Friday, December 4, 2009

Pain-Free Running, Part I

This is the first in a series of posts on my year-long evolution from a broken/painful non-runner to now being a pain-free runner.

First, some history: I started running while I was in the Navy ('75-'81). I ran 1.5 miles twice a year. That was about it. While in college ('81-'86) I ran even less.

But at my first job immediately after graduation, I shared an office with an engineer who ran all the time. And he hated to run alone. So he dragged me out, kicking and screaming (literally), and coached me until I became a runner with a 7:30 min/mile and a 10K time under 45 minutes. I should mention this engineer was married to one of the fastest women in San Diego, and was her coach. I once watched her win her age group while she was 8 months pregnant!

I should also mention that I have long narrow feet that are utterly and completely flat. Like pancakes. And I have skinny ankles that were always getting twisted or sprained. And I'm a bit bow-legged. Not exactly the ideal legs for a runner. My coach and I worked diligently to find a stride that was fast, efficient, and comfortable for me. I was overjoyed that I was able to do consistent 7:30 miles.

After a few years I stopped getting faster, and I grew tired of running 10Ks and not improving. At that point, the universal advice was: "If you can't go faster, go longer." So I started training for half-marathons. I extended my training runs to 7 miles, then 8, then 9, then 10, at which point I experienced lots of pain in all my leg joints; hip, knee and ankle. Even the soles of my feet hurt.

Following advice, I took a few days off from running to wait for the pain to face, then tried my original training run. The pain immediately came back. I took more time off, then tried a shorter run. More pain. After a few months, it was getting to the point that the pain was taking longer and longer to fade between runs, and I had some joint pain when getting out of bed in the morning (though it never affected my sleep).

At that point, I made an appointment with my GP, who said I had no detectable damage to my joints. He recommended no physical therapy, since once the pain faded, my walking was completely unaffected. So I retired from running, and pursued other sports.

One year ago last August, after 15 years without running, I became involved with triathlon. I quickly changed from being a non-swimmer to being a fish (2 miles in 1 hour). My bike performance started to improve as I went on TCSD club and sponsor rides. But my main concern was the run. I didn't want to start running again until I was as prepared as I possibly could be.

My first step was to see how running shoes had evolved over the prior 15 years. My old shoe was the original, classic, Nike Air Pegasus. I lost count of how many pairs of that shoe I ran through. On the advice of my triathlon sensei and swim instructor, I went to the San Diego Running Institute (SDRI).

Jesse at SDRI first did a battery of measurements, with my foot under load and unloaded. Then he brought out not 2 or 3 pairs of shoes to try, but six pairs! I tried the first pair on, walked a bit, jogged a bit, then switched to the next pair. After trying all 6 pairs, the list was narrowed to two. I put each of them on and ran a bit more. Then I took one shoe from each pair and ran, then again with the other shoe from each pair. Soon enough, the best pair was clear, and after one final short run, I took home a pair of Mizuno "Wave Creation 10" shoes.

I started running just 1/4 mile at a time at an "easy" pace, ready to stop immediately if I felt any discomfort. After a couple weeks, I went to 1/2 mile, and I started to feel the same old twinges in my joints.

At this point, I realized either I was not going to return to running, or I had to find a whole new way to run. I clearly chose the latter, since this wouldn't be a series of posts otherwise.

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