Running Slowly Can Leave You Injured – who knew?

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Because I haven’t been posting much I haven’t really told you how my Gold Coast Half Marathon Training is going – it’s now about eight weeks until the race surely so I should be in great shape right? Erm, no. I’m stuffed up big time!

I’ll be honest, training for this race has sucked from the get go. Nothing has felt right and from even my first runs I’ve been struggling to get faster than an eight minute kilometre – not because of my level of fitness, my lungs felt fine, but my legs just didn’t want to move. I’m never a fast runner, but normally it at least it feels fairly natural when I’m moving -but not this time – my knees have felt weak, my body just wouldn’t get into rhythm, my stride was all over the place and my knees just felt like they weren’t supporting me. I put it down to the fact that I’m carrying seven pounds more than is healthy for me (and seven more than I want to underneath that)- and hoped that as I started to run more and more that weight would start to shift and things would start to feel more natural. It didn’t – and my pace didn’t pick up either. And then the pain started.

Not when I ran, I’m not daft, I wouldn’t keep going if something hurt but after my runs when I got into bed or knelt down the inside of my knee would hurt. Again, I just thought it was weakness and it would toughen up as I got stronger – but it didn’t it got worse and started to hurt when I came downstairs or walked a long way. I was starting to panic as I really wanted to get up to a point when 15km felt like an easy run again and I was stuck at a sluggish 10km with pain. I took a week off, reassessed my plan and found an ‘official’ training plan that let me drop back my mileage – it would at least get me round. Two weeks later I got to point where my one hour Saturday run would leave me in pain and unable to run for three days. It was time to see the physio.

Lots of prodding later it was determined that I hadn’t actually damaged anything. Instead, what was happening was an inflammation of tissue under the middle ligament of my knee caused by the fact that my butt isn’t strong enough and my ligaments are a bit lax. Josh, the physio, told me to bring my shoes in next week for a gait analysis – five minutes of filming got me another cause. I was running too slowly and it had stuffed up my gait so badly that it was throwing all the weight onto my knees. What I was effectively doing was shuffling along for 10km – all I could think at this point was how can you get injured running too slowly! That’s not glamorous at all! Oh, Helen why aren’t you running the Gold Coast – oh, cos I ran too slowly during training and broke myself! Aggggghhhhhh!

It seems that when you run slowly you shift more of your effort onto the lower part of your leg – the big muscles in your thighs and butt do less work leaving the smaller muscles in your lower leg taking on way more pressure than they were designed to handle. Adding to problems is the fact that I heel strike – land on my heel rather than the front of my foot – and it’s been¬†shown in at least one study that this combined with slow pace puts excess pressure in the area of the knee and is basically a recipe for injury. Brilliant! .

My prescription is a lot of strengthening exercises and a complete change of gait. I’ve got to try and lead with my hips, land on my forefoot and bring my foot in closer to my hip (I also overstride which is a common runners problem). I’ve also got to start using a metronome app and trying to get my steps per minute up to 160 – considering I’m estimating I do about 120 steps per minute right now that’s going to be interesting. Josh has told me that I’m likely to find running considerably harder while I change all this and that ideally I should drop back my mileage – so how does that work when you’ve got a race in eight weeks that you’ve booked and paid for and to get round it sees you needing to double your training mileage?

The good news is, this last weekend I ran the Mother’s Day Classic run in Sydney. It was an 8km run and my aim was to finish in under 56 minutes which I thought might stretch me. I actually did it in a little over 54. It was a hilly course (in fact it’s a lot of the same course as the Bridge Run I did when I first got back here) and a lot of that was down to trying to follow Josh’s instructions and lead with my hips – it automatically makes me move faster and run taller. When I got tired, I felt myself sinking back down into my knee and it definitely aggravated things. I also tried to shorten my stride when I remembered. I’m typing this about four hours after the race and my knee is grumbling, particularly when I go downstairs, but here’s hoping it’s helped a bit. I was very encouraged by my result at least – that was a 6.45 minute kilometer, faster than I’ve run since I got back here. Right now I’m still aiming to start the Gold Coast race and run as far as I can. If I have to walk half of it, it won’t be the end of the world – but let’s see what happens. But the moral of this story is, if you suddenly notice everything going wrong with your running, don’t just plod along slowly thinking it’ll be alright, get someone to check your form. I’ll keep you posted as to what happens at my end. In the meantime if you’ve got any advice for me, particularly on the heck I’m supposed to remember all those things I’ve got to change while trying to run in a straight line, I’m happy to hear it.

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