To be honest, I ran basically my entire second half of my outdoor track season in pain. My hips and lower back were in a constant state of hurt. I never complained or was very honest with my coach about it because I didn't want to have to back off or worse yet, miss an opportunity at Nationals. The frustrating part is that it most definitely caused me my ultimate goal of winning the 10K. I think what it did do, though, was finally make me realize I had things I needed to address -- getting proper recovery and finding the CAUSE/root of my recurring IT band and hip irritations.
Luckily I have a National Champion teammate that I could look to as a resource. See, her entire previous freshman track season, my teammate (Emily) had such horrible shin splints that she could barely even get 2 workouts in per week. She would run maybe twice a week and go to the pool or bike the other 5 days! We all knew she was incredibly talented -- she was just being held back to the extreme by her shins. She had seemingly gone to just about every sports medicine doctor on earth to try and see what she could do to "cure" her shin splints, and many told her she would need surgery. She didn't settle for this diagnosis, though, and finally she was introduced to a guy at Bellin Health in Green Bay that led to her own rejuvenation as a runner. Her problem was really quite simple: little to no glute or core strength. She was lacking in strength in the two most important areas of the body for a runner. She began doing the exercises they gave her, day in and day out, and pretty soon those debilitating shin splints were... poof, gone! It was an awesome discovery, and needless to say, an absolutely incredible transformation as she went on to win the DIII Indoor 800m run!
So, as I finished a somewhat disappointing track season, I was ready to do just about anything to get out of the stupid pool and get back to running miles upon miles WITHOUT pain, as I absolutely love to do. I made an appointment at Bellin and went through what they call "Movement Chain Assessment." Here's what Bellin's website says about the assessment (http://www.xlplaylarge.com/index_intro.htm) : "The assessment is a comprehensive analysis of the body’s ability to perform efficiently. They utilize Dartfish Software Technology to videotape posture and biomechanical movements, in addition to measuring flexibility and hip strength. Upon identifying any muscular imbalance or weakness, an athlete is provided with a personalized instructional sheet and DVD with specific exercises to improve these areas."
The biggest eye opener was watching myself do a squat. I basically couldn't do one. The trainer recognized this immediately and explained to me the evident imbalance of my quad and glute muscles. I have always had extremely strong and well-defined quad muscles, dating back to my basketball and soccer days-- and I had thought I had done enough single leg squats and things of that sort to keep my glutes fairly strong. Boy, was I wrong! The trainer explained my glutes were always inactive during my runs, so my IT band was overcompensating for the lack of strength in my glute/hip region. That's why stretching and foam rolling only helped alleviate the pain to a certain extent. I had finally gotten to the ROOT of the problem!!
I also discovered through the analysis that my calf muscles were so wound up that my ankle joints were almost completely inflexible. Another thing they noted was how tight my upper back/shoulderblade area was. Probably the number one thing people have yelled at me during races is to "relax your arms!" I have always run with a very tight upper body, and haven't understood why it always seems to be so tight. Well, it was explained to me that the lat muscle connects all the way to the hip, so the tightness in my lats was causing my hips/IT band to become even more irritated! Again, here I was finally getting to the ROOT of the problem.. and the best part is, they were then ready to give me solutions to the problems I had endured all track season.
It has now been 9 weeks since I went through the Movement Chain Assessment. I can honestly say I have had the best training period of my entire career because of it -- it's not just that I've run more miles, it's that I FEEL better than I ever have, every single run, every single day. I FEEL so much stronger.
The best part of all this? The exercises are pretty simple. I think the biggest reason more runners and athletes in general haven't done stuff like this is it is somewhat time consuming. It takes a day to day commitment, something many runners aren't willing to do. I have several teammates who have started this program and end up not keeping up with it, because it seems they have the philosophy that just going for runs takes up too much time in itself. What I have realized more than ever this summer is when you get to a certain level, it's the little things that matter most - the day to day stuff - that will help you continue to see gains.
Here are the most basic corrective exercises I have done this summer:
- Glute Bridges - start with double leg, progress to single leg
- Side lying clams (back against wall)
- Lateral leg raises (with back against the wall)
- Band work -- angled steps (forward & backwards), lateral steps, monster walks, jumping jacks, & shuffle short steps (forward, backward, & lateral)
- Front & side bridges - 60-90 seconds x 5-6 throughout the workout -- single best core exercise for runners!!!
- Medicine ball chops & swings -- angled and overhead (chop is start high and go low with medicine ball, swing is start low and go high with the med ball)
- Overhead slams with med ball - start with a med ball over your head and slam it to the ground back & forth on each side
- Walking side-to-side rotations w/ med ball - take a step, swing the ball laterally (side to side)
A quick side note is that these exercises are not a cure-all for all runners. My biggest recommendation is that you find a program similar to Bellin's in your area where you can go and get your gait/movement analyzed and get corrective exercises tailored to your specific needs as a runner! It's certainly revitalized me, both physically and mentally, and I'm confident it can do the same for any runner looking to take it to the next level.
So here I am, less than 3 weeks from my final collegiate running season. I can't wipe a smile off of my face -- life is so good right now. I know I can't possibly continue to feel this good all the way till November, but I'm trying to take it one day at a time, because as I said above, it's the little day-to-day things that have to be committed to in order to see gains in the coming weeks, months, and even years! I'm extremely excited for my future and what this season will bring, and that future is much brighter thanks to the day-to-day changes I've been able to make throughout this summer!
I've still got a lot of improving to do, but I've never been more inspired, more spirited, or more enthusiastic about both running AND life than I am right now :)
~Some amazing quotes to sum up my summer and my life at this moment:
- What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it. ~Buddha
- Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that...Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
- Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring: all of which have the potential to turn a life around. ~Leo Buscaglia
- Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day.
- If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm. ~Vince Lombardi
- The impossible can always be broken down into possibilities.
If you have any others to add, let me know... because in case you haven't noticed, I'm a HUGE quote person. My wall in my dorm room is covered with dozens and dozens of quotes. Can't ever get enough of 'em!
Till next time... Happy Running.
And... don't forget to smile :)