On coping with setbacks in the gym (Guest post)

IMG_1575By MarthaFitat55

The past couple of weeks at the gym have been quieter than usual. If all was well, I’d be getting ready to shift into a new level of training.

But all is not well. About four years ago I tripped in my kitchen and hit my knee. Hard. Though my recovery then went smoothly – I was lucky and did not break my knee cap – my doctor warned me that I might have trouble with it in the future.

In mid-January, trouble finally came knocking. Tenderness, swelling, and pain were relieved by rest, ice, and elevation. But I noticed that my knee was stiff and resistant, and my physio recommended a shift in training. Fewer squats and splits, if any, and more rows and pulls, to help aid recovery.

The new routine is helping, and I should be thrilled. To be honest, though, I was peeved and disgruntled. I was past the one-year mark with my hip injury, I had recovered from a pinched nerve in my shoulder, and I was coping well with work arounds for my arthritic fingers. Dealing with my knee was the last thing I wanted.

We don’t always get what we want, as Mick Jagger wailed all those years ago, and this month was no exception. But as the song goes, if you try, sometimes you get what you need.

What I needed was to shake up my routine and refocus. Sometimes we set goals and go after them to the exclusion of all else. We stop noticing the clues and keep on our path without adjusting for new information or needs.

I rely on my trainer to keep me on track, because one of my primary goals is to get fit without causing injury to myself. What I had forgotten was there are many ways to be active and there are many ways to train. Just because I couldn’t do squats didn’t mean I couldn’t do anything.

So I have been doing something, and that is better than doing nothing. I was only modifying my training, not ditching it completely. I was reminded again how much I enjoy my time in the gym with weights, but I also became reacquainted with smaller, gentler, more frequent moves that focused on increasing flexibility, not just strength.

It is a lesson in patience, and it’s not one I am ever eager to learn, or re-learn as the case may be. I lead a busy life, with work, family, and community commitments. Who has time to spend on recovery?

The reality is we all need to take time to recover, to re-evaluate our goals, to refocus our attention on specific objectives; in short, to spend some quality time on ourselves, so we can keep going with our fitness plans.

When I look at what I was doing in the gym, I am still pleased with the plan I have. What I needed though, was to invest some time in focusing on muscle and joint care. It’s like getting that winter tune up your car needs in the fall to make coping with the hazards and challenges of winter a little easier.

So I am engaging in some preventative maintenance. I’ve been taking time to focus on form in training, to work on shifting some sloppy work habits, and to go back to yoga to stretch and relax in between sessions at the gym.

It’s too early to tell what will come next, but I like the variety. Most importantly, I like the fact that I’m not giving up.

— Martha is a writer and consultant who accepts she may never be a pretzel on the yoga mat, but is delighting in rocking the warrior pose nonetheless.

Reconnecting with Chi Running: Chi Marathon Training

Book cover for chi marathon. A group of eight or nine people running on a wide path with green grass on either side.Way back at the beginning of our blog, I wrote about Chi Running. Chi Running is a style of running that touts itself as “injury free.” For many, the idea of running without any injuries at all is a wishful thinking.

I was doing pretty well for awhile. I’d incorporated some of the techniques of chi running, like the midfoot strike, slight forward lean, and keeping a well-aligned “column.” All of this changed my running and over time it’s come to be something I really love.

But…

I’ve been training for the Around the Bay 30K on March 29th. It’s a race with a venerable history — first run three years before the first Boston Marathon! It’s a challenging course and many say that if you can do ATB the you can do a marathon (I guess it depends on the marathon). There’s usually a killer hill at the end, even more severe than Boston’s Heartbreak Hill. This year, road construction means we’re detouring past the brutal hill.

Back in November I joined a clinic to train for the race.  We do hills on Wednesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, and LSDs (Long Slow Distance runs) on Sundays.

The distance runs have slowly, and then more quickly, built distance. Back in November 13K seemed long. But a few weeks ago, we did 23K, up from 19K the week before that.

And my knee. My poor knee.  About 18K into the 23, I felt a twinge on the outside of my knee. For the last little bit of the run, it just got worse and worse. And I couldn’t warm up my hands no matter what I did. And my feet got wet. But I made it. Not just that, I added an extra block to the route because with the store in sight we were still short of our 23 by 0.5K.

The next Sunday, we went back down to 19K and again, the knee acted up. And finally, I actually scaled back the week after that, running what should have been an easy 14K with Anita (my Scotiabank half marathon partner).  I limped along in thick slippery snow with a funky right knee for much of that route. That’s when a week of rest started to sound like a plan.

I’ve been seeing a great physiotherapist who encourages me to run through the pain if I can. But when I went in last week and said, “I’m thinking of taking a week off of running,” he thought it wasn’t a bad idea. His words: “If you’re thinking of taking a week off, then you should take it.”

I’ve been diligently doing my physio exercises to strengthen my hips and glutes so that my IT band has more support.  And my plantar fasciitis, which is the main reason I started going to my physiotherapist, is pretty much gone!

