When I first started running, I never gave much thought about “how” I ran, I was just out running for fun and exercise. After I did my first few small races, I began to look at longer distances, like half marathons and marathons. During those longer runs, I would notice that after about 8 miles, a whole list of nagging pains would begin surfacing. Mainly my knees, and around my hip flexors and IT band areas would become highly uncomfortable and painful towards the end of runs. These strains and injuries would stick around for days or be present for weeks after longer runs.
As a recreational runner that was still relatively new to the sport, I thought, “ah, well, maybe this is because I am not strong enough, and if I build up more endurance this will go away” or other thoughts that possibly my shoes were to blame, or that this was just how it was always going to be and I would just need to tough it out.
In search of solutions, I tried different styles of shoes, and even custom orthotic shoe inserts. Those seemed to help somewhat, so I assumed this was likely the best answer. I began marathon training, and realized the same throbbing hip flexor and knee issues were coming back. Again, I thought maybe this is just what comes with the territory of higher mileage.
Last year, during my first full marathon, the second half of the race was extremely painful on my hip flexors and IT band areas, and caused a major slow down on those last miles. During that race, I thought, this is surely not normal and I really need to dive further into researching or I will not be able to continue running for many years to come because of this pattern of repetitive pain and injury.
After that race, I more seriously researched, and realized that no shoes or custom inserts could save me from…..my own terrible running form! Wow, I had never actually considered that just my running form was the cause of all my problems.
This may seem obvious to some, but to save face a bit, when I started running, it was just about running for fun with a 5K training group. After that, I mostly trained on my own, and had never really thought about form. None of my running friends ever talked about ‘how we ran’, what we mainly talked about was how many miles a week we should be targeting for certain races and other things of that nature. Since running was still relatively new to me, I thought the important things were just covering the specified mileage each week, and not ‘how I am actually running’ during those miles. I definitely just thought, “I run how I run”, and had never considered that my form should be of primary focus.
The book that was the answer for me, and really helped me understand the importance and specifics of my running form, was “The Cool Impossible” by Eric Orton. If you are curious about your own running form, I would definitely recommend it!
Once I realized how terrible my previous running form was, I had to completely start over on everything. Completely, and I mean everything! It took a lot of patience. I worked for months on things like foot strength, running short spans of the correct running form, correcting my cadence, strengthening different muscles, transitioning into better running shoes, and lots and lots of running drills.
At first this was very difficult and felt so unnatural to me. After all, I had been running with terrible form for years at that point. Undoing that bad muscle memory, and replacing it with a totally new running form was no easy feat, but turned out to be completely worth it.
After putting in all the required time and practice, I am happy to report that I can now cover much higher mileage with absolutely no sign of the previous injuries that were so commonplace before. It is so freeing. I have even dropped significant amounts of time off of my old race and training paces because I am not running the majority of the time with constant pain and injured for days afterwards.
I am definitely still learning and by no means have a “picture perfect running form” but going back to the basic mechanics of what my form should be, and focusing completely on that, has totally transformed me as a runner.
If you have never seriously thought about your running form, or have had repetitive injuries you suspect may be a result of bad form, I would encourage you to seriously take a look at your form, even enlist the help of a coach if needed. The results are worth it!
After a winter of running pain free, I am so looking forward to an exciting spring and summer running schedule. I know I will thoroughly enjoy this summer’s Mercy Health Seaway Run, now that my running form is so much closer to what it should be.