NOTE: This blog post is not intended as medical advice, nor do I represent myself as a medical professional. Please consult your doctor or health care professional if you feel pain, fatigue or discomfort when practicing any sport.
It is a blow to the ego to know that in 2014 I was able to run 21 kilometres as I prepared for a half-marathon, yet in the years that followed my distances kept getting shorter and shorter.
In those years, I was frustrated with myself when instead of shaving seconds from my personal bests, the durations of my runs were steadily getting longer. I often asked myself if this was what it meant to be over 50.
For someone who isn’t a jealous person by nature, I admit I felt envy in seeing my Facebook friends sharing their athletic accomplishments and their new personal bests.
For someone who was an active participant in a running club, I felt like I was letting down the team when I just couldn’t keep up… or even to make it out to a get together because I was too embarrassed to admit I had slowed down so much, compared to what I was able to do.
When someone would ask “How is the running going?” after years of saying I was sidelined due to injury, it felt like I was making excuses when my body just wouldn’t cooperate, no matter how many times I tried.
And then it felt worse when people stopped asking how the running was going.
It’s not that I cared what people said, it was the frustration of the disconnection between mind and body. The motivation was there, the mind wanted to go for a run, but the body was talking back in the form of pain.
It didn’t seem to matter how slowly or how gradually I tried to get back into running each season, I couldn’t break the 4-5 kilometre barrier without aggravating my iliotibial bands (“IT bands”) and being sidelined for several weeks at a time. To play it safe and to not risk injury, I stayed away for long periods.
For someone who always made exercise a priority, I didn’t want to admit defeat and change sports, because I loved running so much.
But in the endless winter of 2018-19, my longing for running kept growing, as did my determination to find a solution. When the neighbourhood sidewalks were repeatedly covered by ice and snow, I decided to use the time constructively to find a solution.
I know that looking for medical advice on the Internet is not necessarily the wisest of ideas, but there had to be a reason why my body was rebelling, beyond the fact that I was over 50.
I wasn’t looking for a quick fix or the one magic exercise to make it all better. For the persistent pain I was feeling, I knew that I needed a more strategic approach, and I was certainly willing to take the necessary steps to get me back on the running trails again.
In my research on the trouble areas, the word “fascia” kept coming up. Once I started reading and understanding what it was and how it worked, the answers started coming. It described perfectly the issues I encountered with plantar fasciitis, shin splints and the IT bands over the years, each of which I had dealt with individually, when a more holistic approach was probably needed.
I have not been compensated for saying this, but this is the video that helped me: https://essentrics.com/page/productdetails/all/Aging_Backwards_Connective_Tissue_Workouts.htm
Finding a connective tissue workout that focused on releasing the fascia, slowly and gently, seems to have helped. Even before hitting the running trails, my body was feeling more limber and less constrained. The “gumming up” of the fascia, as they call it, had crept up on me so slowly, I didn’t even realize I was constrained in the first place.
With a different approach to training underway, I started walking. Over that first month, I slowly worked my way back up to 5 kilometers, while listening carefully to my body to ensure the legs were fine.
With confirmation that I felt pain-free (where I used to feel my IT band issues) and while still ensuring I was doing connective tissue exercises in between walks, I decided to take the first step in running.
While keeping in mind that this is still a work-in-progress, I have slowly stepped up the mileage from 2.0 to 2.3 to 2.5 to 2.75 km, with 3 or 4 days between runs to properly recuperate and to continue my fascia releasing exercises.
Along the way, I am not looking at speed, I am not looking at completion times, and I am not competing with myself. The goal here is to get the mileage in, slowly, and to not feel pain. This is the rebuilding phase. So far so good.
And along the way, even in short distances, I am feeling the pure joy of a great run again, enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine, the delicate aromas of spring and early summer and the feeling of my body in motion again.
Plus, I am giving my body the same TLC I was giving it while training for the half-marathon, in the form of good nutrition, proper rest, proper sleep, proper hydration and gentle stretching not only before and after the run, but on the rest/recuperation days as well. That seems to work for me, but every athlete needs to find the recovery routine that works for their body.
As much as my enthusiasm is kicking in and I’d like to do more, I have to hold myself back. But that is already a fantastic sign… if hope and enthusiasm for the sport is kicking in and the body is starting to cooperate again, then I am already doing considerably better than I was.
I am not saying that workouts focused on fascia and connective tissue are the answer to anyone who has suffered IT band issues. I would just suggest that this is an angle to explore with a health care professional to try to get the body cooperating and on the road to recovery.
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Have a great day,