But I’m also supplementing all of that with a renewed interest in chi running. I picked up a book at the library called Chi Marathon. It’s also by Danny and Katherine Dreyer, authors of the original Chi Running book.  It’s reminded me of a lot of what’s recommended in the original book, and when I get back to running later this week I plan to practice some of what I’m re-learning.

Sam and I are making provisional plans (just ironing out some details) to attend a chi running workshop in Dayton, Ohio in May, with the man himself, Danny Dreyer.  I’m serious enough about running that I’m willing to drive a few hours for this sort of thing. I’ve read that the workshops make a huge difference and, frankly, I could use some feedback concerning my running technique.

All that is going to come a bit too late for the Around the Bay in March, and, gulp, the Mississauga Marathon that I’ve signed up for on May 3rd. They say that sailors get a thing called “foot-itis,” where you want a bigger and bigger boat.  I think a lot of runners get this too — distance-itis!  I’m guessing that in the end I’ll settle in at the half marathon distance. But I’m not going to do that until I run at least one marathon.  So, Mississauga here I come.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this is all going to fall into place. When I first wrote about chi running, I’d been experiencing shin pain:

Where I used to have some shin pain and lower back pain before I tried Chi Running, the posture and foot placement alone have dealt with both. If I feel any discomfort when I am running, I just re-focus on my posture (they call it ‘leveling the pelvis’) and check in with my foot placement.  Giving this kind of attention to the form of running helps me address the source of discomfort as soon as I start to feel it, and to correct it right away.

I had high hopes that chi running would transform my running:

 

Learning to run without serious risk of injury means a lot to me. So far, I feel optimistic that Chi Running, once mastered, will help me achieve that goal.  I recommend the book to anyone interested in a gentler approach to running. Reading the book will give you enough of an idea of what Chi Running is about to decide whether you want to follow up with a workshop. I plan to do just that in the spring and look forward to reporting back once I do.

Well, I would hardly say I’ve mastered this approach.  And I’m happy to have an incentive (knee and hip pain and tight IT band) that has taken me back to the basics, renewing my commitment to chi running. I want to run for a long time.  And, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, we’re not in our twenties anymore!

 

Running Doesn’t Have to Hurt: Giving Chi Running a Try

Late last summer my husband Renald and I were out for a walk when a man sprinted by and waved.  He had a powerful stride and a fast pace, and even sped up as he approached a long hill.  I’d just started running again and envied his form and speed.  “He’s an amazing runner. Fast. ” I said.  Renald knew him.  “I know that guy. He can run, but that’s all he can do.  Running has taken such a toll on his body that he told me he can’t walk without pain anymore.” I’m injury-phobic. The last thing I want is to end up like Renald’s friend.

My first turn at running in my twenties ended in hip pain that forced me to quit after just a few months.  I’d jumped straight into a five mile loop in Boston-Cambridge: across the Harvard Bridge, then the Esplanade along the Charles River in Boston, the Longfellow Bridge, back to Cambridge, and then by the river on Memorial Drive right back to the Harvard Bridge. The beauty of the route and the company of other runners kept me motivated for a little while. But I didn’t ease into it. In short, I didn’t run smart.  Twenty-five years later, I’m taking a more gentle approach.

This brings me to Chi Running. I’ve been reading Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury Free Running by Danny and Katherine Dreyer. Using a method and posture that stresses the core muscles — much like yoga, Pilates, and Tai Chi — this form of running is supposed to make knee pain and shin splints “a thing of the past [and] dramatically reduce your potential for injury.”

The authors say many runners typically land on their heels and this taxes the body. Landing on the midfoot, they say, is much more efficient and guards against injury. In running circles this technique is known as ‘the midfoot strike.’ The authors also claim that their 10-step training program will “transform your running” so you’ll run faster, farther and with less effort.  The promises of Chi Running are pretty enticing.

It’s a bit challenging to learn a physical activity from a book because it doesn’t tell you whether you’re getting it right. But this book is a good start for anyone interested in learning a new technique. It includes detailed explanations, photos, and exercises to teach the posture, the midfoot strike, the forward lean, and the other features of Chi Running.

I’m going to keep at it through the winter and then find a Chi Running workshop in the spring. I think a face-to-face session with a certified instructor would be the best way to ensure that I’m getting it right.  So far, just using the book, I’m finding it easier to run further with this method.

Where I used to have some shin pain and lower back pain before I tried Chi Running, the posture and foot placement alone have dealt with both. If I feel any discomfort when I am running, I just re-focus on my posture (they call it ‘leveling the pelvis’) and check in with my foot placement.  Giving this kind of attention to the form of running helps me address the source of discomfort as soon as I start to feel it, and to correct it right away.

Learning to run without serious risk of injury means a lot to me. So far, I feel optimistic that Chi Running, once mastered, will help me achieve that goal.  I recommend the book to anyone interested in a gentler approach to running. Reading the book will give you enough of an idea of what Chi Running is about to decide whether you want to follow up with a workshop. I plan to do just that in the spring and look forward to reporting back once I do.