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Wednesday, February 27

Happy Girls Half Marathon Training, Week 1

This May I'm running the Happy Girls Half Marathon in Bend, OR. While this isn't my first half marathon event, this time I'm trying something different and I'm working with a Physical Therapist (Jay) and Coach (Stephanie) at Rebound Physical Therapy to keep injury free and improve my performance. 

This morning was my evaluation and first visit with a Physical Therapist (Jay) at Rebound. I had been asked to wear "typical running gear" so I had on the usual shoes & capris, and light shirt since we were indoors. It's been so cold outside that it felt a little odd not to "layer up" before a workout. I arrived early which was nice so that I could relax a little and get a feel for the environment at Rebound. There were several people exercising in the large workout area behind the reception desk, but other than some music it was pretty quiet. I wondered if they were patients or if there's a fee to use the equipment in the morning on the way to work, but we got busy pretty fast and I forgot to ask about it.

While I waited I filled out a questionnaire for my evaluation. It covered some basics - current mileage and workout habits, past injuries, short and long term goals. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.

Jay arrived and after a quick introduction and overview we went into an exam room to talk about my general health. We talked about my current workout schedule - right now I run three days a week (a 3 mile run, hill repeats, and a long run), attend abs class 1-2 days a week, and yoga 1 day a week. He recommended adding a tempo run to the mix (to replace my 3mi) and when I am ready to introduce speed intervals.

Next Jay evaluated my stance and balance: stand up straight, squats with both legs, balancing on one leg (with eyes open and closed), and one-legged squats. Immediately he noticed what I already knew: that when I squat, my knees cave in. He said not to worry, we'd talk about that later. His main tip for me was when balancing on one leg to tilt my shoulders slightly forward, shifting weight off my heels and onto my forefoot & toes.

I took off my shoes and Jay checked my feet. He did some pushing and rotating to see where my foot made contact with the floor. I was surprised that he didn't recommend using an special footbed in my running shoes - I've been using "Superfeet" for years after a physical therapist told me that it would help alleviate some knee pain I'd experienced. Nope, apparently my feet are shaped just fine, and the knee pain is coming from other issues. The only thing the Superfeet are supporting are the local economy. Sigh. Next he looked at my feet and toes and observed that I have some calluses on my big toes. I thought I just needed a pedicure, but Jay told me that it's due to my running form and general strength, and we'll work on that. He was nice and didn't comment on the condition of my toenail polish (poor).

I climbed up onto the exam table - or rather I rolled using the method Jay showed me. While I was up there he did some tests to check my flexibility and strength in my core and hips. Most of the tests were pretty easy and I didn't have any issues but there were two areas of concern that Jay identified. The first one is pretty typical - I need to strengthen my lower core and glutes. The second is hip flexibility and strength when my leg is extended behind the rest of my body - basically, my "kick" position. When he tested my hip strength in this position (laying on my side, top leg extended down and then slightly back) he almost flipped me off the table - that's how weak those muscles are. Leg straight down and NOT extended back was just fine though. Jay told me he would teach me some really simple exercises to address those two areas to improve.

Now came the exciting part - running on Jay's fancy treadmill. I read an article about this equipment and I wasn't sure whether to feel intimidated or excited. When I saw it my trepidation melted away. The belt is at the same level as the floor and looks like a short version of a "magic carpet" ski lift. It just has a simple grab bar, with none of the fancy controls right in your face like the treadmills at the gym. The whole setup is controlled by Jay's computer workstation. All of the other "magic" is hidden beneath the floor so it doesn't scare people like me away! We agreed on a relaxed pace that I could hold for several minutes without struggling (10:45). I stepped on and the first thing it did was... record my weight. After entering some initial data, Jay started the machine at an easy walk. After a couple of minutes, he turned up the speed and I jogged for a few minutes, with the computer recording information as I went. Pretty soon it was all over - I was on the treadmill for maybe 5 minutes total. Whew!

The next part was actually really fun for me. I love data, statistics, and numbers in general. I'm not necessarily good at doing math on my own (I failed calculus twice) I have a good basic understanding and in general it makes sense to me. This part was all about taking the data that the treadmill collected about me and interpreting it. I asked a LOT of questions during this time, so hopefully I didn't annoy Jay. The first thing I noticed was he put in a number for my height but I didn't remember being measured and I didn't write it on my form. Jay told me that he calculated it based on several data points during my run, which I found interesting. Next some charts came up representing several elements of my stride. Each line represents one stride - red lines for right leg, blue lines for left leg.

My stride, visualized.
We talked in more detail about acceleration, stride, and side-to-side movement. Jay explained that the acceleration curve (the one on the left) should look like a basic bell curve - symmetrical with the high point in the middle. Mine has a little "bump" on one side - he described it as my curve is Mt Bachelor, and that (pointing at the bump) is the cone. This means there's a little "braking" going on near the beginning of my stride, which we'll address in the future. (A little braking is expected, but I have too much.) The main problem was the graphs representing my overall stride and side to side movement. My left side is really all over the place - to the point that I'm actually aware of it while I run. It feels like my left side "slips" while I run. As far as my stride is concerned my lack of flexibility means my stride is mostly in front of and directly below my body, so I don't have much "kick". Jay explained it like a pendulum - symmetrical and pretty much equal in front of and behind your body. My pendulum is too far forward and stops a little behind the bottom - oops.

Jay taught me some exercises to start with that will help to improve these two areas, and then once those are more stable we'll move onto the harder stuff. I have three exercises that I need to do daily:

  1. Bent knee pelvic tilts - with one knee bent under, and the other bent in front of me, tilt pelvis up and hold for 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Bridge lifts - start on back with knees bent up and core engaged. Squeeze glutes and lift up into bridge keeping back straight. Pause at the top, then lower. Release glutes but keep core engaged. Repeat 30 times.
  3. Clam shells - lie on side with spine straight, knees bent, core engaged. Squeeze glutes. Keeping feet together lift and lower knee. Release glutes but keep core engaged. Repeat 100 times on each side.

That was everything! We set up a follow up appointment for next week, when I will also meet with a Coach (Stephanie). Wish me luck with all those exercises!

I am receiving free services from Rebound's Biomechanics Lab in exchange for writing my experiences and feedback. There are no strings attached and I am not required to write positive posts. The opinions expressed on this blog are my own and are not screened. For those who know me, that's all you get!

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