How I cope with a running injury

  • This was printed in June of 2013 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the fifth installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

Whatever you want to call it — jinxing myself, speaking too soon, or forgetting to knock on wood — I did it. I got hurt.

I wrote a column about how this time around, I was running injury free. In high school I’d end every cross country and track practice with ice taped to my shins and knees. Now as an adult, I changed my running form and my shoes and it made all the difference.

That column hasn’t been published yet because I ended up getting hurt, making that column null and void.

I developed one of the most common running injuries, iliotibial (IT) band syndrome, or ITBS. I’m not sure how or why, but it seemed to come on pretty fast.

The IT band extends from the hip down the outside of the thigh, along the outside of the knee, and attaches to the shin. When the band gets tight, it rubs the knee, causing pain. (This, of course, is a very non-medical explanation of the injury.)

I began to feel tightness in my knee after runs, but I never felt pain while running so I thought I was okay. Then, the Wednesday before my half marathon, I was unable to finish my tempo workout because the pain on the outside of my knee was so intense. Perfect timing.

I went home that day to start my RICE regiment. I rested, I iced, I compressed, and I elevated my knee. I popped an ibuprofen. Nothing helped. I got a very painful massage along the IT band. It loosened it, but after a half mile of running the pain came back.

I talked to my doctor, I talked to my coach, but in the end, after using all of their suggestions, I — like most people in my generation often do — turned to the all-knowing Google for a cure.

After reading several articles and studies on ITBS from a variety of sources — doctors, runners, coaches, physical therapists, scientists and scholars — I came up with a regimen that I hope will make this dreadful syndrome go away.

I massage my knee with ice three times a day until it’s numb. I massage my IT band every other day. I do several stretches daily that focus on the hips, knees, and IT band. I am also working to strengthen my glutes and hip flexors by doing a variety of resistance band moves, squats and other calisthenics.

And I’m still running.

I tape my knee with the cute, colorful, fancy KT Tape, made popular by the summer Olympics. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but it works. I jokingly tell people that the tape ‘holds me together.’ But according to kttape.com, it “supports, enables, or restricts soft tissue and its movement” depending on how it is applied.

I ran six miles without it, and spent about five of those miles in pain. The next day I ran 13.1 with my pink KT Tape and only felt pain during two of those miles.

The logical thing would be to take a break from running. But there are several problems with that. 1. I’ve committed to a marathon. 2. I don’t like breaking commitments. 3. Running keeps me sane. 4. How can I write a column about running if I’m not, in fact, running?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running, it’s that finishing only stokes the fire. I finished a 5K and wanted to do a 10K. I did a 10K and wanted to do a 10-miler. Then I moved on to the half marathon. I’m working up to the Santa Rosa Marathon in August, but I think I’ve found my calling as a half-marathoner.

I want to run different 13.1-mile courses, get faster, and watch my stack of finisher medals grow. I want to watch my PR time drop. I’m just beginning my long-distance career and I don’t see an end in sight.

My IT band begs to differ, but I just tell it to shut up.

 

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