Given all of the unknowns about my leg problem during the Boston Marathon (this year and last year!), and the fact that I will probably be running for the rest of my life, I decided before training for another marathon , it would be worthwhile to get my running looked at carefully, by an expert.
The person I saw is a USA Track & Field Level 2 Coach (Endurance), one of the leading running coaches in the area who has coached many runners to PRs, and a very competitive runner (and marathoner) himself.
My appointment lasted about 1.5 hours and had two parts.
The first was a Video Gait Analysis, which involved being recorded while running both outside and on a treadmill (at different speeds), and will be followed up with a 30-45 minute review session, which should happen in the next week.
The second part was a Functional Assessment:
“Intended for those looking for a more thorough analysis, the functional assessment is a series of measurements and tests to help deduce deficiencies that may be reducing one’s ability to healthy or efficiently function during the act of running. This includes measurements and analysis of posture, muscle length-tension relationships, flexibilty and strength imbalances, and other nuances that may not be captured during a VGA and of which may contribute to a faulty gait pattern. A recommended program to correct any deficiencies is provided. The assessment is performed in the center, and can be performed during the same session as the indoor recording of the VGA. Allow 30-45 minutes for the assessment and a 20-30 minute review session to be held 1-5 business days afterwards.”
I thought if I was going to go ahead and spend the money to do this, I might as well get the most I could out of it. During the Functional Assessment, the coach:
asked me about my training, my goals, my past experiences while running
took a lot of different measurements of my legs and feet
looked for alignment differences in my hips, legs, and feet
tested my strength with different exercises
had me rate difficulty and pain on the right and left side while doing different exercises or stretches
had me do a difficult glut exercise on each side and take note of when the fatigue set in
had me foam roll over specific areas of my legs and rate the pain on a 1-10 scale
looked at my balance and alignment while doing squats, leg lifts, and other exercises
(and probably more that I’m forgetting!)
It was pretty fun to have someone pay attention on that level of detail and ask me so many questions about my running and my body.
We ended up having a very interesting discussion about my scoliosis. And just from doing some simple exercises and paying attention, I was surprised how much I noticed my own misalignments.
As I stood facing the mirror, I saw that my shoulders were uneven, and throughout the assessment the coach noticed my hips were probably not aligned properly, and that one quad was bigger than the other. He is eager to see how this plays out in my running by watching the video, and thinks that it might explain why the injury happened in just one leg.
I haven’t talked about it much on the blog, but basically due to scoliosis (first noticed by the school nurse in elementary school) my spine looks like an “S” - there is a smaller curve that goes to the left and then a bigger curve that goes to the right (if you’re looking at me from the back).
I got regular x-rays throughout middle school, and by the time I was a freshman in high school it had gotten worse enough that the orthopedic surgeon put me in a “brace” to prevent the curves in my spine from worsening, which would have meant surgery.
My smaller curve was, I believe, less than 20 degrees, but the larger curve was approaching 40 degrees. Generally the cutoff for surgery is anything worse than 40-45 degrees.
This is how the curves are measured:
While I am glad my curves never progressed to the point of needing surgery (getting metal rods put in my back isn’t really on my life to do list…), in a word, the brace was awful. This is what mine looked like:
It might not look that bad, but the outside was rock hard plastic, and it was at least half an inch thick. And in the back, there were 3 big velcro straps. It went over my hips and butt (which meant I could only wear long, baggy sweatshirts) and it pushed up uncomfortably against my armpit and breasts.
I learned to make jokes about it by telling people to “feel my rock hard abs”, and my friends and family were so supportive, but it was still really hard on my self-esteem. I also had braces and acne, and let’s face it – 14 years old is not exactly when most girls peak in feeling great about themselves.
Once my doctor said my growth plates (seen on my pelvis in the x-ray) had closed enough to signify I was done growing, I didn’t have to wear it anymore. I got a few more x-rays, all of which showed my curves were no longer worsening, and I haven’t been back to see my orthopedic surgeon in a long time.
Anyway, this appointment got me thinking for the first time that my back might be affecting my running.
I will do a full recap of the Gait Analysis feedback session when I go, but so far I have a great feeling about it. Sometimes I think it’s very difficult for any non-runners to understand how to help runners. Especially those in the medical field, who just want to fix the problem without trying to get at the underlying cause.
I am very interested to see how I might be able to correct things (my form, my stride, my shoes, my strength training, etc.) in order to get faster and prevent injury.
For the gait analysis, they said to wear skin tight clothing, so I wore the new LuLu shorts that magically appeared in my Easter basket (thanks, Mom!)
Afterwards I rewarded myself with the Whole Foods bar (half eaten in this picture).
Have you ever had your form/gait looked at? Would you ever want to?