Monthly Archives: May 2010

Healing My Legs Through Torture: The Graston Technique

So I’ve been reluctant to share what I’m going through lately, simply out of fear that it won’t work. I’m still reluctant, and I truly hope I don’t jinx anything. But I figured that it’s time to talk about this procedure.

If you’ve read my blog before you’re fully aware of my persistent battle with shin pain. Stress fractures last summer. And then the fact that I’ve been plagued by shin splints for the past year. You’re probably thinking, “shin splints for a year?” I usually get a few responses when I tell people this, even though they don’t say it aloud I can tell what they’re thinking. 1)Shin splints don’t last a year. At worst maybe like 3 weeks. 2)They’ve had shin splints and yes they’ve been annoying but c’mon, they’re just shin splints. They’re not THAT bad. People usually nod, or say “that sucks” and move on, and I know they’re probably thinking I just have a really low threshold to pain. It’s because of these reactions that I’ve chosen to try and ignore the pain. But lets face it, I’m only running twice a week and am in pain constantly, even sitting at my desk. There may have been a day or two here and there that I’ve felt totally fine, but for the past year I have had this nagging pain in my lower legs.

When I met my current doctor at a open consultation seminar at my running store he told me to come in and he’d break up whatever was in my leg. I put it off for a few weeks, but went in last week for my first session. During my consultation he had concluded that there was an immense amount of scar tissue built up on my bone and that this needed to be pulled away and broken up. He also warned me, multiple times, that this was going to hurt…a lot. I told him “ok, fine”. But I don’t think he pegged me as someone who could handle the pain. Like most people, I think he doubted, ever so slightly, the level of my condition. He told me he would be using Active Release Technique (A.R.T.) and the Graston Technique.

A.R.T. is a “state of the art soft tissue system/movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves.” http://www.activerelease.com/# I’m familiar with the technique. I’ve heard good things. And I’ve heard it hurts. But let me tell you, it has nothing on the Graston Technique. And lucky me, we’ve been primarily using the Graston Technique in all my sessions. This technique uses what I like to refer to as medieval torture instruments to break up the scar tissue.

During my first session, the doctor began working on my right leg first (my better side). He got about a minute into it and stopped and looked at me. “Wow. You’ve got a lot clumped in there. This must be really painful.” “Yes,” I replied. “And that’s my good leg.” When he began working the left one we started to hear a really weird noise. He once again stopped and looked at me, “you realize you have a lot of fluid in there? That’s not good. Can you hear it?” I said I had no idea it was there, and frankly didn’t understand why or how fluid could be there. He gave me a look, which I appreciate more than anything, that said, “I get it now. You really are in pain. This is real.” The danger with the fluid where it is, as most runners know, is compartment syndrome. I don’t want to get to that stage. And where on the right leg we’ll be able to make progress right away with ridding the scar tissue and fascia, I need to get this fluid out of my left leg.

Second session: When I get these procedures done I sit on the table, legs out in front, sitting up but leaning back on my wrists. And I’ll be honest: This Graston technique business hurts like hell. But I stay still. The doctor stops at one point and says, “you’re allowed to scream if you want. You can yell, scream, do whatever. I know this must hurt.” I said thanks but this actually works for me. We talked about it more today. I was telling him that I know it sounds weird but I actually need to meditate on the pain. I need to focus on it so strongly. That’s how I can get through it. Weird, I know. He said that that’s actually a response you see in a lot of endurance athletes. Which I guess makes sense. I’m actually proud of myself that I can hold it together like that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I stub my toe I scream and yell and curse the corner that jumped out at me. But unbearable pain like this? I’m stoic. When I told my mother about this she said that she’s the same way. I think we’re wired to remain strong and concentrated under immense pain and pressure. In fact, it never occurred to me that I could scream until he brought it up.

So I guess you’re wondering how this all happened and what do we do now. That’s what I was wondering at least. Yes, shin splints were probably the root of the problem. But this was injury on top of injury on top of injury that contributed to this amount of scar tissue. And it has to get broken up if I ever want to run, or even be pain free. This isn’t stuff that just goes away with time. As I’ve discussed before, I fit none of the characteristics of someone who is chronically affected by shin splints. My pronation is fine, everything is neutral. My arches are normal. My strike is fine. So what on earth is wrong with me? Well this doctor offered a suggestion that I hadn’t ever considered before, but makes perfect sense: I’m running with my lower leg. My power is coming from my calf and knee. My inability to do a proper squat began to confirm this theory. On Monday we’ll be working on my stride and re-learning how to run. In the meantime I’ve been working on my squats at home, icing like it’s my job, taking soothing baths in epsom salt, and I just purchased some compression socks that will hopefully help work this fluid up towards my heart and away from my foot.

