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Born to Run

There’s something so universal about that sensation, the way running unites our two most primal impulses: fear and pleasure. We run when we’re scared, we run when we’re ecstatic, we run away from our problems and run around for a good time. – Born to Run

So, as I mentioned in the last post I just finished Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. And wow. Loved it. I don’t know why I haven’t read it sooner. Well maybe I do. I have an affliction to trendy books. I don’t know why. It’s kind of a stupid, elitist thing. So when this book came out and became the most buzzed about book in all the running circles, I decided to stay away. But obviously I didn’t stay away forever and I’m very happy I decided to give it a shot.

First impressions: I highly prefer to read non-fiction, love reading a journalist’s writing, and I like books that take on an anthropological view. Oh, and it’s about running, which is kind of my thing, so how bad could it be. Second impression once I began reading it: Man did it take on a million directions. Like I said, I love journalistic writing, but this seemed like one ADD reporter if you asked me. But I trusted him. I trusted that he was taking me on a journey and setting me up for something. And I liked that this “something” was something that I didn’t see coming. Looking back I realize that maybe it was somewhat obvious, but for me, the moment I was totally hooked was when I realized “Shaggy” was Caballo.

Before I go into anything else, let me just say that while I’m still slightly skeptical, I’m becoming more and more sold on the idea of barefoot/minimalist running. So much so that I intend to begin a slow regiment of barefoot running in Newport next month, being extremely mindful that this is something that should be done gradually. And I’m not ruling out the Vibram Five Fingers being a part of my future. Pete’s brother has them and seems to love them. But I’d like to hear from some women who wear them first. The arguments the book makes are very compelling. And as someone who has been battling injuries, much of what is said about shoes and form really speaks to me. For example, until it was pointed out to me I never noticed that I’m a little “knock-kneed”. When I run my knees brush past each other on almost every stride, and even when I’m walking I have noticed it happening as well. But without shoes? Nope, not so much.

Vibram FiveFingers

But ok, with my support and interest clearly stated, I must say that there are a few counter arguments I have. I guess the first regarding ultramarathoning: I simply don’t think just anyone can run an ultra as is implied (even though I know he’s not saying that ANY person RIGHT NOW can run one). I’m just saying that there are certain things that I believe takes super-special athletic ability and that’s one of them.

I also don’t think that barefoot running is for everyone, or that running shoes affect every person’s stride in a negative way or any way at all. Listen, I recognize in the tone of the book that he’s not arguing that does. I just felt that there was way too much generalization being made. What worked for him, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for everyone. I think the arguments are there, I think the examples and evidence are there, but I can’t help but think that it’s all that simple. But maybe it is.

One thing that I thought was interesting was a little anecdote he told about a great ultra runner who loved to run in his old sneakers. Then he went and tried to buy new shoes and it didn’t turn out well. So he went back to his old shoes that had hundreds and hundreds of miles on them, but didn’t cause him any injury. Well I guess first of all this seems to me to be an example of an individual story and not something that can necessarily translate to the general population. It’s like the line from He’s Just Not That Into You: You’re not the exception, you’re the rule. BUT, let me just point out this: I began running 4 years ago. I had no idea what I was doing really. I bought a random pair of New Balance xtraining sneakers and for almost three years I ran 3 miles on the treadmill, seven days a week. But then I decided I wanted to become more serious. So I bought a new pair of shoes, followed a training plan, and voila…I became a much better runner; and a distance runner at that. But let’s also put this in perspective: I haven’t been able to run seven days a week in who knows when. I’m constantly injured. I feel like I barely run anymore. I’ve been to a million specialists, had my feet examined, bought shoes that are supposed to help me, ect. It’s pathetic, but running 3 miles at a 10 min pace, seven days a week seems like I dream I could never reach. And so I have to wonder, what if I went back to those old beat up New Balance cross trainers…hmn.

Last point because I know this is getting a little long: A lot of people say Born to Run is a book about barefoot running. It certainly is. It craftily weaves science with storytelling. But I think there’s a whole other element of the book which, to me, was even more powerful: The joy of running, which is ultimately the greatest lesson we can learn from the Tarahumara. I love the stories about ultra runners, really good ultra runners, seeing the Tarahumara pass them at some un-godly mile, laughing and smiling. Of course they were tired. But their ability to enjoy running, their joyfulness, is what makes them the greatest runners on Earth.

I feel like I’ve left a substantial amount of information out, so I urge you all to go pick up a copy and read for yourself about the wonderful runners in the Sierra Madres.

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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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Learning the Ropes of Taping

So it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of KT Tape.  My PT taped me many times, and I was taped up before the Marine Corps Marathon at the KT Tape booth (the guy there taped me 100 times better than my PT ever did).  Well ever since then I’ve been wanting to learn how to do it myself, but the truth is that I really have no faith in myself to do this properly.  It’s my sandwich theory (or Pete’s salad theory): a sandwich tastes so much better when someone makes it for you.  And that’s not just a cop-out to get someone else to make me a sandwich.  But no matter how hard I try nothing I make will be better than what Pete makes.  The same goes for taping my shin splints, I feared.  I needed a professional.  Well I’ve got two races coming up, and I know that KT Tape will be at the Pittsburgh Marathon (I hope this is still true).  I’m not sure if they’ll be at the Cherry Blossom 10 miler, but it doesn’t really matter because we’re not even sure we’ll be able to get to the expo on time. So…

I went ahead and bought some tape last week.  I’m looking at it as training tape.  And so Friday night, after I got the package in the mail, I sat down and watched the video online about how to tape your shins.  And then I tried it myself.

My first attempt

Not bad.  But not great.  It didn’t seem to really do anything.  So I decided that Pete needed to learn, and that in addition to being my boyfriend/nurse/doctor/math tutor/running coach ect., we can now add “Personal Taper” to the list.  We had a really fun time last night.  I made him watch the video, then after he said he got it I kept correcting him and telling him he was doing it wrong but I couldn’t explain how to do it right. I’m lucky he’s so patient with me. There were definitely a few strips of tape that were wasted.  It’s frustrating because I’m the one who knows where my pain is and knows how the pressure of the tape feels, but I have to trust his hands because they’re a whole lot more steady than mine and he’s in a good position to apply it.  So in the end we made some progress.  It’s not completely right, but we’ve got two weeks to figure it out.  In the meantime we’ll practice some more (anybody know of any other videos online?) and I think I’ll go ahead and buy another roll of tape (this time I’ll get the real KT Tape.  I bought the knock-off kind by accident, which is fine since half of it is already in the trash). 

Pete's attempt - better than mine

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