By George, I Think She's Got It!

Light Bulb Moment

And just like that…

It’s what they call a “light bulb moment”.

It happens in an instant, in the blink of an eye, the flip of a switch, like it was there the entire time. I just couldn’t see it.

Or, perhaps I just turned the light off because I didn’t want to see it.

Confused? Me too. Let me try to explain.

One Year Ago

Last year, I suffered what we believed was a stress fracture. All this despite the fact that there was no proof. There was no proof on the x-ray. There was no proof on the MRI. All we knew was that my leg hurt and all the symptoms pointed to a stress fracture. In the end, I voluntarily booted my leg because I wanted healing…and fast. I wanted to run again.

Das Boot.

Das Boot.

I was determined to stay fit, so I purchased a Zero Runner, much to the chagrin of my husband. It did the job, however, and I was able to continue training with the boot on. Little did I realize at the time, that the Zero Runner was improving my running. It was a major player which allowed me to run the Twin Cities Marathon the way that I did, with a BQ and a 15 minute PR. And it gave me two more major PR’s in the fall of 2014.

My Zero Runner

My Zero Runner

If you have never seen a Zero Runner in action, then go to the Octane Fitness website and watch a quick video. It is a cross between a treadmill and an elliptical. Sure, you can use it like an elliptical, but it is designed so that you can lift your knees and kick back like a runner. The foot supports are there to reduce the impact your body would typically experience on pavement or a treadmill…almost zero gravity running! Not only was I able to run injured, so to speak, but I was fixing what was broke. I incorporated it into my early training post boot, but the Zero Runner faded from sight as I ran outside more and more throughout the fall. This is where my downfall begins. This is when it stared to break down and lead me to the same place I am a year later.

It just took me this long to see it.

It All Starts Here

I’ve got a slight physical malady. My left leg is shorter than my right. No, you can’t visually see it. But a physical therapist can. It can be managed, with proper exercises and an adjustment every now and again, to keep the hips aligned. It is a matter of staying on top of it. But that one little issue triggers a whole host of other problems, which in turn, leads me to the bane of my existence…a painful left tibia.

Let me explain.

I’m a road runner. I run on country roads. I have been doing it for 5 years now. I used to run in my youth, and I also did treadmill running throughout my life. But in these recent years, I have grown to love running outdoors. Sunshine, fresh air…who wouldn’t?

Already, my left leg is at a disadvantage. It’s shorter. So, my right leg is taking up quite a bit of slack. My left hip says “I don’t have to work so hard. My buddy over there to my right is doing it all for me. I can slack off.” And it does, and in turn, weakens in comparison to the right hip. On a treadmill, or a completely flat surface, this may not cause an issue. And with hip strengthening exercises, it would become a non-issue.

But here is the trouble with country roads. They are cross sloped. According to Wikipedia,

Cross slope or camber is a geometric feature of pavement surfaces: the transverse slope with respect to the horizon. It is a very important safety factor. Cross slope is provided to provide a drainage gradient so that water will run off the surface to a drainage system such as a street gutter or ditch. Inadequate cross slope will contribute to aquaplaning. On straight sections of normal two-lane roads, the pavement cross section is usually highest in the center and drains to both sides. In horizontal curves, the cross slope is banked into super elevation to reduce steering effort and lateral force required to go around the curve. All water drains to the inside of the curve. If the cross slope magnitude oscillates within 1–25 meters (3–82 ft), the body and payload of high (heavy) vehicles will experience high roll vibration.

Cross slope is usually expressed as a percentage: Cross slope  = frac {Rise}{Run} * 100%.

Cross Slope is the angle in the vertical plane from a horizontal line to a line on the surface, which is perpendicular to the center line.

Typical values range from 2 percent for straight segments to 10 percent for sharp super elevated curves. It may also be expressed as a fraction of an inch in rise over a one-foot run (e.g. 1/4 inch per foot).

Cross Slope

Cross Slope

Therefore, when I am on a country road, running against traffic, my left leg hits the surface at a lower elevation than my right. Think about it. My left leg is shorter than my right. A few things have to happen here in order for me to run a straight line. First, if my legs moved as though I were on an elliptical, and I were shuffling on the shoulder of a country road, my right foot would scrape against the pavement. My brain realizes this, so in order to compensate, it tells my right leg to swing out counterclockwise, like a free hanging pendulum. Because of this, I have developed a significant right heel whip.

