During Disney marathon last year, I was running along happily enjoying the sites of Animal Kingdom when BAM! A shot of pain in my knee put me down, literally. I had to hobble the remaining six miles to the finish line afterwards, and I did so with tears in my eyes.
Believe me, when you train and train and train and then get injured on race day, there’s no way to be happy.
I spent a lot of time trying to determine the problem. Should I have gone to the doctor? Probably. Did I? No. Why? I was afraid I’d be told not to run.
I began with a foam roller and numerous hours of stretching after each run. And it helped. After cutting back mileage along with these therapies I felt much better, and my knee did, too.
For a while.
Then, when I would get higher into mileage, it would start to ache, even when taking it slowly.
Over time, doing a lot of reading, I realized this: My hamstrings and quads, the muslces in the tops of my legs, were weak.
I joined the Y and one day while there had my friend show me how to use the machines in the machine room. I’ve never been a machine girl. I’m a runner, right? I scoffed at machines (imagine my face scoffing here).
But think of it this way:
Your legs have a variety of muscles.
They use certain of these muscles when running.
Others, not so much.
These muscles being used become the alpha males. They think they are king. They rule.
The little muscles: Not so much. There they are, all docile, just watching and trying to keep up.
Have you ever tried to keep up with a runner that was stronger or faster than you? For a long time? What happens at the end of that run, or several hours later? You feel like you want to die.
Your stronger muscles overtake your littler muscles, and in the meantime they pull things in wrong directions.
My hamstrings were so weak I could barely lift ten pounds with one foot! Ten!
My hamstrings were pulling my knee out of whack, creating pain all the way down my leg.
How do I know this? Trial and error. I started using the machines and the pain in my knee went away, even with increased distances.
A few weeks ago, I stopped going to the gym. My schedule got crazy and I didn’t go. Guess what? A five miler wound up with me in some pain in my hamstring and, ta da, my knee.
My friend, they are all related. You don’t have to build up huge muscles when running, but you should make sure that your muscles are balanced.
It is all about balance, isn’t it?
Keeping this in mind, work out both front and back leg muscles, not just one or the other. Again, it’s not about making them huge, it is about keeping them in balance. You want them to be able to work together when you run, not work against you.
A few great gym exercises to try to build up the hamstrings and quads include the following. I have tried lunges and squats at home, but they hurt my knee. I know this is because i am not doing them correctly. If you can do them correctly, they may help as well.
You can also speak with a sports doctor, physical therapist or a personal trainer to determine exercises that might help strengthen the leg muscles and improve any imbalances your muscles might have due to a running-only type schedule.