My Very First DNS (Did Not Start) for a Race EVER

Even I’m surprised that although I have registered for somewhere around 60 races over the past 22 years I’ve never been unable to physically run a race, until now. However, there were a couple of races that I shouldn’t have run, like the half marathon in Ohio where I had terrible iliotibial band syndrome leading up to the race but I ran it anyway and paid the price afterwards and the half marathon in Oklahoma where I was severely anemic before the race and ran/walked that race for my slowest finish time ever.

When I was looking at local races this fall, none of them appealed to me until I came across the Pups & Pastries 5k. Cute dogs and pastries after a race? I’m in! When I found out the proceeds were going to a dog rescue center, it was icing on the cake. Two weeks before the race, I ran 6.2 miles on the course to get acquainted with what I would be looking forward to on race day. Yes, it was hilly but I was looking forward to the challenge. I had been running on hills the past several months so hills were nothing new to me.

Suddenly a little over a week before the race I started having pains in my right shin. Then one week before the race when I went for a 5 mile run I had a sharp, stabbing pain in my right shin when I was getting out of the car, before I even ran. During the course of the 5 miles I experienced even more of those sharp, stabbing pains in my shin a few times. It felt like someone was stabbing my shin with a knife. Not good.

This wasn’t my first time with shin splints. When I was in college I had shin splints so badly I practically crawled home from a run and was in tears when I finally got back to my apartment. I most likely had a stress fracture but didn’t go to the doctor to confirm it. That bout of shin splints/stress fracture was so painful I didn’t run for years afterwards.

So this time around, I knew what I was in for but I was confused about what might have caused them. My running shoes both had less than 300 miles on them, I had been running hills for quite some time, and I always stretched after running. I also knew that while my shin splints were relatively mild, if I continued to run they would inevitably turn into a stress fracture. Just to ease my mind, I went to get my leg x-rayed and the doctor said unless I had been having shin splints for 3-4 weeks they likely wouldn’t show up on an x-ray. Of course he said not to run for 2-3 weeks and if my leg still hurt in a month to get a bone scan done, which would show any fractures in my shin.

I was tempted to take the entire week off before the race and just do some easy walking and try to run on race day but then I knew that was a terrible idea. A local 5k certainly isn’t a good enough reason to potentially cause my shin splints to get worse. I didn’t want to be so injured so badly with a stress fracture that I would have to take months off from running.

Sure, I was disappointed when I accepted the fact that racing with shin splints was a terrible idea so I would DNS this race but then I decided to make lemonade out of lemons. I saw there was a volunteer option on the race website so I immediately emailed the race director to see if they still needed volunteers. He said yes, for many different positions and he thanked me and told me he was sorry to hear I was injured.

Race morning was overcast and cool but not cold- a perfect day for a race (if you’re running, that is)! After I told the person in charge of volunteers I was a runner and had experience with both running and volunteering at races, I was assigned to help out at the finish line. Even though the race was chip-timed, they wanted someone to write down the finishers numbers from their bibs as they crossed the finish line, as a back-up. This may sound like over-kill and in a perfect world it would be but we all know electronics don’t always work perfectly. A couple of times during the race the main timing person asked me to verify the order and/or numbers of a few racers. Another time a runner came up and said his GPS watch time was different from his chip time (as were some other runners that he knew there) and I gave my paper to the main timing person to clear that up.

This race had several options: there was a 5k or 10 mile option you could run with your dog, a fun run 5k option (no dogs), and a competitive 5k or 10 mile race with no dogs allowed. I believe there were about 40 people running with their dogs and it was adorable to see the wide range of dogs there. There were the expected labs and other active breeds but also a good amount of tiny breeds like chihuahuas plus several mixed breeds. I’m a huge dog-lover so I enjoyed just watching the dogs before the race.

Being at the finish line allowed me front-row access to check out all of the dogs as they crossed the finish. Seeing the sheer joy on many of those dog’s cute faces was priceless. The man who was the first to cross the line with his dog was running with a lab who looked like he/she could have kept running for another 10 miles. The dog’s tail was wagging like crazy when it was rewarded with dog treats just past the finish line. There was also water for the dogs and their owners.

Oh, and the pastries part of the race came in the form of what looked like homemade brownies, all of which were individually-wrapped. When I was leaving, I was given one and it was pretty tasty. I’ll have to keep this race in mind for next year when I will hopefully be healthy and can run it! In case you’re wondering, I do have a dog, a 10-year-old lab-mix but she’s not a runner and even when she was younger wasn’t a runner so I won’t be doing it with her.

