I recently trained for one of the few races I run each year. The distance is essentially a half-marathon, but it’s officially 12.4 miles and the largest 20k race in the U.S. During a recent run I felt pain right above my always dependable knees. Only a twinge, I continued my easy pace, staying alert to more signs of trouble. The good news, the pain only returned a few more times; the bad news was, contrary to my typical runs, the pain did recur. Later that day as I moved around the house and office my knees would twinge with pain and buckle nearly “bringing me to my knees.”
I face this experience a few times a year. I view it as a whack up side the head reminding me of “knee health.” For me, it’s a reminder of what I already know and what many runners ignore: there is a big difference between endurance and strength.
As a regular runner for decades, I lose sight of just because my legs have the stamina and endurance to run five, ten, fifteen or more miles upon demand, that they are forged with strength. This mindset leads to countless running injuries. Strength is the ability to perform a certain activity; endurance is the ability to perform it over and over and over.
I won’t pretend to know what works for everyone, but with this knee wake up call, I resumed a routine of knee health exercises to strengthen the muscles around my knees. I get immediate results literally within a few days and no returning pain with simple exercises plus some knee bends.
A wiser me would stick with my strengthening exercises to avoid my occasional knee matter. The bigger lesson is not to confuse my accumulated endurance with the underdevelopment of the muscles supporting my knees. Endurance is not precisely equal to strength and my joints remind me that they know what they need.