July 29, 2010

IT BAND Issues – what NOT to do and how I overcame the pain

I have no one to blame but myself for my IT band issues.  After my victorious completion of my first half marathon in Sept 2007, I was ready to toss aside that beginner’s training plan I’d followed so diligently leading up to the race. I don’t need that anymore, I thought. I’ve got the basics down. Now I can go out and do whatever I want. Well, that didn’t work out so well. I had taken about 5 weeks off from running to let my back and a nasty ingrown toenail heal.  I ran that first half marathon with both of these ailments, thus exacerbating both conditions. Smart? No. Necessary? I think yes – because of what I learned from it. Lessons around knowing when your body needs a complete break, when to back off, and when to start looking more closely at your form, shoes, and training schedule.

I ran a race the following November, but it was hilly and I re-injured my back. Unfortunately, “taking it easy” when it comes to sports is not my forte. The first half of 2008 was extremely frustrating.   I could run for a few weeks, and then have to take a few days or even a few weeks off, depending on how much pain I was having during my training sessions. I didn’t even try to run a race until mid 2008 – a 5K in 35 min. Not too terrible considering where I was a couple of months earlier.  Four weeks later, I took 5 min off my time. Progress!  I was already signed up for the 2008 DLand Half Marathon, and with renewed confidence I slowly started building my weekly mileage and added in longer distances on the weekend.

Me with bro-in-law, Chris
I won’t lie. It was TOUGH. I knew better than to push through IT band pain, but frequently did it anyway. I was not going to let some stupid injury prevent me from doing what I wanted to do!! I started wearing an IT compression wrap. That definitely helped reduce the friction and the pain, as did keeping my speed down to a reasonably slow pace, especially during my long runs.  I managed to get to the ’08 Disneyland Half finish line, using 10 minute run/ 1 minute walk intervals but had to pull off to the side after every walk break from about mile 8 forward to stretch out. My brother-in-law was with me for this one (his first) and we had started out too fast. Common mistake!!!  After a couple of miles, we realized we had to slow down. This feeling of excitement could get us into trouble later on.  Unfortunately, the extra speed pushed my IT band over the edge and I experienced more pain during the race than I had in about 6 weeks. We finished in 2:20 that year – 25 minutes faster than the previous year (though I must say in 2008, unlike in 2007, Anaheim was not in the middle of a heat wave and the weather conditions were pretty much ideal for running). The good news is that I healed quickly this time. Well, at least the pain part had subsided. I’ve got my IT wrap, I’m feeling good. I’m ready to get out of my comfort zone and find another half marathon because 2009 was my goal year for running a full marathon. Let’s get back to work!

I found a local Half that was going to be held in March 2009.  Rather than start slowly easing back into my schedule, I jumped right back in to running at least 15 miles a week after taking a couple of weeks to rest after the Disney Half. The first week I decided it was okay for me to run 6 miles of hills after just 2 training sessions. It took about 3 weeks of this nonsense to take its toll. One day when I was running through our hilly neighborhood, I felt a sharp pain on the outside of my knee and within 10 minutes, I couldn’t run one more step. It was one of the most frustrating feelings I’d had with running. It didn’t just hurt to run, it was literally stopping me from being able to run. The first and only time I had to call my husband to come pick me up out on the road. I felt like such a failure. Hello? How many times am I going to do this? Not surprisingly, I missed that half marathon and ran the 10K instead since I was able to run 6 miles before the pain started 2 weeks before race day.  The 10K went terribly and I could barely walk at the end.   Final time – 1:12. More disappointment and overwhelming negative self talk.  No more signing up for races. It’s putting too much pressure on me to train hard. Time for a training re-design.