Have you run a race with your dog? Would you run a 5k with your dog if there was a race that allowed dogs near you? Would you volunteer at a race like this just to see the cute dogs?

Happy running!

Donna

Trying to Change my Running Gait aka Training Myself to Run with a Bent Knee Again

I know that sounds like a strange title for a blog post. The fact is, I had been running with a bizarre running style these past few years and it was a long road to figuring out how to correct it and even how to diagnose the problem. I noticed a few years ago that my running gait was somehow “off,” but I couldn’t really figure out what was going on. I even had a co-worker make a comment on my strange way of running when she and I crossed paths (literally) on a run one weekend, so it was obvious to other people as well.

Still, I continued like this for years. One evening when going through photos online I found a video my husband has recorded of me running a race in New Hampshire. My gait was flat out terrible! I looked like I was hobbling and this was only in the first couple of miles of the race, and I wasn’t injured.

It was time to seek advice of others so early last fall I found a physical therapist who could at least tell me what the problem was. At my first physical therapy appointment, the therapist watched me walk and immediately saw the issue I had tried to describe to her. I didn’t even know how to put it into words other than “I straighten my right leg when I should be bending it.” Apparently that’s knee hyperextension. Of course it makes perfect sense in hindsight.

In a case like mine when knee hyperextension isn’t caused by an (apparent) injury, there are three main causes:  postural habits, weak muscles around the knee, and having very flexible knees. In my case, I think all three apply to me. Also, this is the same leg I broke when I was 7 years old and since then I’ve always felt like it was weaker than my other leg. See my post Biking, Broken Leg, and a Bribe- How to be a Better Runner by Cycling.

The physical therapist had me do several exercises including single-leg ball squats (so as to not put so much pressure on the knee as regular squats), lunges, single-leg leg presses, and other exercises to strengthen my ankles, and relax my tight IT bands. In addition to the exercises I did during physical therapy I was sent home with a list of other exercises including diagrams and instructions how to do them. That first couple of weeks of therapy, I was exhausted by the end of my hour of PT. I quickly realized just how bad the imbalance was in my legs and just how much weaker my right leg had become than my left leg over time.

In addition to all of the exercises I was prescribed, the therapist also used Graston technique around my knee and on my quadricep. This technique is a trademarked method using a set of stainless steel instruments of various sizes and shapes, to essentially loosen adhesions in tight muscles and tendons. Chiropractors and physical therapists often employ this method with their patients. A tool is used to “scrape” over the effected area to help break up scar tissue, move toxins out, get rid of tendonitis, while increasing blood flow to the area. I found it uncomfortable but not painful until she did it to my quadricep. That was very painful and it reminded me of the first time I had a massage therapist do deep tissue massage on my iliotibial band when I had iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) many years prior.

After going to physical therapy for four weeks and doing the prescribed exercises daily at home, I began to question at what point do I stop going to physical therapy. My knee definitely felt stronger at this point. I could do things on that leg that I hadn’t been able to do in years, like hop up and down just as easily as I could on my left leg. Five weeks after my first appointment, I told myself I would see how I did on my next long run and then talk to the physical therapist about ending my therapy. That weekend I ran 10 miles with no problems during or after running.

Six weeks after starting therapy, I mentioned to my therapist that I felt like I didn’t need to come back any longer. She asked me how my running was going and told me if I had any problems come up I could always come back. As I mentioned earlier, that was last fall and I haven’t been back.

Another thing that I’ve been trying to work on is to improve my gait mechanics. That’s been the most difficult of all of this. At first, it was pretty easy to try to maintain a slight bend in my right knee when walking, but the really difficult thing was to do this while running. The first few times I practiced changing my gait when running, I felt so out of breath and so utterly exhausted that I questioned whether it was worth it. I started doing this way back when I was training for the half marathon in San Diego and honestly, I gave up and went back to hyperextending my leg. After that, I ran another race in New Jersey with my same hobbled gait; that’s me at the finish for that race in the gif above.

This summer when I wasn’t training for a race, I decided to try and work on my running gait again. I’d like to continue running for many years to come and I was worried if I don’t change my gait, that may lead to other problems such as with my hips until I eventually wouldn’t be able to run. After a full summer, it’s definitely gotten to the point where I feel like I can run about the same pace as I used to with a hyperextended right leg without getting out of breath, so I think it’s getting easier. By the time I run my next half marathon in November, hopefully there will be enough muscle memory there for me to be able to run the race with a bent knee, the way it should be!

Have any of you tried to change your running gait?  How did that go?  Have you tried any apps or devices that analyze running gait?

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