diversify your workouts

  MONTREAL — For the first time in 15 years, I can’t run. I have a stubborn case of iliotibial band friction syndrome, which causes knee pain about five minutes into my run. It also hurts when I go downstairs and sometimes while walking. The problem, according to my osteopath, isn’t the knee, it’s the hip. My pelvis tilts forward, which tugs on the iliotibial band, which in turn tugs on my kneecap. I’m no stranger to the aches and pains of running. But to date, I’ve always managed to keep running by modifying my training and paying attention to my pre-and post-run habits. I ran through a bout of plantar fasciitis (heel pain), three weeks after abdominal surgery, through a flare-up of piriformis syndrome (pain in the butt) and the occasional bout of non-specific knee pain (patella-femoral syndrome). To be truthful, my knee has been bothering me on and off for years, but I’ve usually been able to manage it with extra stretching and reducing the volume and intensity of my workouts. If the pain still wouldn’t abate, a tune-up at the osteopath did the trick. I followed the same strategy when the knee flared up this time. In fact, I was able to run with little or no pain through most of the summer as long as I didn’t run every day, kept my time to an hour and, on the advice of the osteopath, stayed away from hills. That was all well and good until I went on vacation in the middle of August, and was surrounded by hills and country roads. To make matters worse, the roads were banked, which means one leg was always lower than the other -a no-no for anyone with IT band problems. Yet despite the perfect storm of conditions that were guaranteed to make the knee worse, I ran. My husband has long claimed that runners are crazy. My dentist, who is a runner, prefers to describe runners as stubborn. I plead guilty to both. The results of my folly were predictable. One week after returning from vacation, my knee called it quits 10 minutes into my run. I hobbled home and have been struggling through pain ever since. Four weeks and several visits to the osteopath later, I am still not running. Not being able to pull on my shoes and go for a run has been a big adjustment. One of the reasons I love running is that it can be done anywhere, any time and with a minimum of preparation. I also love exercising outdoors, especially in the fall. The first week without running, I headed to my local outdoor pool. I’m a swimmer, so it’s an easy form of cross training, and a 2,000-metre workout is an adequate substitution for an hour pounding the pavement. But with the closing of the outdoor pools, my motivation to swim waned and I climbed on a stationary bike. At the gym I use one of the Expresso bikes, which offers a tough virtual ride that is challenging and engaging. And on those days when a gym workout doesn’t happen, I spend 45 minutes in my basement pedalling away while watching reruns of HBO television series on my computer – a horribly boring way to work up a sweat. I also decided to venture outdoors on my bike, which until now has been used strictly to get from here to there. More of a touring bike than a road bike, it’s not built for speed or performance, but on a beautiful fall day it beats the heck out of cycling in my basement. I am by no means an efficient cyclist, and I admit that cycling alongside traffic and city buses takes some getting used to, but 90 minutes on my bike outdoors is a breeze compared to the 45 minutes I spend cranking the pedals on the stationary bike in my basement. And despite the limitations of my old touring bike, an outdoor ride beats the indoor version by a long shot. Another part of my self-improvement plan is a commitment to dial back on the cardio and do more complementary workouts. So I am struggling through power yoga once a week in hopes of stretching out my chronically tight hamstrings. I’ve also revitalized my core workout and added some more upper-body exercises to my weekly routine. The message in all of this is that sometimes it takes an injury to force you into doing what you should have been doing all along. It may take years, but bad habits will come back to haunt you, so take a look at your fitness routine and start mixing it up. Being fit means finding the right balance of activities so that your body reaps the rewards of exercise without the stress of too much repetition. Variety is a runner’s best friend. Stubbornness is not.

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