Last week, I decided to book an appointment with a physiotherapist. I was starting to feel a little pain in my knees from my increased weekly mileage. After extensive internet research, I felt perfectly capable of self-diagnosing my issue: it was very clearly a standard case of runner’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). It’s undoubtedly one off the most common running injuries there is.
Ordinarily, I would ignore minor pain like this. Besides, it only really bothered me when I went upstairs. I mean, how many times a day is that? Like twice? I can live with that. No! Not this time. I decided I should go get some advice before anything more serious happens and sidelines my training for the Geneva Marathon. I am committed to doing this right this time.
I went to Six Physio, a great clinic I went to last year when I experienced similar pain before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Luckily, the first appointment didn’t reveal any major injuries, just some muscle imbalances that make other muscles work harder and tire faster. After an excruciating sports massage, I was free to go. A few days after that appointment, I ran my best 5K ever: 24:12. Coincidence? I think not.
Convinced that physiotherapy was some sort of magical voodoo, I booked another appointment for a running assessment. I’ve made major improvements in my form over the years, so I was keen to see if I would get an A+ from the physiotherapist. I hoped she would tell me my form was perfect and I moved like an elite Kenyan marathoner.
Unfortunately, I’m still awkward. And my awkward form is causing my issues. Most notably, is the way I arch my back. I basically stand, run and sit with my belly popped out, which puts a lot of pressure on various muscles and joints. I’m essentially not even using my core which is so important in running. She was surprised to hear that I have never suffered any lower back pain, but said this could be something to watch out for, especially as I age. Isn’t that nice? Now that she has made me aware of this, I notice myself doing it all the time. I think it’s the first step in correcting it though, now that I’m conscious of it.
She also said I’m over-training. After I proudly told her how I hadn’t missed a workout of my intermediate training plan, she told me to cut back on the running. Four times a week is too much. Instead, I need to replace one run per week with strength training. She said she sees lots of runners, but it’s never because they aren’t training enough. It’s always because they are over-training and neglecting other important aspects of fitness like cross training strength workouts. So much for my gold star!
She walked me through a variety of horrible exercises and sent me away with some homework. I’m meant to do about 20 minutes of strength exercises four times a week.
I have to admit, I hate these exercises. I know they are good for me but they are tortuous. I think they are harder than the actual running. I also do not have the right equipment. In one of the exercises, I’m meant to lie on a foam roller, and using 1.5-2kg hand weights extend my arms outward toward the floor, all while keeping my back against the roller. Not only is my foam roller too short, but I don’t have any hand weights. I quickly improvised. Using some pillows from the couch, I managed to get myself in the right position. I also found the only thing in my flat that I could easily hold in one hand that offered any sort of weight: a bottle of wine. In case you want to know, a full bottle of wine weighs about 1.2kgs. Close enough.
I may need to invest in some new exercise equipment.
Running is a strange sport. If you decided to take up any other activity like swimming or tennis or pole vault, you would take lessons. Running is one of the only sports where average people just go for it, no instruction required. And in doing so, they develop bad form and terrible habits that are really hard to break.
I’ll keep doing these exercises because I am committed to doing this marathon right. I won’t like it, but I am curious to see how it impacts my running. And just maybe, I can get a tiny bit closer to resembling an elite Kenyan marathoner.