14 Miles

Sat. I completed the longest run of my life – 14 miles.  Prior to that the longest distance I had ever ran was 13.1 miles.  I wasn’t entirely certain if I would go for a full 14 or if I would be content at 12.  Having ran the time trial of the half marathon last Sun. I knew I could complete the race distance.  One of my running friends encouraged me to go for a 14 mile run though for the psychological element.  Ultimately I decided I would let the weather and my body determine at mile 6 if I wanted to go to mile 7 before turning around.

I chose the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail to log my miles.  Its entire distance is around 14 miles one way so it was perfect for a solid out and back run.  I had ran and biked portions of the trail previously but never ran more than 5 miles total on it.  The starting point in Columbia is nice because there is a visitor’s center with bathrooms as well as ample parking.  Even with the annual bridge bust going on that day not all the spaces were taken.  The trail goes through Chickes Rock County Park which is especially scenic this time of year.  I even saw some rock climbers scaling the side of the cliff.  I thought they were crazy (I hate heights), but I’m sure had I told them I was going for a 12-14 mile run they would’ve thought the same of me.

Upon exiting the park the trail took me along Front Street in Marietta which I absolutely adored.  I felt like I had taken a step back in time with the brick sidewalks and corner taverns.  Many of the houses had candles in the window which gave an 1800s feel to the whole area.  The miles through Marietta were very enjoyable as I spent so much time looking at the houses that I wasn’t thinking about the increasing humidity.

By the time the trail turned back into an actual trail I was starting to play the mind game of whether I would go 12 or 14 miles.  Upon hitting mile 6 and feeling rather good, I decided to continue on with the desire to say that I had ran my longest run ever.  It was good I had mentally psyched myself up as that mile went through corn fields that were very open with no breeze.  I knew I should have started the entire run earlier than 10:30am that day, but the desire to sleep in as well as the time it took to get to the trail pushed back my start time.  I kept my pace rather reasonable and ran every mile slower than even my usual long run pace.  After turning around at mile 7 I was feeling a little tired from the heat but knew I would soon be back in a wooded area again.

Mile 8 was a blur of being lost in my own thoughts but mile 9 hit hard psychologically.  I’ve always struggled with the 9th mile anytime I’ve ran over 10 miles.  Reaching 8 miles always felt like an accomplishment but running the 9th has always bothered me.  Part of it was for some reason I thought I only had 4 miles to go.  When I realized it was actually 5 miles I felt discouraged.  I also realized I would need to start rationing my water a bit more.  I love the river trail for its ample directional signs, several trail-heads and even porta-potties, but I really wish there would be a water fountain or 2 along it for fill ups.

Mile 9 became even worse when after turning a corner, I heard a man call out to a dog to come back and I heard deep booming barks.  I slowed my pace, unsure of where the dog even was, and made an impulse decision to jump over the low wooden fence bordering the yard I was passing.  Hoping that there would not be a dog in that yard I just trespassed into I quickly located the boxer 2 houses away looking at me.  I waited a moment longer, afraid that if I were to resume running that he would give chase.  Fortunately a group of bikers came from the other direction and I used that as a chance to hop back over the fence and continue my run.  I spent the remainder of mile 9 silently cursing every dog owner who lets his or her animal run loose in the yard particularly those who live in developments.

Trying to be a little more positive I began looking at the houses in Marietta again.  By that point I was feeling actual thirst so the wonderment I experienced on the way out was short lived during my return through the town.  Each mile became slower, my feet grew hot, my skin itched and I was kicking myself for not being content to run 12 miles.  I became desperate to hear my watch beep at mile 12.  I knew when I only had 2 miles to go that no matter what I would be fine.  I limited my sips of water to one small one each half mile until I reached my last mile.  I have never been pregnant (nor do I ever desire to be), but I always feel like a pregnant lady at the end of my long runs in that I begin to crave anything and everything.  The smells from the food vendors along the bridge did not help.  I wanted a funnel cake, french fries, a snow cone… anything and everything greasy or refreshing.

When I finally returned to my car I was content to drink my lukewarm bottle of water and stretch.  A quick text to my husband to please make me a green smoothie and I was heading home.  Dehydration became apparent as my calves began to slightly cramp despite stretching them out.  Each stop sign or light I used as a chance to rub the muscles more.  I returned home somewhat tired, a little dehydrated but content that I completed the full 14 miles.  I know when I run my half marathon on Oct. 22nd no matter what I feel I can draw strength from that run, physically and mentally.

