Greetings! I have emerged from my winter hibernation. Wish I could say I spent the time taking long, idyllic winter runs out by the lake, but alas, the day after my Wisconsin race, I actually ended up with a wicked case of peroneal tendonitis, a somewhat uncommon but not-totally-unheard-of injury.
How did this happen? You ask. Well, the short answer is that I overdid it (said every injured runner ever). Since the Wisconsin race had been so short, I figured I was good to go for a 10-mile long run the next day. This turned out to be an exceedingly poor decision on my part. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME, KIDS.
About 7 miles in, my right ankle started feeling tight. Not thinking much of it, I shook it out while waiting for the next red light and continued on my way. Shortly after getting home, though, I went to stand up, and could barely put weight on my right foot. For the next week, I could hardly walk without screaming pain in my right ankle and the bottom of my foot any time I took a step. Just getting to the L and home from the L, normally a short, easy walk for me, turned into absolute agony.
I finally went to the doctor later that week. Ended up in an ankle brace for 3 weeks, no running at all…not that I could have even if I wanted to! To be honest, though, I didn’t mind taking my routine indoors to the stationary bike as the temperature dropped and the holidays approached. When I got out of the ankle brace after New Year’s, my doctor gave me the option of doing a home program of balance exercises and ankle strengthening, or going to physical therapy for 4-6 weeks. In this case, I decided to invest in my long-term running capabilities, and opted for physical therapy. I figured they would be able to help identify any underlying issues, and hopefully give me some ideas to avoid anything like this ever happening again.
It ended up being about 8 weeks total, but Erika Fisk and Lauren Parsons at Athletico North Andersonville worked wonders. Turns out my problem wasn’t ankle strength at all, but rather weakness in my hips and glutes, particularly on my right side. The two of them were awesome, and put me through all kinds of exercises to work on not just my hips and glutes, but also my core, calves, and single-leg balance (very important for runners!). Some of my favorites (in no particular order):*
- Clamshells: 3 sets of 10 on each leg, with or without a resistance band depending on the difficulty level needed. You should feel them in the glute of the top/working leg.
- Single-leg runner’s stance: 3 sets of 10 on each leg. Your standing leg should be slightly bent, your back leg behind you as though you are running. Keep your hips level as you lean slightly forward from the waist. Again, you should feel it in the glute of your standing leg. The link walks through some progressions you can do.
- Eccentric calf raises: 3 sets of 10 on each leg. As the linked article points out, they are also helpful for Achilles issues.
- Monster walks (forwards and backwards) with resistance band: 3 laps of 10-13 steps each direction (lap=one length forward, one length backwards). You’ll feel this one in both glutes.
- Side steps: 3 laps of 10-20 steps each direction. Again, you’ll feel this one in the glutes.
Once I was actually running again, we also worked on adjusting my cadence ever so slightly. Turns out a 5 percent increase (from ~168 steps per minute to ~176 steps per minute) was enough to get my glutes activating the way they needed to while I was running. Between the cadence adjustment and increased strength, I have noticed a HUGE difference. I’m much lighter on my feet, and my single-leg balance and stability have noticeably improved, especially on my right side.
Bringing it to the present, as of this past week, I have “graduated” from physical therapy. My long runs are now back up to 6 miles, pain-free. I’ve signed up for the Illinois Half Marathon next month, and tomorrow? It’s new state day! I’ll be running my first race of the 2018 season in Delaware: the Beau Biden Foundation Trail Run. Not only will it be a new state, but it will be my first-ever trail race.
In sum, it’s great to be back in it. Here’s to being injury-free, and here’s to the next round of new states!
*These exercises are what worked for me. Nothing in this list should be construed as medical/physical therapy advice. If you are currently injured, talk to your doctor or physical therapist.