I’m reluctant to share all of this simply because I’m afraid it won’t work. This is not a cheap process, and I would like to just quickly say that our health care system is extremely flawed. I’m extremely grateful to my mother who is helping me with this, and I can only hope that this is worth it. I hope it is, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help ensure that this process works. This past Monday left me in excruciating pain. The bruises on my leg back this up. But today wasn’t so bad. It still hurt while he was jabbing metal utensils into my flesh and scraping my bone, but I’m doing pretty well a few hours later. He said I should begin to notice a difference next week. Check back later, and hopefully it’ll be true.

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Shoes. OMG. Shoes

Got my race photos back! I’m beet red in them, but for the most part I don’t think I look as bad as I know I felt. Pete took a video of me finishing, and even in that I look like I’m a little tired but nothing out of the norm for someone who’s just run 13.1 miles. Except that I know I was in complete agony. Maybe my body knew I was being videotaped/photographed and instinctively pulled it together. If I figure out how to get the video posted here I will. I might have to ask Pete, which is ironic considering he’s totally not a tech person but I know he’s done it before for his blog, AStonesThrow09

Around mile 7 I think


Finish Line

I bought new shoes this weekend. Brooks Ghost 2. I had about 400 miles on my Asics Gel Nimbus 11’s, which I loved, but I decided after my race that it was time. I probably can still get a few more miles out of them – and I probably will. But after carrying around that extra weight in my feet from all the rain and puddles the week before, all I’ve been thinking about is getting my feet into something lighter. So I went to my running store, Georgetown Running Company in Chevy Chase and picked up these:

Brooks Ghost 2


I did a six-miler in them yesterday at Great Falls (C&O). I like the shoe. It’s a little different but not too much. I’m still using my Superfeet inserts. But my shins hurt. Both of them. Adding to my frustration was the general consensus at my running store that I do indeed have a neutral foot – no over or under pronation, and my arch is just fine. Which means that whatever is wrong with my shins can’t be easily blamed on the biomechanics of my feet and therefore can’t be that easily corrected. Ugh. I’m sure that part of it is because I’m in a different shoe so my feet have to get used to them. But that’s not enough of an excuse for me so I’ve decided it’s time to take a stronger course of action. On Wednesday I’m going in for a consultation to have Active Release Technique (A.R.T) used on my legs (is A.R.T. a verb or a noun? Can’t figure out how to use it exactly). I’ve done my research. I’ve already met the doctor. He’s already informed me it’ll be painful. I’ve already said, “fine, whatever. Just make the long-term pain stop”. I feel like I’ve been putting this off because I feel like it’s really my last stop. I don’t know how else to deal with my shin pain. Everyone seems stumped as to why it’s so bad with me and why it’s constant. I’m just hoping it really is just a ton of scar tissue that can be moved around. I’m ready. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive. Hopefully it’s worth it.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Liam Kyle Sullivan’s video, Shoes, please do. It’s one of our favorites.

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Pittsburgh Half Marathon Race Report

Well, this was quite a race. It was a run that I didn’t prepare for. Not in the sense that I didn’t train enough. It was a mental race. I’m not quite sure if I won or lost it actually. And it was more physically demanding than I ever imagined. I finished the half marathon at 1:54:11. More than 14 minutes FASTER than my previous time a year before. But I collapsed seconds after crossing the finish line and was taken to the medical tents…but don’t worry, I still got a Smiley cookie.

Despite a grim forecast and higher temps than we all would’ve wanted, I was pumped Sunday morning. I was singing in the car and totally high and excited about the race. So much so that I couldn’t sit still in the car when we were stuck in traffic so I got out and walked the rest of the way to the convention center, leaving Pete to find parking. I was torn about what to do about pace groups. I wanted to run under 1:55 but I knew that was a pretty lofty goal. The only half marathon pace groups I saw online were 1:50 and 2:00 so I couldn’t figure out which to join. I know you’re supposed to start out slow, but I couldn’t resist the faster group. Afterall, I like to be pushed. In the end the starting line was so crowded that I had a hard time finding the right group. I settled next to the 8:35 min/mi marathon pace team.

Pre-Race at Dawn

The sky was overcast, and the air heavy, but when the starting gun went off I didn’t seem to pay much attention to the dark clouds above. I ran with the 8:35 group for a few miles, but I kept hearing people telling their leader that they were going too slow. But it was so crowded that it was difficult to meander in and out of people while keeping the group together. By mile 2 it began to pour. Shortly after that I left the group behind me. I had my Garmin on but I try really hard not to look at it too much. I don’t want to become obsessive about my pace. But maybe this time I should have. I think I was running too fast.

