This past weekend was the Liberty half ironman, which was supposed to be my first “A” race of the year. Then the plan was to recover a bit and then start my Kona build while training through the Door County half ironman like I did last year. However, I was not on the starting line Saturday.
After the Beloit Duathlon, my knee stiffened up quite a bit and I got a lot of pain in my right hip flexor (my right knee is the one with the torn tendons). Despite my doctor saying I was healed, it was painfully obvious I was not. I really wanted to continue my training and hope things would come around, but I opted to play it safe. It was a smart decision, but not an easy one.
So I dropped out of the Liberty half and took some more time off running – 16 days. It wasn’t easy taking so much more time off, but I felt it was the right thing to do. I was still able to bike and swim, so I focused on that. I also continued to do everything possible to rehab my knee and put in a lot of time working on core strength and doing a hip strengthening routine (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GLrKr54yA0). I decided to resume running on the 6th of June, which would give me 18 weeks to prepare for Kona. Not my ideal plan, but not bad considering the circumstances. About a week before the 6th my knee and hip flexor began to feel pretty good, and I started believing I might be on the rebound.
Then a breakthrough.
I knew last year that I had some muscle imbalances, but chose to ignore the weight room all winter despite my plans to do a little lifting to balance things out. The elliptical doesn’t bother my knee or hip flexor, so I’ve been using that on my lunch break at work to try to preserve some running fitness. Friday the 3rd of June, after “running” on the elliptical I decided to try some weight lifting. I was worried about my knee, but figured I had to take the risk and see where I was at and see what it could handle. So I grabbed a 10-pound dumbbell and did some front and side lunges. Those went well, as I expected them to. Then I did 10 single-leg leg extensions on each leg. Again, no problems. Then I did some leg curls. Single leg, like the extensions, 10 on each leg. Wow. My right hamstring was incredibly weak. There was a huge difference between the right and left, and the back of my knee hurt when I did these. I felt like I should quit, but opted to finish out the 10 reps hoping I wouldn’t pay the price later with a sore, stiff knee (which I expected).
What I got was zero pain. After lifting, my knee felt great.
My theory is that my right hamstring was so weak (either from the injury, or it caused the injury – I don’t know) that I wasn’t really using it when I tried to start up running a couple of weeks ago. So other muscles had to compensate, such as my hip flexor. So it got over-used and strained. So my hip flexor problem was really a hamstring problem. Everything is connected.
Light bulbs went off and things suddenly made sense. First off, I think I’ve been misunderstanding the term “over-use injury.” That’s what the doc said my hip flexor problem was. But I kept thinking that it meant I ran too much. That didn’t make sense because my miles were down from my peak of 70+ miles per week last fall, and if I ran too much why didn’t my left hip flexor hurt? That got as much use as the right. Yet it felt fine. But what it really means is that muscle got over-used.
It’s too early to be positive, and maybe my hip flexor problems will return. But right now I think it was my hamstring. It wasn’t firing and picking up my right leg, so my hip flexor had to do all the work. That’s more of a workload than it should have, so it got over-used and strained.
I’ve been doing some easy running and continuing the weight lifting, and I’m seeing progress. My right hamstring is getting a lot stronger and things are balancing out. My knee feels good, and my hip flexor is a lot better. It’s not 100% yet, but it continues to improve despite my increase in running volume over the past couple of days. The pain I feel in my hip flexor is mild and very manageable. At this rate, I anticipate zero pain within two weeks.
It’s really early in my return to fitness, but so far so good. I finally feel like I’m building toward Ironman fitness, whereas when I started running a couple of weeks ago I felt like I was just dodging bullets. If I ran and didn’t feel pain, I felt lucky. Now I expect to feel good. I feel like I’m 95% healed and that I’m good to go as long as I don’t get stupid and push too hard too soon. This can be a challenge for me so I really need to put some effort into listening to my body and being smart as I build my run fitness over the next few months. But I think that as long as I progress my running slowly and continue with the weight lifting, core work and hip strengthening I should be able to run injury free for the rest of the year, and hopefully for years to come.