 

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The Time Trial

When I ran cross country in high school we always ran a time trial on our home course prior to ever actually racing on it.  The purpose was to ensure all the athletes were familiar with the route as to not get lost as well as set a base time in which we would try to improve upon throughout the season.

I had not ran a time trial since 2004, my senior year of high school.  This past Sunday my dad, two running buddies and myself ventured to Gettysburg to run the half marathon course that my dad, one of the running buddies and I will tackle on Oct. 22nd.  Again with the exception of high school cross country meets, it was the first time I have ever scoped out a course prior to running a race.  Normally I just sign up for a race and go run it.  There are a few 5ks that I have raced multiple years and I will admit that there is an advantage in knowing what lies ahead.  Instead of being surprised by long hills or seemingly endless roads to the finish line, I can mentally map out where best to pick up my pace and adjust if necessary.

I looked forward to running the half marathon course mostly for a change in my weekly long runs.  To date I have only ran one of them with my dad and it can be a bit lonely logging the miles alone.  I’m also a bit worn out from running the same portion of the rail trail.

Deciding what to wear to run was one of the biggest challenges Sun. morning.  The temperatures dropped substantially overnight into the 40s and it was only around 50 degrees when we arrived after 8a.  I knew it would warm up as we ran though, so the question became to wear the gloves or not wear the gloves?  My fingers are extremely sensitive to the cold and I have a cold condition known as chilblains that I did not wish to trigger any earlier in the season than when it usually flares up.  I chose not to wear the gloves and ultimately that was a smart move.  During the run I actually ended up doing a clothing swap – removing my tshirt and long sleeved tech shirt to put the tshirt back on and tie the long sleeved shirt around my waist.  My running tights layered with shorts were a good choice though given just how long it did take to warm up and because there was a strong breeze during some portions of the run.  I now have a better idea of how to dress for the race based on the temperatures that day.

The course itself was much to my liking.  It began with a slight uphill grade in the first mile which normally I’m not a fan of, but I know the excitement of the start will mask it.  Not long after it turned onto a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield which is extremely neat.  On Sun. the history loving nerd in me kept trying to read portions of the plaques as we ran past various monuments but I know I need to focus straight ahead come race day.  The course then went out onto a lot of rural roads which are my absolute favorite given that’s what I trained on so many years when I lived with my parents.  There were few cars which allowed me to run closer to the middle of the road and avoid the camber which always feels better on my legs.  The turn around point I anticipate will be the most challenging as it has a few “rollers” (my dad’s running term for low grade long hills) but there are no substantial hills.  This gives me more confidence for the race as at least half of my runs have involved solid hills.  The second portion of the course seems to be faster than the first.  The last half mile involved going down the initial uphill grade from the start so that will make for a fast finish, a feature I love.

I actually beat my half marathon time goal of 2 hours and 10 minutes just in running my time trial.  I ran 2 hours, 8 minutes and 2 seconds.  2:08 is actually the time I ran my first half marathon in.  I wasn’t intentionally pushing the pace on Sun. morning but having others to run with helped me run faster than I normally do on my solo long runs.  Overall I just felt really comfortable and the downhill last mile I ran in 9:02 after having had my fastest mile during the run be a 9:48.  Since I’ve already beaten my time goal I have a new goal of getting as close to 2 hours as I can.  I’m not ambitious enough to set a goal of breaking 2 hours as I think that’s too much of a stretch at this point and I know conditions could be vastly different come race day.

One more long run.  One 5k race for fun.  One full week of tapering.  Then it’s go time!

New England and Canada Cruise – Part 2

If you haven’t already read the first part click here – New England and Canada Cruise – Part 1.  Having summarized the precruise portion of the trip as well as details of the Carnival Sunshine, here is the breakdown of each port Jason and I visited.