A few things that went wrong, physically: 1. I think I started too strong. I don’t think it was the downfall of me, but I definitly think it made an impact on my overall performance. 2. I didn’t expect the hills. Last years course wasn’t very hilly. At all. But I guess they changed the course and it is my own fault for not having looked at it closely enough. When I train on hills with my group we push hard up and recover down. It’s pretty standard. So I’m used to that. But here’s the thing, we do two maybe three hills over the course of six miles. All the sudden I’m pushing up a hill, recovering for a minute and then pushing up another, then recovering as I go around a turn and then going up another. One hill after the other. It began to wear down my legs. By the end of the course I would tell myself “Last hill…this is the last one.” I would put all my thoughts and hopes on that “last” hill. And then another came along. 3. Pete pointed this last one out to me today and I think he’s right. It was pouring out there and I ran through a bunch of puddles. That’s just what happens. My shoes became really heavy and carrying around and extra 2lbs in your feet did not help my legs recover from the bridges.

I began to encounter some problems around mile 7, but everything would change at mile 9. At that point I was beginning to shuffle. People started to pass me. When I saw the number “9″ I saw “omg i still have 4 more miles” instead of, “one more, and then three more”. My mind began it’s slow battle.

Post-race...I made it

I’ve heard people talk about mind games and exhaustion and cramping before. Hell, I’ve had some really tough runs over the years. But now I get what people are talking about. It was brutal. I couldn’t get control and I couldn’t focus. I’m well aware that these races are like 70% mental. And I tried to keep telling myself that but it didn’t work. I couldn’t grab hold of a mantra. I couldn’t really grab hold of any thoughts. All time goals went out the window. I just wanted to finish. And I didn’t want to walk. That was the only thing that seemed to stick. Don’t walk. I would pick up the pace a bit and then slow back down. I was already huffing and puffing. Now I began grunting. And talking aloud. “Don’t walk” I kept saying aloud. I knew that if I didn’t walk, and I finished, that I would be proud of myself. But if I walked I would have nothing to show for myself. So I kept shuffling. Barely. The 8:35 pace team that I had left in the dust an hour earlier came up and passed me. I was moving so slowly that they were out of my sight line real quickly. My eyes were now closed quite a bit. The rain stung and I couldn’t bare to look ahead at how many miles I had left. I was begining to feel defeated. How did I go from being on top of the world a few hours earlier to this.

If I could have produced tears I probably would have. At mile 11 a guy ran up beside me. “Are you ok?” he asked. “No, I’m really tired,” I mustered. “Do you need help?” he said, referring to medics. “No, I’m tired.” I didn’t want intervention. Or I did, but not yet. “Are you a runner?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, nodding my head. “Ok. Runners run through pain. You can do this. Good luck.” And with that he kept running. So did I. His words helped a bit, but I found myself slowing back down. I had started to recognize the course from last year but then it changed. And there was no one along the streets cheering. I know now that was because there was a bomb scare at the finish line, and the course was moved and the finished line moved as well. Which meant less people cheering at the spot I needed them the most.

Right before mile 12 a girl in a black tank top came up to me. I think she first asked how much longer. I had the watch so I told her we were almost at 12. I owe everything to this girl. She was the one who got me to the finish line. I wish I could repay her somehow. She talked to me. I told her I was going to stick next to her if she didn’t mind. And that I didn’t want to walk. She said that’s ok. I grunted…a lot. I started saying “just a few more minutes. Just a few more minutes,” aloud. At one point I almost stopped, and fell back a few feet behind her. When I looked up I saw her hand motioning for me to rejoin her. So I did. When the finish line came in sight I said “go” and she sped up a bit in front of me. I wanted to so badly to walk, but I didn’t.

I ran right over the finish line, stopped, and then got really dizzy. I reached out in front of me and grabbed the girl-in-the-black-tank-top’s shoulder and then fell to my knees. Thank you to all the volunteers that morning. Really, they were just wonderful. A woman caught me and grabbed me up and told me to keep moving; I wasn’t allowed to stop. She was taking me to the medical tent. An officer quickly came and grabbed my right arm as she grabbed my left, and they led me through the crowds. When I got to the tent they asked me if I knew where I was. I said, yes. I finished! They put a cold towel around my shoulders and took care of me. I was dizzy and crampy, but within a few minutes my heart rate came down to 85 and I started to feel much better. They stretched me out, and were so helpful and kind and really, I couldn’t have been placed into better hands.

I’m still reflecting and I think there’s a lot to learn from this race. I don’t want to be fearful of running. I don’t want to be afraid of doing another race and having an experience like this again. Just like in riding, I need to get back on the horse. So I will. I’m thrilled about my time. I still have no idea how that happend. But I’m more happy that I didn’t walk. Simply that I finished…And got my smiley cookie of course.

Smiley Cookies!

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