by Melissa Brunner
Warning: Ask me how my hamstring is doing and I'm likely to launch into a long explanation about all that I've learned about how I should be moving to keep my body injury-free!
If that will put you to sleep, here's the short version: I am finally cleared to ease back into running with a 5 minute walk/5 minute run for 30 minutes, three times a week on flat ground or treadmill for the next four weeks.
For those who want the extended version, getting to this point has involved a month of daily, targeted exercises to work on my core, namely the lower abs and glutes. My injury was a partial hamstring avulsion - part of the upper hamstring tendon on the left side was pulling apart from the "sit bone." I was further irritating the injury because, like many runners, I was letting my hamstring do all the work and my glute had pretty much gone to sleep.
To wake it up, my physical therapist put me on a regimen of clamshells and bridges. These seem to be pretty basic floor exercises, until you really focus on using your lower abdominals and your glutes to perform them correctly! While I could feel them working the intended areas, I stumbled upon some encouragement for the impact they might have when I stumbled across this column in Runner's World -->Read it here. It was the first time I encountered someone experiencing the exact type of pain I had been!
After a week of just those exercises, we added a few more, including one that involved reaching down and touching the floor while standing on one leg. Now, this doesn't sound too terribly challenging until you try it! I could only laugh at myself, but my therapist told me not to feel too bad - people who tend to do only running for exercise tend to avoid all the core and balance work that could make us feel better.
I was religious about doing my exercises every day, leading up to the big test last Friday. The therapist put me on a treadmill - my first running since January 14 (not that I was keeping track!). I walked, I ran, I changed things up as instructed. Of course, I never watch myself run so how was I supposed to know my feet weren't coming off the ground the way I thought they were or that my legs were not going through a full range of motion? The therapist gave me some cues on my form that will take some getting used to - it feels a lot different than the way I had been running. He also lined out a proper warmup for me - you know, more than walking 30 seconds and taking off!
When he was satisfied I was doing the exercises correctly and had the hang of the new running form, the therapist said, "You're going to hate me - I'm printing out a beginner's running program for you." That's the part I summarized at the beginning of this entry - I'm starting at 5 minutes walking / 5 minutes running, repeat three times and only three times a week. Make the walking real walking pace, he warned (I was going too fast on the treadmill!) and a 10-minute mile pace was about right on the running portions while I become accustomed to the new form.
Sunday, I struck out for my first solo run. Let's just say a beginner's program is absolutely right for me at this point! The first five-minute run segment left me winded! I probably did still push the walking segments too quickly and I could feel the form slipping on the running and I'd have to pull myself back into it. I went all of 2.5 miles, but I was sore Monday morning!
I will gradually work up the run/walk alternations over the next two months, eventually okayed to run a continuous 30 minutes. If all goes well, I might be ready for the Race Against Breast Cancer 5K in September and a 10K distance by the end of the year isn't out of the question.
However, I cannot forget the lessons I learned. I must make clamshells and bridges part of my life. I must include a proper warmup. I must pay attention to my form. And I probably shouldn't let injuries nag at me for 2+ years before I do something about them!
If you stuck with me through all of this, thanks! Aren't you glad you asked how my hamstring was doing ;-)