Boston, Massachusetts – Jason, myself and our friends were fortunate in that Carnival had a shuttle service arranged (for a reasonable fee) to take us from the ship to downtown Boston as it was a farther walk than my map made it appear.  We began by checking out the marketplaces.  Although we had gotten room service for bfast that morning we bought a very healthy breakfast bowl to share that included beeswax pieces that I really liked.  We then began walking the Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile path through the city that passes 16 historical spots.  The trail is literally marked on the sidewalks with red bricks so it was very easy to follow.  It took us through Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, founded in 1659.  I was amazed that many of the gravestones were as legible as they were.  The Old North Church was Jason and my favorite spot.  It is famously known for being the chapel to display “One if by land, two if by sea”.  We passed Paul Revere’s house but chose not to tour it as we wanted to see as much of the city as we could.  The New England Holocaust Memorial we walked under was very sobering as rather than have names etched in the glass of the six towers, it has numbers like those branded on the Jewish people.  For lunch we stopped at a food truck in the Boston Common and had truly gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.  Jason was most excited about visiting the Cheers bar though we found the original to be very crowded so after a few pics we returned to walk through more of the Boston Common area.  There is a statue there replicating the “Make Way for Ducklings” storybook.  We wandered through Chinatown before returning to the marketplace.  The second Cheers bar located at Faneuil Hill Marketplace was less crowded so we enjoyed food and drinks there.  We stopped in the Hard Rock Cafe then boarded the shuttle bus to head back to the ship.

Portland, Maine – We didn’t have any particular plans for Portland upon arriving there, so once we debarked from the ship we just began exploring.  While most cruisers likely went straight for the downtown area Jason and I chose to head towards the Eastern Promenade that wraps around the edge of the city.  In doing so we found a small trail that led to a memorial honoring those who were part of the Arctic Campaign in the 1940s, something that we had not heard of but that we quickly learned about in reading the signs.  We continued along the promenade which was very relaxing as there were only a few locals walking or running on it.  After making our way back into the actual city we decided to get a late breakfast at Becky’s Diner, an obvious favorite among the locals given we had to wait for a seat.  We next visited the Victoria Mansion, a historical home that showcases the architecture of the mid 1800s.  The volunteers were very informative and it felt like truly taking a step back in time viewing the rooms.  We spent most of the afternoon just wandering the city, popping in a shop here and there, but not finding much else to peak our interests.  Our friends took a walking food tour of the city which they said was very good and enabled them to discover some places that were featured on food channels.

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada – Originally we were unsure of what we were going to do in Saint John as looking at a map it appeared too far to walk to the Reversing Falls which is what I most wanted to see.  We turned out to be pleasantly surprised when we discovered that there was a very nice walking trail of about 1.5 miles built leading from the city to it!  Along the trail were various pieces of artwork as well as displays providing various facts about the city and culture of the area.  As a history nerd and fitness fan this was the best of both worlds.  While we didn’t get to actually see the Saint John River run in reverse (which occurs during high tide when the Bay of Fundy pushes against it) the area was still beautiful to see.  There is a restaurant that overlooks it but was closed for renovations, so we headed back the path to the city to find some lunch.  Although the area is most known for its seafood we tried out a place called Taste of Egypt that was superb.  I tried a falafel burger for the first time and loved it!  Our waitress was very sweet and told us some history about how all the places along that side of the street were built after the Great Fire of 1877 and all those across the street were built before the fire.  After lunch we continued to explore the city, taking in the views while appreciating the quietness of everything and the architecture of the buildings.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – If it wasn’t so far from my family and the winters much colder than I could tolerate, I think Jason and I would move to Halifax.  It is just an amazing city in having a great cultural and historical vibe while still maintaining a quaintness not felt in most cities.  We started out the morning with our friends walking along the edge of the city on what felt almost like a boardwalk since it was decorated with shops and places to eat.  I’m not a huge tea person, but Jason got a chai tea from a stand that was really good.  I bought a shirt and keychain in a store then we all visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.  Because it was Canada’s 150th birthday this year the museum wasn’t charging a fee but just accepting donations.  There was a large exhibit on shipwrecks in the area as well as one detailing The Great Explosion of 1917.  After exploring the museum our friends departed to get oysters for lunch and go on an excursion and we went to find lunch.  I had looked up restaurants in Halifax in advance of our trip and almost every one I found had nearly a 5 star rating.  We settled on The Auction House and sat on the patio that overlooked a park.  I had a wonderful meal of fish and chips but the star was in berry crepes for dessert.  I could not get over the amazing taste and can only hope to find crepes someday that can compare.  Our afternoon was spent exploring the Halifax Citadel which Jason and I both loved.  Walking through the trenches and reading about the soldiers who lived during that era was so interesting.  I only wish we had gotten more time to view the Army museum located within it.  Nova Scotia is an hour ahead of the east coast so while we though it almost 4pm, it was really almost 5pm (their closing time) and we hurried through the rooms before being ushered out.  I would love to return to Halifax someday to discover even more of the city’s treasures.

