You’re not really a runner until you join a running club

RunningJUST over two years ago I made a very bold move because after years of pounding the pavements, footpaths and bridleways of the numerous places I’ve lived I finally joined a running club; my local one, Otley AC.

Easy you might think; well it wasn’t. I’d been living opposite the club for five years and I’d regularly seen the members coming and going and, although it seemed a great excuse to see what it was all about, inevitably I made excuses not to venture across the road: too busy, about to be too busy, still too busy, not fit enough, a bit tired, couldn’t be bothered. And let’s face it, just plain scared.

When I finally did get around to giving it a go I tried to do a bit more running in the preceding couple of weeks; and by that I mean I went out once a week instead of once every two weeks (or even once month). And it was always incredibly hard and, therefore, unpleasant.

Turning the clock back a few years I’d been running on the Chevin, the hill that overlooks Otley, two or three times a week but that had tailed off as my work situation changed, however, deep down I knew I had it in me to get back to those days.

I can’t quite remember what eventually motivated me to venture across the road but it turned out to be so very easy. I arrived at the side of the clubhouse (which is actually Otley Cricket Club), walked around the corner, and with it being summer, everyone was chatting merrily outside.

New face appears; people talk to it; easy. I opted to run with a slowish group who weren’t going far because there was some big race or something taking place the following evening.

Along the river bank we went towards Pool, across the road near the “ponds”, through fields and onto the old railway line. By that time I was exhausted, so I made my excuses and headed back via a shorter route; although a couple of other runners escorted me back which, although slower, was still hard work.

And that was my first time with a running club.

And two days later I turned up again. And the following Tuesday. And the following Thursday. I’d been well and truly bitten by the running bug.

And then I paid my subs and became a fully paid up member; took part in a couple of fell races (which for some reason I thought I’d be good at) and started planning more events.

However, going from a not-very-often runner to twice, maybe three times a week at a decent pace meant that, as I found out, things were to come crashing down. And it was my fault because I wanted to do as much as I could, and I wanted to do it immediately.

I’m not certain when the pain in my left shin started, but I assumed I had shin splints and that with enough ibroprofen it would clear up. It didn’t. It got worse. So I tried insoles, I used an elasticated bandage, I iced my leg, I directed cold water on it in the shower after running. Then I stopped running for a couple of weeks. Then I started running and the pain came back. I tried to run through it; or rather limp through it. And I found that, quite often, the pain would subside after a few minutes of running which was enough of an excuse for me to carry on.

So I did just that, I carried on – still taking ibuprofen, of course – and then my right knee started to get pins and needles when I was running which meant my knee went all wobbly. But stopping running for a few minutes helped.

I tried physiotherapy and was told that my left foot wasn’t flexing as far as the right because I had tight hamstrings. So I had lots of massage, which helped in the short term. I also rested for two or three weeks at a time, but still the problems returned.

And in my effort to find why my knee was going numb I blamed my new trainers. I initially thought that, perhaps, I’d tied the laces too tight. Then I went back to using insoles and eventually, after checking my bank statements, I abandoned the new trainers because the knee pain only started after I’d bought them, or so I thought.

And then an email went around the running club from Pure Running, in Harrogate, offering a free biomechanical analysis. What did I have to lose?

It turned out to be a very wise move.

The session began with me being filmed running at different speeds on a treadmill from the side and behind, which was then played back to me. Within seconds of the play button being pressed, I knew I had problems; I was all over the place.

I would have liked to have said at this point that I had a really bad running style, but I didn’t actually have any style; lots of lurching from the left to the right, hips bouncing up and down, arms across my chest.

And this “style” was the result of being kicked in the knee as a child which affected the amount of cartilage around the patella. This condition is commonly known as chondromalacia, meaning that every so often when running there is the clash of bone on bone which might only be for a fraction of a second but the pain lingers.

Because of the fear of the pain kicking in, I had been transferring my weight to my right-hand side resulting in weakness in my glutes and core muscles, and this meant my hips dropped causing my knees to collapse which over-stressed the iliotibial band which, with the associated muscles flexes, abducts and medially rotates the hip, and helps with the lateral stabilisation of the knee.

This bobbing up and down over the years had affectively tightened my left hamstring and, as I started doing more running, resulted in the pain which was actually the fascia pad between within the shin not working properly.

And to overcome the pain I started transferring more weight to the right which brought on the knee numbness because I wasn’t putting equal pressure across it.

Having been diagnosed a plan was then drawn up, not only, to get me running again but to get me running properly and this started with coaching sessions on the treadmill at various speeds to ensure that my position was correct.

I had to be upright, I had to kick my lower legs up, not put my feet too far forward, keep my arms at right angles and to keep them parallel with my body.

There was also lots of stretching, particularly of the calves, and rolling a golf ball under my feet to release the plantar fascia, the ligament that runs along the bottom of the foot.

I started using a Swiss ball to strengthen my hamstring and glutes, doing double leg squats, the wood chop, balancing on one leg and the supine bridge along with the posterior lunge.

Eventually I began training again on my own starting with three short sessions a week of two-and-a-half minutes running then two minutes walking repeated eight times, before moving up to three minutes on, 30 seconds off repeated 10 times.

These sessions saw me focus purely on technique not speed although I was still experience pain, but a new type of pain because I was putting pressure on areas that had previous not been used correctly.

As mentioned these sessions, at the tail-end of a hard winter, were all about technique not speed; any hint of the original pain and I reeled myself in.

I had to make sure my feet had a short contact time on the floor and I had to lift my heel up behind me as soon as my foot left the ground; I was aiming for a circular motion not an oval, and I had to imagine that I was running on tramlines so that my left foot didn’t cut across into the path of the right.

It was a frustrating time; in effect taking everything back to year zero. I was (almost) having to learn to walk before I could run; and it really was a case of no pain, no gain.

Several months on and I’m very happy with how I have progressed. I’m still having to concentrating on my technique to make sure I don’t slip back into my old ways, and if there’s a niggle when I’m out I check my method and slow down a little.

Now I just have to improve my overall fitness. And that’s an entirely different story.

  1. Form and technique is everything when you’re starting out. As a club we really should do more to promote good form.

    It’s also quite common for new enthusiasts to pick up injuries that could be avoided by better understanding. My injuries have in the main been due to ignorance, which is why 5 years down the line I know have a better understanding of my injury profile and the need to run conservatively when I feel a twinge.

    I hope that you come back stronger Richard.

  2. Richard.
    So many runners can learn from your experience. Too many runners run in a way they think is ‘natural’, when what they’re really doing is running habitually, and so moving badly can feel ‘normal’. Correct technique is so important but unfortunately it seems to be way behind shoes as the important investment.

    Running is not bad for you, running badly is.

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