The mental side of running?

Note: I started writing this in April 2015 – and I feel now is a good time to finish it. I think I can further expand on my thoughts (and outcomes). The mental side of running doesn’t really cover it as a title, but that was one of the biggest things I took out of this whole experience.

First and foremost, I will warn you, this ended up becoming a bit of a missive – hopefully it will be interesting. There is no research behind any of my thoughts it based on my journey, although I welcome constructive discussion.

I have been working through ‘injuries’ for as long as I have been running (7 years). Before that I would say: “I can’t run, I have bad knees.” During many of those years I thought: “Am I a screw up?”, “Am I not built for running”,  or “What am I doing wrong”. I researched on the Internet, I got referrals for physiotherapy, I tried everything I thought I could. I tried minimal shoes (which did change my running form for the better), took time off, ran barefoot, used KT Tape, and many other things.

Twenty-fifteen would turn out to be a very different year. I went for a complete reset, I stopped running completely in November 2014 not knowing when I would start back. I started with an ambitious plan in January 2015 – I would run (or walk) with the sole purpose of exercise once a day, every day for a year. Walking to/from the subway wouldn’t count, nor would other daily required walking. My plan was to slowly build up from 1km runs every day to (by the end of the year) 10K X1, 5K X1, 2K X5. People gave me strange looks (and I am guessing assumed I wouldn’t last long). I wanted to do this to avoid what I thought was my predilection for over training.

As of posting I am at day 721 – which surprises even me. I have been sick, it has been -27C before windchill, it has been pouring rain and 3C – I run at 5:30AM most days (dark), I admit I have done walks or walk/runs for a few days, but I don’t consider that defeat – I got out there with a specific purpose and I did it.

The defeat I did run into was that, even with this very slow training, as I upped my “long run” I started getting the familiar tightness around my ankle, and pain around both knees. It was frustrating to say the least.

In March 2015 I was flipping through the Running Room Magazine ( March/April Issues and came across an IT Band article by Dr. Reed Ferber – it had some interesting points, and a pitch about their 3D Gait Analysis – I thought it was a lot of it was voodoo magic/marketing speak. I found a clinic in Toronto that did the analysis and setup an appointment.

I still believe that it is a little marketing speak, but the 3D Gait analysis wasn’t all I got. For the tear inducing amount of money (woo insurance), I also got 2 hours with a very smart, well read, and practiced physiotherapist. That is what I think made the appointment worth every penny and every minute. I still work with him to this day (almost 2 years later).

After talking for ~30 minutes, he had a good, (and I think) honest history of me and my running. He was optimistic after that, where I always felt defeated. He noted I was doing some things right, many things even. He pointed out that I had already successfully run a half marathon (and countless other races), showing that my body can handle solid training (I was training 5 days a week one summer, upwards of 50KM/week). There were areas I was weak in.

Some had been mentioned before, such as my hips being weak – which is a big thing. With that he dispelled a lot of the other things other physios had told me were wrong, which they never really had hard facts or compelling reasons to argue – they were grasping for straws. This time around I got solid theories and research as to why the current diagnosis was correct, and why the others were likely wrong.

We also got into a discussion about mental vs. physical pain – how much of what I was experiencing was mental pain that my body could handle running through and how much was true physical pain that could cause damage. Questions about stress and pain were posited, sleep patterns, we even (briefly) discussed the quirk that some of my best long runs were the morning after having a drink or two (I’ve since met many others who have noticed this.) As I said, there was a lot of honesty on both sides, and there time to feel things out and discuss them. Who knew there was a mental side to physiotherapy 🙂 This was my biggest take away from this whole thing, and I still struggle with it 2 years later. Is it mental, or is it physical – how do you tell the difference.

The actual 3D gait analysis is pretty damn cool: sensors, cameras, and a treadmill. Once I was suited up I ran normally for 5 minutes or so to let the computer record things, and to do some visual analysis on my running  form – it turns out my form is actually pretty good – I strike on in a very ‘barefoot’ way, front of my feet, legs vertical as they hit the ground. After a short discussion I got a second set of readings, this time with some adjustments to my form for comparison (the biggest change: moving to a more mid-foot landing). In all I think I was running for 10 minutes – that gave enough data to discuss.

From there we looked at the comparison of my stats between the two different styles of running and focused on areas I can improve/tweak to start sorting things out. I have a short term action plan: exercises for my ankles and knees (to start to remove some of the mental and physical blocks), temporary modifications to my gait to sub in slowly (to help fix the pain I get in my preferred gait), and changes to my run formats also to get my legs used to different movements.

In the end my runs are feeling better – I still have issues, but I feel like a superstar doing my funky workout. I also have hope and optimism that I might be able to complete the half-marathon I dropped out of (before I even started) last fall – which was fine, but it still annoys me (edit: I completed that half marathon in 2016, beating my B goal time of 02:00:00, I missed my A goal time).

I think it all comes down to honesty, with myself and with others – lay it all out there, lose the pride, and get it fixed. Most people want to help, especially the skilled ones.

I know I will never be an elite runner (though I still hold out hope :)), but maybe I will finally reach my goal (until now, an unspoken goal) of running a 50 minute 10K.

I left that last line in from the original. A little over a year after I originally wrote it (April 2015) I smashed my 2015 PB of 00:56:07, with a new a PB of 00:48:39 (June 2016), three months later I further dropped it to 00:46:26 (Sept 2016). I have built myself up to a regular week of 10-15K X 1, 5K X3, 2K X3 – I have hill days, tempo days, easy days, and recovery days. I am taking it slowly at the moment, I’m not at those numbers – I will be again in the new year.

There are so many parts of this post that I really want to discuss in more depth – some of them require more honesty than I am willing to put out on the Internet, I’ll get there. I hope you found this long post interesting. Maybe I should put myself out there more in 2017 and discuss these topics.