Going Home – Our ship arrived back in NYC nearly an hour before it was supposed to so we disembarked fairly early.  This meant the walk back to Penn Station wasn’t nearly as crowded as the walk there.  As much as I wanted to love visiting NYC the way I did as a teen, the various smells of trash and sewer that nearly made my stomach sick made that very hard to do.  We were hoping to get an earlier train but after finding out it would cost $119 to do so we decided to just hang out at Penn Station and eat lunch there.  I was afraid it would be chaotic to find out where to go but it was very much like an airport with boards displaying the trains’ information and lots of signs for where the tracks were located.  Our train was 10 mins late arriving but we had an uneventful ride back to Lancaster.

Overall this cruise was one of the best vacations I have had.  For anyone who likes history, food and/or culture the itinerary is perfect.  We kept busy in the cities but never felt rushed so it was still relaxing despite being on the go.  Normally at the end of a vacation I’m ready to go home but I would’ve stayed on the ship and explored even more areas if I had been able!

 

New England and Canada Cruise – Part 1

Jason and I took our first cruise in November 2013 which can be read about here – First Cruise Review.  We just returned on Sat. from our second cruise which I think it’s safe to say we enjoyed even more due to the itinerary as well as friends from Chicago joining us.  We sailed from New York City to Boston MA, Portland ME, Saint John New Brunswick Canada and Halifax Nova Scotia Canada.  Similar to the blog I wrote about our first cruise I will break it down into topics to make it easier to read.

PreCruise – Once again we chose to book the cruise through AAA.  Carnival’s website seems simple enough but I like the travel agent’s ability to click through the various levels on the ship to look for the room we want as well as the security of knowing we’ll get the best price possible.  Deb was very helpful and gave us information on taking a train to NYC as we were stressing about the possibility of having to drive there.  She also gave us plenty of booklets on the areas we were visiting.

Train/NYC – I think I woke up almost every hour on the hour the night before we left for the cruise.  Despite being super organized and always preparing for the worst I get pre-travel anxiety something terrible.  It’s a little backwards as most people get anxious about the actual vacation or mode of transportation, but I freak out continuously until I am on the actual vacation.  We drove to my parents’ house who in turn drove us to the train station in Lancaster.  It’s a nice and quiet station which helped calm my nerves though I knew Penn Station would be chaotic in comparison.  One of the oddest and slightly unnerving things I found was the lack of security – no metal detectors, bag checks, etc.  TSA won’t let me take a bottle of water on a plane yet I could’ve taken my handgun along on the train with no one knowing.

The train itself was very comfortable with plenty of leg room, free WiFi and outlets built into the sides.  The ride was going smoothly until we were 5-10 minutes from the Philadelphia station.  We came to a stop and waited in wonder for several minutes before an announcement finally came on notifying us there was a switch problem and that we may have to go back to the previous station.  Slight panic arose and I worked to keep myself calm knowing that we had until almost 4pm to board the ship and were due to arrive around 12p.  Still the fear of being late kept me on edge and I was relived when we finally started moving again, forward and not backward.  We were just nearing the tunnel to go into NYC when again the train was forced to stop due to a switch problem.  We had to wait for 4 trains coming in the opposite direction to pass us before we were able to move again.  I was grateful I had changed our arrival time at the cruise terminal to be between 1pm and 1:30pm as we finally reached Penn Station around 12:30p.

I hadn’t been to NYC since a bus trip in 2007.  I was looking forward to seeing it once more but that excitement quickly dissipated when upon reaching the street level a gentleman came up to Jason asking if he could spare change.  We quickly began moving down 8th Ave pulling our luggage behind us.  I wore a backpack containing our travel documents as well as other important items and Jason followed behind me to keep an eye on it.  I know caution and awareness are needed in any city but compared to other cities I’ve visited I just feel as though NYC is the worst for needing to be on one’s toes.  Maybe it’s due to the insane masses of people or the number of sketchy people, but I just don’t feel that I can enjoy myself there anymore.  Most people would’ve likely taken a taxi but we didn’t feel that the 1.7 mile walk would be all that difficult other than the crowds of people.  When we turned off 8th Ave it was a lot less crowded and we were able to pick up speed.  We reached the cruise terminal before 1:30pm.  After a little stress of having to fill out a customs form while we were moving with the line of other travelers we were getting our photos taken and boarding the ship!

