Why I Had to Stop Running—And Why You Don’t Have To
I was a late bloomer. I didn’t start running until 1996, when I was 45. As best as I knew how, I paid lots of attention to running form, breathing, and so on. But my first injury—torn cartilage (meniscus) in my right knee—came in 2001. After the surgery, I did what I had been told were all the right things—physical therapy, strength training for my legs, and so on. I hoped that that would be the end of my injuries. I joined the wonderful Mercury Masters running team, made up entirely of women runners age 50 and older. I even trained for and ran the New York City marathon—when I was 56!
Some years before the marathon, I started having back pain—not just from running, but from walking, standing, sitting—you name it. I had heard of the discoveries and work of F. M. Alexander and decided to start taking lessons. This work was so healing to both mind and body that eventually I trained to become a teacher myself.
But not long after the marathon, the injuries started piling up: a torn meniscus in each knee and steadily increasing back pain. Eventually my doctor recommended surgery for spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal-cord channel that can happen over a lifetime. They fused two joints in my lumbar spine. I went through yet more physical therapy, and resumed running (with the doctor’s okay) after about six months. Again, I did all the right things—more strength training, running/walking short distances until one magic spring day I did a wonderful 7-mile (11.3k) run!
But soon after that, I had a new, strange pain in my right hip. The hip doctor said I had torn cartilage in my right hip joint, the big ball-and-socket joint where the thigh bone connects to the pelvis. He said I should limit my running. But what did that mean? How many miles and how often? Fewer miles per week? Fewer miles per run? I was on my own in find out.
I tried alternating running and walking (always with more walking) for another couple of years and was feeling happy I could do any running at all—until this past May, when I felt my left hip start to hurt in exactly the same way. For now at least, I’ve bowed to the inevitable and have hardly run a step, except to catch a train or a bus. It isn’t much of an exaggeration when I say it breaks my heart every day.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m pretty sure I made a lot of mistakes. I definitely overtrained. I did way too much running and not enough cross-training with some non-weight-bearing activity—swimming, for example. My joints needed much more tender loving care than I was giving them! I’m not built for speed, and I don’t have the temperament for it, but it took me a lot of work to figure out a comfortable, safe gait with natural, coordinated breathing. I didn’t realize for a long time that my eyes were my most important asset, so I spent way too much time looking at the ground right in front of my feet and not at the road ahead. In other words, I didn’t really THINK enough about what I was doing and how.
My goal for these blogs is to analyze my mistakes and share with you my own discoveries in the Alexander Technique. It’s my great hope that I can keep you from making the same errors that I did (or maybe from making some of your own), help you observe how you do your own running, and use those observations to improve both body and mind.