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Yesterday morning I ran 8 miles and I am very happy to report that I did not feel any pain, nor have I experienced any soreness since then. Just a few weeks ago it was typical for me to feel pain in 3 different places after any run that was longer than about 4 miles. Unfortunately, this change is not because I am suddenly in significantly better shape than I was one month ago, or because my body has finally adjusted to longer distances. I believe the change is due to some awesome advice that I was given by my friend who is studying to get her doctorate in physical therapy.

I, for one, have never given physical therapy much thought, nor was I a good physical therapy patient when I went as a high school student for bercitis in my shoulder from swimming. I didn’t do any of the exercises given to me and I think I might have iced my shoulder one or two times total. And guess what? I still don’t have full range of motion in my right shoulder joint and it feels sore and tired when I swim or climb. My friend made sure to point out the obvious to me when I told her all this. But despite my poor PT record, my friend was willing to hear me out when I complained about my running pains, and then thoughtfully work with me to make them go away.

Here is my list of ailments, (I am hoping people will be able to relate to some of them). First, an ongoing problem that I have had ever since I started running longer distances three and a half years ago has to do with my little toes. A few miles in they start to feel smashed (especially the right one) and then they go numb, throb, and eventually cause me to cry out in pain. They were the reason that I practically crawled  the last couple miles of the Chicago Marathon, and an issue that no running store has been able to help by selling me different shoes. Second, on a long run a few months ago, my lower back started to feel pressure and soreness and the next day I could barely sit down. Lastly, I went out for a run just a couple weeks ago and within the first mile I started to feel the beginnings of shin splints. I tried to run through it, but ended up walking the last 2 miles. My PT friend was able to help me with ALL of these, and now I am running pain-free (for now at least.)

Before I share the simple ideas that she gave me, I must state that I am NOT a doctor and this blog post is NOT intended to diagnose or treat anyone’s physical ailments. There are many professionals and professional resources available for treating my issues, but I like what my friend offered because it is so clear, easy, and helpful. I am sharing these tips because they worked for me and I am hoping that they might also help others. If you are in pain, you should see a doctor…and I recommend finding a good physical therapist and then doing what they tell you to do 🙂

Here is what my friend taught me, easy as pie. For my toes, the comment that helped me most was “you want to make sure you are pushing off from your big toe, or the cushioned pad at the front underneath side of your foot, with every step.” That’s it. As my friend gave me her medical advice she stated that I should not necessarily think about everything she was telling me while running because then I might overcompensate and injure myself somewhere else. But now, on my longer runs, whenever I start to notice some pain in my baby toes I just picture a laser beam coming out of my big toes and I try to shoot a nice straight line. It works great and I feel way less pain. For my back my friend taught me all about my pelvic floor. (Turns out this is the same thing pregnant women should learn about before delivering their child). Basically she said that there was a muscle that went all the way from my spine in my lower back around my sides to the middle of my belly. If I could strengthen that muscle then it would stabilize me and prevent me from rotating my torso too much (or was it too loosely) with each step and my back might not hurt. So every once in a while I will find that muscle (you can find it right underneath your hip bones within your pelvic region by laughing or making monkey sounds) and then I will practice flexing and releasing that muscle. Apparently if you get really strong you can flex it and then breathe in and out in a nice and controlled fashion. I’m still getting there. But my back no longer hurts and I generally feel more stable.

The help for shin splints is what I am most excited about. According to my friend, the short of it is that shins hurt when the calf muscles are not working hard enough, or are not strong enough. So now I do two things. First, I strengthen my calf muscles whenever I can. This is simple. Just stand up on your toes (feet parallel facing forward) and then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat a lot of times. It helps if you have a job where you get to stand around a lot. Then do the same thing with your feet pigeon-toed, and then with toes pointed away from each other like a ballerina. Second, and this is my favorite part, whenever I start to feel even the smallest burn in my shins while running, I remind my calves that they are strong and the pain goes away like magic. I think of how cool calves strong calves look, and I let myself notice the work they are doing, and then I say out loud, “Damn, my calves are strong” and just like that, no more shin splints. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Amazing!

So needless to say, I plan on hiring my PT friend to be my personal coach when I thru-hike the PCT, because I know I’ll be experiencing some aches and pains. Hopefully what I’ve explained makes sense and it is able to help some other runners stay strong and pain-free on those fulfilling long runs. Our bodies are incredible machines, but it is our job to take care of them so that they continue functioning properly. Here’s to all the physical therapists out there! Keep up the good work!

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Today I had the privilege of cheering on hundreds of complete strangers at Mile 24 of the Portland Marathon. It was so much fun! And it completely reignited my love for all things running. Though I only started running after college, and I still only run 10 minute miles, running does show up in multiple places on my various life lists. “Run a marathon” is on my “Completed Bucket List” (I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2008), “Sign up for races” appears on my “Continuous To Do” list, “Exercise” is on my “Daily” list (and running is usually how I accomplish this), and “Running” is also on my “Activities I enjoy on foot” list. Also, “Portland Marathon”, “Lake Tahoe Marathon”, “Run an adventure race”, and “Compete in a triathlon” ALL show up on my “Bucket List”. Phew…clearly I hope to do some more running in my future.

This morning I was reminded of just how powerful the “Runner’s High” can be. As I got out of my car and walked up to the curb where hundreds of dedicated runners were finishing their last leg of the race, my eyes filled with tears and I became overwhelmed with emotion. I could feel the energy in the air…their high was rubbing off on me! I was immediately transported to my own racing experiences, complete with hope, pride, excitement, envy, fear, and pure joy. I watched as people pushed their bodies, minds, and spirits to their very edge, and celebrated along with them as they discovered that they were indeed so much stronger than they knew. The tears came and went, usually brought on by a t-shirt indicating who the race was meant to honor or the simple love demonstrated through one runner slowing their pace for another. I made eye contact with hundreds of people and watched wide-eyed as my smile literally infected one exhausted runner after another. I was yelling, “Great job!,” “You’re almost there!,” and “Keep it up!,” but I know that what they heard was “You are able!,” “You are strong!,” and “Pain is only temporary!” Some life lessons are only truly understood when we are pushed beyond our self-imposed limits. Most people call all these emotions the “Runner’s High”, but those of us who run know it is so much more.

The fact is that running is one way that I live deliberately. It is something I want to do more of. Not only does it keep me healthy and strong, but it surrounds me with like-minded people and it brings peace to my soul. So with that in mind, I have done a little research. Today at the marathon I met a fellow cheerleader who mentioned that she was participating in “Foot Traffic University.” Then minutes later I was talking to a man whose daughter had just finished the marathon a whole hour faster than her first attempt last year, and he was giving all the credit to a running club she had joined. This got me thinking about group runs. I’ve always run solo, but what better way to make new friends and stay motivated then to run with a group! So here is a list of what I found in Portland. I’m sure I’m missing some great clubs and groups, but this is a good start.

Portland Running Company – Free group runs Sat-Wed

Foot traffic – Free group runs Mon-Thurs

Foot traffic University

Red lizard running club – Free group runs Mon-Thurs

ORRC – Free Tuesday night workout

NoPo Run Club – Free Thursday night group run

Team Athena – Must join for Tuesday night workouts

I look forward to checking some of these out this week, and I’ll let you know how it goes! Now I just have to hope I stay injury-free!

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About Me

- 26 years old
- Pacific Northwest
- Educator, adventurer, friend

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