Carnival Sunshine – The Ship – We booked an interior cabin this time as opposed to a balcony one.  The first reason being we would only be at sea 2 total days instead of 3, the second reason figuring we would be spending time with our friends and not holed up in our room as much and the third reason because it was cheaper.  The cabin was still a nice size including the bathroom.  I wish the closets would’ve had shelves like the ones did on the Pride but I just chose to live out of my suitcase for the week instead of fulling unpacking.  The TV had a few channels to watch other than the movie channels and Carnival’s info channels which was nice.  Jason liked the decor of the Pride more but agreed it was nice to have a bigger Serenity area to enjoy this time as all the lounge chairs were always taken on the last cruise.  We actually enjoyed some time in the whirlpool as there were 3 on the ship.  I’m not sure if it was the ship itself or just the seas but it was also a smoother sailing.  We both were slightly nauseous the first morning at sea like we were on the first cruise but were able to walk it off after breakfast and did not have to take the Dramamine I packed.  The rest of the week we were fine and only felt the ship moving a handful of times, none of which made us sick again.

Carnival Sunshine – The Entertainment – Over the course of the week we went to 2 comedy shows, a magic show, a movie, a 70s/80s show and 2 trivia sessions.  All were very good.  My only grievance would be that the music trivia in the piano bar that we so dearly loved on the Pride wasn’t available.  We actually didn’t even go into the piano bar the entire trip as every night was just sing-alongs.  The other issue I had was sometimes the timing of the entertainment was challenging – a comedian would start at 7pm but we didn’t go to dinner until 6pm some nights which meant we weren’t finished in time to go to that event.  Also sometimes there were shows at 7pm and 9pm but we had to kill time in between.  Two nights they did special midnight shows which given we were in port early each day we didn’t have the energy to stay up that late.  Overall the variety was nice and movies were shown every evening on the big screen above the pool which was something we didn’t have on the Pride.

Carnival Sunshine – The Food and Drink – If you ever go hungry while on a cruise there is something seriously wrong with you.  There are so many food options that even the pickiest of eaters can find something good to eat.  Jason and I ate in the dining room every evening for dinner except the 2nd elegant night (we only dressed up for the first one) and we tried out several new foods.  I seemed to be on a soup kick as over the course of the week I tried strawberry bisque, pumpkin soup and lobster bisque.  He made me try a piece of his escargot the one night which I promptly spit back out into my napkin.  It tasted exactly like what I expected a snail to taste like.  He also had braised rabbit and ox tongue neither of which I chose to sample.  One night I made a dinner out of 3 appetizers; the ability to order any and everything you want off the menu is fabulous.  We went to the seaday brunch both days at sea where he enjoyed huevos rancheros and I had chocolate chip pancakes drizzled in chocolate sauce.  We also ate burgers from Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint and burritos from the Blue Iguana Cantina.  Those are just a few highlights of the ship foods we enjoyed.  As far as drinks it seems the ship has an endless liquor supply for its multiple bars.  We enjoyed the RedFrog Rum Bar which featured a lot of drinks containing Barcadi but did actually have Captain this time!  My favorite though was the Rum Chocolate Shake from the Shake Spot.  Coconut rum mixed with real chocolate ice cream (none of that cheating by using vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup) was utterly delightful and I indulged in two during the week.

I was hoping to make this all one blog entry but alas as usual I am too wordy and think it will be best if I write up a second entry to detail all the fun we had in our ports of call… check out part 2 – New England and Canada Cruise – Part 2.

Double Digit Miles

With my second half marathon less than 2 months away I achieved double digit miles yesterday in running 10 miles.  The irony of the day was that Facebook’s memories notified me of my status posted in 2011 in which I had ran the York Rail Trail 10 miler that day.  I raced that in an hour and 31 minutes.

