Thursday, February 23, 2012

It’s Complicated…

Once upon a time, running and I had an easy relationship.  I woke up in the morning, threw on a pair of cotton sweatpants, laced up my $20 Champion shoes from Payless ShoeSource and hit the road.  Sometimes I could even run for two whole miles!  We were so happy together.  I wanted to run more and more, I never wanted to stop running!

Eventually, inevitably I suppose, we had our first big fight:  I sprained my ankle at mile 4 of a half-marathon.  I spent two weeks on crutches and feared that I would never run again.  I fretted constantly.  We’d only been together a few months, what if our relationship was so tenuous that it could be taken away, just like – snap! – that?  Venturing back into the street after our separation, I was flooded with relief.  Running still loved me.  We were meant to be together.

We kept spending more and more time together.  I bought wicking shirts, cute skirts and fancy, cushioned shoes.  I studied up on training plans and fueling strategies.  I ran a marathon.  I bought books about running and more shoes.  I wanted to be the very best runner I could be, so I did everything I could to bring running even closer to me.

That first fight, though, was followed by others – IT pain, tendonitis, sciatica and stress fractures.  My trust in running wasn’t broken, but I was starting to feel a niggling doubt in the back of my mind that hadn’t been there before.  Every injury meant more time away from running and more fear that maybe we weren’t meant to be together after all.  Slowly, I morphed from the exciting, carefree girl who was always ready to run into a woman desperately clinging to an increasingly troublesome relationship.

I felt the problem must be with me, so I made changes.  I ran more.  I ran less.  I cross-trained more.  I ran slower.  I ran faster.  I bought more shoes.  I stopped wearing shoes.  None of these changes brought any real relief, and I’ve actually begun to wonder if they’ve made things worse. 

My current yearlong foray into barefoot running has brought just as many injuries as all those heel-striking years.  At first, my midfoot strike was too exaggerated and I kept having to reduce mileage because of top of the foot pain. Eventually, I gave myself a nice little metatarsal stress fracture and it was back to the drawing board.  It’s safe to say that natural running didn’t come *ahem* naturally to me.

Determined to make barefooting work, I built my mileage slowly (again) and concentrated on my form (even more than before).  Like a bad penny that keeps turning up, though, there was a run-stopping pain as soon as I got to double digits, this time tendonitis on the outside of my ankle near the heel.  An odd spot, for sure, but a clear indication that I am still doing something wrong.  *sigh*

Crazy Running Feet

What’s a girl in love supposed to do?  I’ve had that ring on my finger for six years now and I want it all – marriage, kids, and a house with a white picket fence!  What I really, really, really want is to go back to those giddy early days, when running and I were destined for happily ever after.   But I think maybe running just wants to be friends.

What’s your relationship with running?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Balance and Single Leg Strength Workout

One of the things I notice as a runner is that when I’m doing strength training, I tend to focus more on upper-body exercises because I know that (comparatively, at least) my lower body is pretty strong from running.  And while it’s true that I’m an upper-body wimp, it’s pretty silly to think that I don’t need to do any lower body work.  Specifically, single-leg strength work.  If you think about it, running is just balancing on one foot, over and over again, really fast.  So doing single leg balancing work is perfect practice for running.

Here is the strength workout I did this morning, presented by my favorite guest model, IronHubs!!

1.  Cook Hip Lift – named for the Physical Therapist who created it, the Cook Hip Lift really targets the glutes and hamstrings, without letting you cheat by using your back muscles.

Single Leg and Balance 014Lie on your back and bring one knee to your chest.  Pull in your abdominal muscles, activate your glutes and lift your hips off the ground.  If you’ve done back bridges before, you might be surprised at how little you can get your butt off the ground!  It’s okay, your glutes will thank you for doing this one properly.  Hold for 5 seconds, do two sets of ten on each leg.

2.  100s – this one is a barefoot running exercise, but even shod runners can benefit from it.  Smile

Single Leg and Balance 025Single Leg and Balance 024         This is a deceptively simple exercise:  stand with the balls of your feet on a line (maybe where the carpet meets the tile, or the tile grout line, or the seam where your hardwood planks meet), pick up one foot and put it down in the exact same spot, then pick up the other foot and put it down in the exact same spot.  This works best barefoot because you can feel your foot landing on the line (or not, as the case may be).  Go as quickly as you can and land on each foot 100 times.  It’s harder than you think.

3. Single Leg Hop and Stick – the “stick” in the title does not refer to my sticky floors, thankyouverymuch, but rather to the fact that you “stick” the landing and stabilize yourself between hops.

Single Leg and Balance 027Single Leg and Balance 028Single Leg and Balance 029              Stand on one foot, hop forward and land on the same foot.  Stabilize for a few seconds, then hop again on the same foot.  Do 2 sets of 20 hops on each leg.

4.  Bent-Knee Hip Abduction (aka “The Clamshell”)

Single Leg and Balance 040Lie on your side with your knees bent.  (This happens to be the perfect position to notice how atrocious your pits smell and how much dog hair is on the carpet.  FYI.)

Single Leg and Balance 036Keep your feet together and open up your knees.

Single Leg and Balance 050The trick is to keep your back completely straight and not roll over while opening your knees.  Holding your abs in helps.  Do 2 sets of 10 on each side.

5. Straight-Leg Abduction – once you’re on the ground, you might as well stay there and do some more glute work, ya know?

Single Leg and Balance 053Straighten your body into a long line, with the toes of the top foot pointed slightly down.  Raise and lower the top leg without rolling your back.  Do 2 sets of 10 raises on each leg.

6.  Ball Push-Up Bridge – okay, time for some stabilizer/core work before our legs turn into jelly!  But don’t worry, there’s more leg work coming up.

Single Leg and Balance 062This one looks so easy in a photograph, maybe I should have taken a video of the shaking arms!  Hold the push-up position for 30 seconds, twice.

7. Shoulder Ball Bridge

Single Leg and Balance 063Similar to the previous exercise, but this time your toes are on the ball.  Hold for 30 seconds, twice.

8.  Back Ball Bridge

Single Leg and Balance 065I found this one to be the “easiest” of the three ball bridges, and it doubles as a really nice chest stretch.  Hold for 30 seconds, twice.

9.  One-Leg Straight Leg Deadlift – you probably saw the two-leg version of this in last month’s Runner’s World.  The straight-leg deadlift (SLDL) is big for CrossFitters, but the single-leg version is a little more accessible for us regular folk.

Single Leg and Balance 077With a heavy dumbbell in your right hand (this isn’t an arm exercise, so it’s okay to go heavy on this one – the weight acts as a ballast for your back leg and actually helps balance you), stand on your left foot.  Keeping your back and your back leg as straight as possible, bend slowly forward until your hand almost reaches the floor.  Use your glutes to bring yourself back upright.  Do 2 sets of 10 on each leg.

10.  Split Squat – are your legs feeling like noodles yet?  Good, this is the last one!

Single Leg and Balance 086Single Leg and Balance 081                    Start in a lunge position, with your hands up on your head.  Bend the back leg until both knees are at a 90 degree angle.  Focus on moving straight up and down, rather than forward and back.  Do 2 sets of 10 squats on each leg.

Finish up the workout with a good stretch, making sure to get your hammies and inner thighs!

Have you ever done single-leg strength work before? 

How often do you work on your balance?