I started doing 30 minutes of yoga, twice a week, in addition to 30 minutes of easy running twice during the week, and no more than 6 easy flat miles on the weekends. I maintained this relatively light schedule for 6 weeks. A reboot I guess you could call it. I had been dabbling in Jeff Galloway’s books and was following his run/walk interval suggestions. I picked 3 minutes running/ 1 minute walking.  It was working. The pain was subsiding. I could run a little faster and was up to 8 miles on the weekend by the end of June ’09. I ran a 10K in under 59 minutes on Father’s Day and then set a 5K PR by over 5 minutes the following month. I was still having moderate pain, but it was tolerable, not getting worse, and wasn’t lingering for more than 24 hours post-race.  It was obvious progress and being able to set a 5K PR in the midst of my reboot was extremely encouraging.   I held my weekday mileage and my pace down. It was the only way I was going to be able to run the ’09 Disney Half marathon at the beginning of September.

As my long distances increased, so did the pain. I got up to 11 miles by the end of July (probably too much too soon) because in my mind I HAD to get up to 15 miles for my last long run before tapering. Long runs were becoming torturous again, but the pain was sporadic. One week I could run 12.5 miles pain-free, but 2 weeks later, on a 15 mile run, the last 8.5 miles felt like I was running with a knife through my knee.  The Disney Half was just 2 weeks after that. Final time was 2:28. Eight minutes slower than last year. Yes, I crossed the finish line, but that wasn’t good enough anymore.

I started treating myself like I was injured every single day. Ice massages, stretching and wearing kinesiology tape. I had a dense foam roller than I used too. I started noticing “no pain” was popping up more and more in my training journal. Don’t get excited Vera. Keep doing what you’re doing but not more!!! Discipline, discipline, discipline.  Maybe I could run a full marathon soon….it seems like I’ve found a good formula here!
 Maintaining a strict schedule and monitoring myself closely, I was able to keep building my long run distances. I followed Jeff Galloway’s program “to finish” a marathon as opposed to aiming for a specific finishing time. I started incorporating positive mental imagery and self talk, and stopped listening to the negativity rolling around in my head. The pain persisted but the intensity was up and down. I tried to run 24 miles for my final long run leading up to the full Marathon (2010 Disneyworld in early Jan), but by mile 22, I was in so much pain, I had tears streaming down my face while I was running!  I tried to keep going but decided I’d rather stop now and rely on the 3-week taper so I could heal as much as possible before race day. The last 6 miles of a marathon are mostly in your head anyway, and I had confidence that all the mental work I’d done just to get through the training program with as little pain as possible would carry me a long way. Better yet, my husband had decided to train for it too –his first! More positive energy!!

The strategy worked and come race day, as nervous as I was to get out there, the anticipation and excitement was enough to push away any feelings of doubt or negativity – until I realized I’d left my “golden ticket” (i.e. IT compression wrap) back at the hotel room as we were getting ready to leave the pre-race zone and head out to the course starting line. I re-counted this story in more detail in another post, but to get right to the point, I didn’t end up “needing” any IT support. With crippling pain at mile 13, I chose to ignore it (and ease up on my pace). I put it right out of my head and made it to the finish line.  After a year and a half of struggling with pain, one race changed how I perceive pain.  My brain tries to stop me, but I know my body is capable of more. And I proved it to myself. Finally.

After taking a few weeks off following the Marathon, I eased back into my schedule, preparing for my next race. I did keep using the IT compression wrap and kinesiology tape through mid-May (after setting a PR at a Half in late March 2010), and then decided to test myself a little.  Instead of using the IT wrap, I loosely wrapped pre-wrap and athletic tape around the same area where I would normally use the compression wrap and ran 6 miles on the treadmill pain-free.  I tricked my brain. That’s it. I’m done with it. I know this is all in my head now and I’ve got to get over it. I haven’t used the wrap since then.  The results? A second Half Marathon PR in early June and a new 5K PR on the 4th of July, breaking 24 minutes!

Yes, I am ‘considerate’ of my former IT band issues. I stretch my hips, quads and hamstrings regularly. I take ice baths after long runs and get professional deep tissue massages every 10-12 weeks. Most importantly, I don’t let thoughts of pain overtake my feelings of exhilaration and pleasure when I’m running; now, it’s the other way around.

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