My training run was also on the rail trail but the northern part instead, as well as into John Rudy county park.  I ran it in an hour and 42 minutes.  While 11 minutes doesn’t seem like that much of a difference to me it was.  I kept reminding myself that I couldn’t compare the two; one was an actual race with others running with and against me.  That’s how a runner’s mind tends to work though in always comparing oneself against one’s former self.

Physically my training has been going well.  The previous week my 9 mile run felt wonderful with my legs seeming to have a mind of their own the last 2 miles.  I’m also running two other times during the week and mixing up off days with some mobility, yoga or other 30 min workouts.

Mentally I think I’m at the point where training gets challenging.  I’ve often said it’s not that hard to physically run X number of miles, one merely needs to train to do it, but rather it’s the mental drain that is the struggle particularly if one is running alone.

I remember training for my first half marathon.  Every Fri. evening after work was my long run and it was always ran by myself.  Once I reached the 8-9 mile point of my long runs I became bored.  Physically I was fine and could continue to run but mentally I just wasn’t into it anymore.  This is one of the reasons I have yet to consider ever running a marathon.  I know physically with enough time I could train for it, but how one mentally prepares for those long training runs eludes me.

For me a 5-6 mile run is the perfect distance.  It’s challenging enough to be a solid workout but short enough that I can pick up the pace if I feel really good and not fear burnout.  Mentally I find that distance to be the best in terms of thinking.  I have created to do lists, analyzed dreams, planned out vacation details and written blog entries in my head all while running 5-6 miles.  I often come home mentally energized after those runs as they seem to spark the creative juices.

Once I begin to push over 8 miles, however, and particularly once I reach those double digit miles my brain starts to lose focus  I can start out clear headed and thinking well, as if my brain thinks it’s on a shorter run, but around mile 8 it begins to falter and get fuzzy.  I begin to either jumble thoughts together or repeat thoughts I’ve already had or just straight up brain drain and don’t want to think at all.  I can no longer focus on the beauty of the nature around me.  “Runner’s high” becomes less frequent and I have to try to distract my mind from thinking about any physical pain I’m feeling less the negative thoughts begin to discourage me from finishing the run.

I know I’m at a pivotal stage in my training.  Physically I know I could complete the half marathon even though I plan to get in more long runs before the race in hopes of achieving my race time goal.  The challenge is going to be keeping myself mentally focused during my double digit mile training runs.  I did it once so I know I can do it again; it’s all in how much I stay focused on the end goal.

Random Reasons I run

I run for a lot of reasons.  Some are practical such as building strength and endurance and keeping my good cholesterol levels up.  Others are personal such as relieving stress and keeping balance in my life.  The following are just some of the more random reasons why I run:

1 – It’s cheap.  Running shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Tshirt?  Check.  No other sport costs so little and gives you back so much.  Who needs a gym membership when you can buy a pair of running sneakers and be ready to go?

2 – Lifting weights is boring.  There’s plenty to be said about cross training and strength training no matter what sport you do.  But how much fun is it to lift weights?  Not as fun as finding a new trail to explore or racing a 5k.

3 – To escape the zombie apocalypse.  Until the walking dead can learn to pick up the pace those who run will always have an upper hand in a survival situation.

4 – Weird looks and comments.  Tell someone you run for fun and you’ll get a load of amusing responses.  Better yet, go for a run in the afternoon when the heat index is over 90 degrees and watch how many drivers stare at you in confusion.

5 – It’s tough stuff.  Automatic bragging rights are bestowed on anyone who says they run.  The farther the distance or faster the speed the more satisfying it is.

The Knee Bone’s Connected to the Hip Bone?

I have considered myself a runner since 7th grade when I first joined the track team.  At 30 years old I like to think all these years of running have made me fairly tuned into my body.  That being said it seems that there’s always something new to learn.

Winter 2012 I started to develop some knee pain while running.  I recall a run that resulted in me having to actually stop completely and walk the final 2 blocks home because the pain would shoot through my knee with every step.  That was usually a sign it was time to replace my running shoes.  Unfortunately getting new sneakers didn’t alleviate the problem so off to the family doctor I went.  I was lucky in that my doctor was also a runner and referred me to a physical therapist who was a runner as well.  I can’t speak for all runners, but I think most of us feel a lot more trusting of someone who actually does what we do as he or she is less likely to tell us to just stop running.

