A saga of biomechanics and Chi Running

“and you’re really in luck if she walks like a duck.”  This was the final line of the first poem my husband ever wrote for me.  He wasn’t my husband yet, and it was part of a collection of one, but I remember it fondly. It confirms the fact of my life-long signature gait.  He was nicer about it than my mother, who used to admonish me to point my feet straight ahead and not walk with my feet turned out like my dad.  This dictum went along with standing up straight, keeping my shoulders back, my head up  and my hair out of my eyes, none of which I accepted with much grace.  Also, it just didn’t feel right at all when I tried to point my toes forward.  Nobody ever mentioned biomechanics in those days.

Fast forward to May 2010.  My husband and I had just finished our second half marathon, a local one. Even knowing my body wasn’t happy with me, I had continued to train after our first half in January.  Why? Because we committed to the second race, of course.  And it worked.  I would say to myself, “my right leg doesn’t feel right, I probably shouldn’t be going for a run,” and then I’d lace up and head out the door.  It didn’t actually bother me much while I was running.  If anything, it felt better than when I was sitting or walking.  But I knew that when our May race was done I needed to give my poor right leg a good rest.  RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation.  That’s what all the Internet sites tell us.  RICE plus ibuprofen.  So I started my R&R program, which of course I should have started months earlier.

The pain in my right groin and outer leg wasn’t going away in a big hurry, but I knew that I was supposed to be patient with my overuse injury.  Then I had a chance encounter that turned the tide.  When I responded to a friend’s casual inquiry about my running by explaining my injury-recovery break, saying that I thought maybe it was a biomechanical problem, he said, “If it’s biomechanical, you need to go see my physio.  She’s brilliant.  She asks you to walk for her and after a few steps she can see what’s wrong.”  I got an appointment for 8 weeks’ hence – she is very popular.  I had assumed that I’d be healed by then and she’d be able to give me some pointers on how to avoid this difficulty in the future.  But by the time of the appointment I felt no improvement at all.  However, my first visit to the physio was the beginning of my renewed running future.  To make a long story short, what I learned was:

  1. If you let inflammation go for too long you can become so inflamed that a physio can’t treat you until it’s gone.  She directed me to take an intense 2-week treatment of ibuprofen.  My doctor was OK with it; my stomach tolerates this, if not I would have needed another approach.
  2. The heavy anti-inflammatory treatment made a huge difference in reducing pain and increasing movement.  I wish someone had suggested this when I had rotator cuff inflammation.
  3. Once I had some movement in my hip joint and could be treated I learned that my duck gait was the culprit.  Instead of using my glut to move my leg forward, I was using small muscles and my adductor to pull my right leg forward.  I guess I had been doing that for 64 years!  By doing it repeatedly while running over long distances I had managed to screw up my hip bursa, IT band, and adductor – big-time.
  4. This can all be fixed!!  Change your gait so your toes are pointing forward from your hips and your knees are “soft”; strengthen glut muscles so they are engaged in the running process.

This was difficult to understand, more less execute.  But my luck continued.  Another friend of mine read about my struggles with learning a new gait on my Facebook posting and commented that I should try Chi Running.  As it happens, Chi Running offers the only written material I have found anywhere that actually mentions the challenges of running when your feet turn out naturally.  The descriptions in Danny Dreyer’s book provided perfect clarity about what my new gait required.  Come to think of it, my mother wasn’t far off.  Feet forward, good posture, hmm … I can hear her voice now.  Chi Running doesn’t say anything about keeping your hair out of your eyes, but we all know that is a help on the trail.  Mothers really do know best!

It was still a slow recovery.  And it takes a long time for older bodies to regain their conditioning.  Sigh.  It took lots of concentration on form as I ran, and it still does.  But it made all the difference.  I can run.  Hurray!!

I should mention that the technique of Chi Running also helps people with perfect biomechanics, like my husband.  Give it a look at http://www.chirunning.com/community/blogs/.  It might change your life.  🙂

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