I started running in 2009. I didn’t know how to run, and I wasn’t very good at it, but I didn’t let that stop me like I had let it stop me all the way through school. I used to hate the annual running of the mile in gradeschool, and it delighted me when I learned I was only required to take two semesters of gym in high school. I had some forays into athleticism in college, but they never lasted. So I was happy to be a runner for the first time in my life, until my right knee started giving me issues.
At first, I thought it must be my shoes. They were worn out, or the wrong type for my feet, or maybe I was wearing the wrong socks. I tried running more carefully, more slowly, but around 20 minutes, the knee would begin to hurt. I ran through it. For several months, I ran through the pain, hoping that it would go away, but not really doing anything about it. I ran a half marathon through it, before deciding to try something else, despite my fears that if I stopped running I would never start again.
I took a break. My husband and I thought that maybe if I just stopped running for a while and let my body heal, then it would take care of itself. For a while, it seemed to work. This was in the fall, and in the spring I went ahead and ran a 5K. I puked from dehydration, but my leg didn’t bother me too much. Still, I kept on resting, refraining from the run even as I craved it.
I got it into my head that massage would help, so I got a doctor’s appointment and got myself prescribed some medical massage for the issue. I was also recommended to an athletic trainer for exercises. I began to wake up early almost every morning to do rehab exercises, strengthening my hips and glutes. Then the ilio-tibial band began to bug me on hikes.
This was an issue.
My husband and I had planned to go to California and hike a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail together. There was no way I wanted to miss that hike.
I went back to the athletic trainer and got a revised set of exercises. I got a serious knee brace, since that helped me out on the vicious down hill hikes that killed my knee. I exercised, and I worked through the pain. I did that hike, albeit with the help of the knee brace. But the pain didn’t stop.
I trained on the elliptical machine, which would theoretically allow me to strengthen the muscles that support the knee without stressing it. I diligently worked up to thirty minutes on the elliptical, and then went on to the treadmill where I didn’t last five minutes before the pain was back.
My husband had recently bought a pair of FiveFingers, and we decided that I should give them a try too. I bought a book called ChiRunning, which suggested a variety of form techniques for running. I began to find that focusing on the pelvic tilt made my stride feel more comfortable, not just while running but while walking as well. But the most important thing it suggested was the cultivation of body-awareness.
I resisted that idea at first. It was hard for me to figure out what I was doing wrong. It took months to go from reading the book last fall, to Ambrose pointing out how the wear pattern on my shoes indicated my right second toe stuck up when I walked, to my accepting that he was right about the toe. Then I had to figure out how to fix my toe issue, which was not as simple as I felt like it should have been. He told me about that back in the spring, and I’m only now figuring out how it affected my gait.
On my last hike of the season, over Labor day, I carried a heavier pack than I had all summer. That pack caused my right hip to ache, but not my left. And I could feel my knee begin to hurt as my body compensated for the pain in my hip. I finally realized that there was something I was doing that made my right hip tight, which caused the ITB to act up.
So I went to the internet and found that doing lunges while holding a light weight overhead would help stretch out and strengthen the hips. I started doing lunges, here and there during the day, and a set of 20 to 24 forward and backward lunges around the track when I worked out. I tried using the foam roller again, and after that I had a breakthrough. I realized that I was not completing my stride when I walked.
I would take a step with my left foot, and as I moved forward, my right foot would not make contact with the ground. I pulled it up before it could complete the motion. This was where the toe popping up had come from. With every step, walking or running, I was shortening my stride, shortening my hip, leading to the pain in the knee that I’ve gotten to know so well over the past two years.
I’m correcting my stride. I finally feel like I’m making real progress, not by any single technique, but mostly by that focus on body awareness. I’m paying attention to what happens when I place my feet in specific ways, when I hold my pelvis in a way that elongates my hips. I spent years looking outside myself for answers when all I had to do was look inside and pay attention.