Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recovering From Running

This is not the post I really want to make. I am finding it harder and harder to run. I believe I have to adjust the way I look at running. On reflection, I cannot get my body to do the serious training that I would like to do. In fact, I can't get it to accept mediocre training anymore, either. More to the point, I can't even get a successful run in much any more. My mind tells me what I would like to do as a runner, however my body is firmly telling me, "No more!"

I have not been able to run on any schedule this year, as I keep going through cycles of injury. I have had three times where I have missed about a week of running due to spasms in my left mid back. I have had a calf injury. I have also had the aches and pains of running through constant misalignment.

Strangely enough, I have also had the best year for having my back feeling healthy as I have had more "good" days where I have no pains as I go through my daily life then I have had in about 25 years. That is what I should really be focusing in on, if I were smart! I figure that is due to my working so hard on various things to try to get control and keep running. It has been a very successful year in that regard, except the "good" running days are far and few between. Running seems to stress things more.

I felt great overall when my calf was hurt (except I couldn't run) last week. Sunday night my hips went off again, and I couldn't sleep at all. I did the Mine Falls Trail 5 miler, but my whole left side was not working right and I was very unbalanced. That night I couldn't sleep again as I spent most of the night trying to work out the kinks that I get when the hip is "stuck". They go from head to toe and everything feels pinched or something on one side so that I can't be comfortable at all. That night I tried everything again. Nothing worked. Finally, I tried a move that seemed to work. I stood up straight and pushed one leg into the ground, and pulled the other leg straight up into the hip and lower back. When I tilted to the side a bit, all the kinks went away, and I was fine. However, the lower back, next to the backbone felt weak. I am not sure, whether I just activated a muscle or maybe "shifted" a vertebra back into position. It somewhat "felt" like that is what happened. My pains were gone, but my lower back felt "gimpy", almost like it might go into spasms again. It was a worrisome feeling.

I had come to a decision earlier in the week that I am unable to "healthily" get the miles in anymore and so I established, in my mind, that for now I would keep my runs short and not worry about missing so many days. Maybe I would have to work on what I could get out of the sport of running. I am not sure how, but somehow I will have to "act my age" and realize I can't run as much any more if I want my body to feel good and be healthy.

I went down to the Cape for a few days with my family. Feeling good from the back "move" I went for a 4 mile run. It felt good and I ran hard. Later that night I was out of sorts again. The next day I tried to run again and it was very unpleasant. My hips got worse and I was unable to run the next two days.

So how do you exit from being a runner after 35+ years of running?

I guess I have to agree with the physical therapist that told me about 10 years ago that, "You are so made for running, and yet you are so not made for running." I have tried all sorts of therapies, stretching routines, mobility exercises, strength exercises, and have read everything I can trying to get my body in balance.

While in Falmouth this week, I rode my kickbike while my family cycled on the "Shining Sea" bike paths in Falmouth. I saw hundreds of cyclists and quite a few runners. I saw most runners plodding along in all sorts of degrees of bad posture and form. Most of it was not pretty. I don't want to become one of those runners, barely making it down the road in a shuffling sort of run. I recall seeing another runner last year on the same paths, shuffling at a snail's pace on the bike paths. I could have walked faster without trying. He was barely moving. I remembered that runner from back almost 30 years ago, when he was a decent local runner who could run quite effortlessly all around town. That is not what I want to become!

Heck I was even having a rough time walking comfortably through the woods out to the "Knob" off of Quisset Harbor. It was only about 1/4 mile of walking but I could not even get comfortable doing that.

I guess I have to adjust. I am trying to look at my running now as something to do when I can without overdoing it. I hope to keep running races and track workouts, but will have to rethink about marathons and even half marathons (what to do about Applefest this year?). If I don't feel like running, I should bike, do some kettlebells, or something else to get rid of energy. Trying to run 3-4 days a week maybe better than trying to run every day (particularly when I have been unable to run that much anyhow this year!).

I need to run on the dirt trails more rather than the road. I need to run faster (I usually feel better) than run farther.

I do envy other runners who seem to only get the basic injuries. At least you know with a bad knee or other injury what it it and after a time it should heal. I think my body is just too "adaptable": rather than getting an overuse injury, it would shift and change balance to keep out of pain. It is just that my body had adapted to all these weird compensations and I can't get it back to the free and natural way of running. There is no connection between my shoulders, arms, back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. It seems everything works independently instead of together. Particularly one side works different than the other. No amount of foam rolling, stretching, strengthening, or other techniques seems to be able to "retrain" my brain and body back to a smoother running form. Basically, I guess my body has "forgot" how to run. Sure some people think I can go fast for my age, but that is more will power and just getting my body in any way possible to the finish line. So I keep running with these weird movements and patterns that are just running down my body.

So I need to slow down! but I am not sure how.

And then Matt Metzger writes about something he is trying on his blog called Feldenkrais. I have heard about this "movement" therapy before. It is used as the basis for the movement in the book "Running with the Whole Body" by Jack Heggie that I have used to some improvement in the past.