The physical therapist went through his normal protocol in analyzing my running style as well as my feet.  He stated that I was wearing too much of a motion controlled shoe and that because my arches were normal I should be in a more neutral shoe.  I found that quite interesting as I had been wearing Asics Adrenaline shoes for a few years without any issues.  Rather than put me through sessions physical therapy if it wasn’t needed, he recommended that I change my shoes first and see if that helped.  Luckily Scranton Running Company took back my recently purchased pair without issue to exchange them for Asics Glycerin instead.

That seemed to do the trick.  I was able to train for and run my first half marathon Sept. 2013 without knee pain.  I was glad to have such a simple fix.  Or so I thought.

Over the years the knee pain started again.  It never was bad enough to stop my runs, but it also made them a lot less enjoyable.  I knew there was no injury as sometimes my right knee would hurt and sometimes the left.  Sometimes it was along the outside of my knee, sometimes the inside and sometimes the kneecap.  Sometimes I could run 5 miles pain free while other times 2 miles would have them locking up.  It was a frustrating mystery that left me feeling as if I’d never be able to train for a half marathon again.  I tried telling myself there was no point in seeing a doctor unless I got to the point where I couldn’t run since there was no consistency in the pain.  I tried to be content with the fact that I was physically able to run at all and accept the fact that maybe just age and wear and tear on my body was causing it.

This winter I reached a breaking point.  Nearly every run, particularly if the weather was less than 50 degrees, was resulting in knee pain.  I was afraid to run fast and I was afraid to run more than 3-4 miles.  It wasn’t enough just to be able to run, I wanted to train again.

I finally caved and went to the family doctor who referred me to sports medicine.  When I scheduled the appointment I was told the doctor was a runner and that all his patients said nothing but good things about him.

I was partially concerned that I could have the start of osteoarthritis, but the xrays of my knees taken at my visit showed nothing of that nature.  I was diagnosed with squinted patellas (meaning my kneecaps turn inwards) which is fairly common among women given our hip structure as well as a slight leg length discrepancy, again something fairly common among most people.  Neither of these sound like anything major but when you start putting your legs through mile after mile they can make an impact.  The doctor recommended 2 sessions of physical therapy, one to include a thorough gait analysis, and said to follow up if I didn’t find improvement in my running.

I was extremely impressed by the physical therapy sessions.  The first one the physical therapist identified my hip flexibility as a likely source of my knee pain.  Having ran hurdles for years in track and done numerous hip flexibility drills I found this very surprising.  He said often when we have sit down jobs it leads to losing mobility in our hips.  He gave me various strengthening drills as well as foam rolling techniques to use to help improve this.

My second session was my gait analysis.  This consisted of running on a treadmill while a different physical therapist filmed from behind and alongside of me.  While my form and stride were very good, she pointed out that I was a hamstring dominant runner meaning I wasn’t engaging my quads or glutes as much as I should be.  By relying on my hamstrings to do the majority of the work  this was putting more stress on my knees.  She also pointed out that my hips were dropping more than they should be, again a sign of limited mobility in them.  She went over warmup drills and cooldown stretches to begin including before and after my runs.

My physical therapy sessions were right before the start of my first season coaching track for Dallastown.  As any coach will tell you it seems counterintuitive but you’re usually not as in shape during the season as you are the rest of the year.  This was certainly true for me as while I found time to workout, I was usually getting in just 1 run per week so it was quite challenging to figure out if my newfound strategies were helping much.

Once the season ended I began running more frequently and I’m happy to say that 90% of the knee pain is gone and I’m building up my mileage to hopefully run my 2nd half marathon this fall.  As long as I do a thorough warmup with my mobility drills and foam roll regularly I only get a twinge of knee pain here or there.  I have also tried to add more hills to my runs as it forces me to engage my glutes more and build strength.  The days I’m not running I do DailyBurn workouts and I give props to the trainers on there for incorporating a lot of mobility and stability moves that I believe complement the exercises the physical therapists gave me.  I had a follow up visit with sports medicine last week and the doctor was very happy with my progress.  He said that I had even decreased the slight leg length discrepancy from the hip exercises I had been completing.

I would have never guessed the pain I felt in my knees wasn’t from anything in my knees at all but rather in my hips.  Proof once again of just how connected our body really is and how much more there is to learn about it.