Not me, but this shows a right heel whip.

Not me, but this shows a right heel whip.

The right heel whip, and the swinging leg, causes an imbalance in my running form. To keep me from tripping and face planting on the side of the road, my brain, in cahoots with my left leg says “I’ll fix it!” and slaps and clomps and ends up working harder than the stronger right hip. More and more emphasis is placed on the foot plant of that left leg because now it is forced to do more work and to make up for the imbalance.

Do you see it yet?

All that unnecessary force on the already weak left leg causes the repeated injury. DUH! It is so obvious to me now.

And what about the Zero Runner? Since it is a device that needs the same amount of power from each hip to achieve motion, it strengthens the weak, yet downplays the strong. In the long run, it aids in correcting the hip imbalance. It also alleviates the pendulum leg swing, and the heel whip, since the foot remains planted on the pedal. Incoropate that with physical therapy correction exercises, and we develop a stronger runner which can now utilize a more proper form with less injury. THIS is what happened to me last summer. This is how I did what I did.

Once I slacked off on that Zero Runner, my daily exercises, and returned to my evil road running ways, the injury began to resurface. I thought I was “healed”, but instead, I was just corrected. However, quickly after that marathon, I became incorrect again. And my warning sign was that calf knot I developed just before the fastest half marathon I ever ran. My body was telling me something, but I completely brushed if off as what I believed it was…a simple knotted muscle.

One Year Later

I eased into this injury this year. Last year it was sudden. It also hasn’t been nearly as severe as last year. But then again, I listened closer this year and backed off, whereas last year, I felt I just had to hold on to that marathon training schedule. It was Boston, after all.

In discussing this with my other physical therapist, the one who performed the Dartfish video gait analysis, we came to the same conclusion. In the end, I should stay on the Zero Runner, using it as cross training with my running, and lay off the country roads.

The second part kind of sucks. I love running outdoors. And I will continue to do so, however, I will have to drive to a running path more frequently than not. Most running paths do not have the cross slope I mentioned earlier, and if one does, running on the right side of it, like traffic does on a road in the United States, will not make the situation worse. In fact, it should aid in the rehabilitation of the left leg.

I might also add, that last year, as I was rehabilitating that left leg, I unconsciously did just that…went to the local paved running trail! Why? Because it had a flatter elevation than my local routes. Little did I know, that too, aided my return to running.

And, now, the light is on. I’ve flicked up the switch. I’ve figured it out.

Pearl Izumi Run 2's

Pearl Izumi Run 2’s

Taking all of this, in combination with new sneakers, Pearl Izumi Run 2’s (as recommended by Twin Cities Running Company), changes are rapidly occurring. You see, the Pearl Izumis also help to stabilize my supination, keeping me off the outsides of my feet, which also sets me up for tibia stress.

Two weeks in, and…hot damn…I feel like a new person. The leg pain has diminished significantly. My hips are actually a little bit more sore and stiff, since I’m clearly using them more than my lower legs. And that is good.

No, I’m not up to speed yet. But this is exactly what happened last year! I remember thinking the same about my hips and that I knew they were getting stronger. But what I didn’t do, was keep up with the Zero Runner, and I returned to the road. And I got re injured.

Now I know. Knock me in the head with a cast iron skillet just once…and I should learn my lesson.

For the first time in weeks…no months…I feel a glimmer of hope. One that says “You can still rock Chicago!” with a little patience, a lot of experience, and a few meals of crow. I’m back. I’m in.

Funny, too, that I just found that these words on the bottom of the foot pedals of my Zero Runner.

Just Keep Running. Thanks, Octane Fitness!

And I plan to!

Have you ever had an “Aha” moment with one of your injuries? Tell me about it!

2 Responses to By George, I Think She's Got It!

  1. Ruth Thomas says:

    That’s great Theresa! I saw the Zero Runner in Runner’s World and watched the clip. It looks very intriguing. I prefer running outside too, but would love the option of using it when it’s too early to be out alone safely, or when the weather is bad (live in Florida). It sounds like you like it and that it does work. So glad to hear you’re back in the game!!

  2. petitepacer says:

    Camber. It’s no good.

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