I found an interesting article from a Feldenkrais teacher named Steve Hamlin called "Running and Skeletal Alignment". He writes:

Repetitive, forceful-shearing-pounding on all the weight bearing joints - when alignment is faulty - is a great stress on the body, the brain and the psyche. It can certainly be considered a form of self-abuse if is long continued, using lots of will power and determination to heroically push through injuries.

Yeah that is me. I think it is those "shearing" forces that I am constantly battling. He talks about the breakdown in alignment for many people today. Of course, he recommends using Feldenkrais to learn how to move naturally again, which will help with alignment. For a quick fix, he recommends "The Malalignment Syndrome" DVDs (these are not Feldenkrais). I have found these on my own earlier in the year. I found them helpful, but I think I tend to overdue the movements and push too hard. I would need someone to show me how to do these properly and where can you go for that?

He then predicts that if you run through your malalignments that:

If you ignore this and in spite of malalignment push ahead with will power to run at any cost - (as I did for many years) to lose weight, or get fit, or to get the "runner's high" - I think I can predict how it will be for you:
•You'll be puzzled why some other people seem to run much faster, easier, with apparently no effort.

•You'll begin to get "down" on yourself since you'll think your will power is insufficient, your technique is flawed, or something else must be wrong with you (actually you'll be right, there).

•You'll find that it continually takes will power to make yourself run. You won't ever fully come to a place where you really enjoy it, and enthusiastically want to do it. That's because an innate wisdom in your body knows you are hurting yourself.

•If you compete, your times will be mostly mediocre. You may have a few bright moments, good days. You can easily develop an inferiority complex from this.

•The more you increase your workouts, the harder you try, the more you will be disabled by "setbacks" - various inexplicable injuries.
•You and/or your coach will think you are injury prone.
•It may seem that your ligaments and tendons are prone to injury - while actually they may be fine, it just that the structural malalignment puts a tremendous stress upon them.
•The "runner's high" will be mostly why you run. That nice feeling after a long run, all those endorphins, let you feel very comfortable in your body - for awhile. It's something you don't have at any other time, so it is natural you'd become addicted to it. Then you have to run again. This is a particularly vicious syndrome, partly because it is usually unconscious. Feldenkrais work will quickly (or, it may take some years, to be realistic) show you how to create amazing comfort in your body, without running. Then, if you do run, you can do it for the right reasons.

OK! Lots of those predictions are so true of me. I am not sure if there is an answer, except to be smart for a change. Maybe I will look into Feldenkrais, but I have the feeling that I would be a long term case, and I don't have the money to do a big program like this. Whether it works or not, I am not sure. I know from what I read, that it matches my feelings about my body not knowing how to move properly anymore.

Everything I have tried has not really worked. My body innate pattern of running is just not changing. This is last July's Ultimate Runner.

Rich Blake took this photo this year and things have not changed much.

The left femur still rotates in, the left foot twists out and my shoulders and hips are not aligned. I don't know if anything can fix it any more. If I had assurances that Feldenkrais or any other method could permanently get back my old running form, I would certainly give it a try.


Matt Metzgar said...

Hang in there, Jim! I can't guarantee that the Feldenkrais will work long-term, but I'll give it a shot myself.

I feel there's an answer out there somewhere...

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks Matt,
I am interested is seeing how it goes for you. I have found a Feldenkrais practioner about an hour away. He has done marathons, ultramarathons (including Western States), and triathlons (including an Ironman)so at least he should understand my mindset as well as how the body functions and moves. I may set up an apppointment. I have also noticed that there is some people comparing Feldenkrais to Z-Health as both deal with movement and focus in on the nervous system:

Scotty "PHAT" Graham said...

One line keeps going through my head. "I'm not dead yet" from Monty Python. Keep plugging away Jim.

Jim Hansen said...

Yeah, I am still plugging away but I can't "try" as much as I would like anymore. I pulled a great move in the Mine Falls Trail Race last night. I was going over one of the "moguls" in the last mile (small hills on a trail of rocks and roots) and my legs got twisted going down a 5 foot slope. Down I went, fortunately I turned it into a somersault and landed on my back with the wind knocked out of me. Got a bunch of cuts and road rash, but collected myself and was happy nothing was broken and continued runinng. What's it with 50 year olds crashing all the time? I may be tumbling down, but I ain't dead yet!

Charlie said...

Hi Jim! I got your email yesterday, and yes...that's an amazing stride you have. With your left leg rotating in that manner there are all kinds of compensations going on.

Feldenkrais is a very powerful modality that can help you explore lots of challenges and very much help you run easier, more comfortably and more eficeintly. Even if you need to take some time off from running there are a lot of ways we can slowly get you back.

Running is a beautiful form of movement and one thing that comes to mind is that when you move fast (i.e. running) you can only move with "what you know," so slowing the process down will bring lots of other compensations to light. I look forward to talking with you soon! Charlie Murdach (