5 minutes from my house. However, the schedule is not so good. The morning group runs are at 6:45AM and my morning cutoff (when I have to be back home) is 7:15AM. Based on their web site, the group size tends to be small and they have a limited number of “slower” runners like myself. Constantly being among the slowest would definitely be a de-motivator for me. The logo and shirts are cool though.
- NBR – Of the four groups North Brooklyn Runners seems to be the best fit. They run most days, but the two that most interest me are the short to medium run on Wednesday morning @ 6AM that meets at Grand Army Plaza and the long run @ 7AM on Sunday that meets at McCarren Park. Although this is well outside my home zone, I could take the G train a few stops and then jog to the meeting point. This group seems to have a lot of members, ranging in skill levels. They also have an excellent website and an awesome shirt/logo.
Now I just have to head out and join them for a couple of runs to see if my research pans out. I’ll follow up on this post once I’ve found a good home.
Note: The ranking of clubs above is not meant to be empirical and is based solely on my own personal analysis and needs. Each club is unique in it’s own right and offers support to runners of all ages and levels. No one club is better than any of the others, but one may be better suited to an individual runners depending on a wide range of factors such those I mentioned above. If you are looking for a group, please take the time to research and meet the groups yourself, so you can find a comfortable place to run.
I 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.
- Wall Pushups
- Back Scratch
- Heel to Buttock
- Hip & Lower Back
- IT Band
Knee Rehab Stretching & Strength Building
- Standing Calf
- Heel Slide
- Straight Leg Raise
- Side Lying Leg Lift
- Wall Squat w/ Ball
- 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.