Training for Tuesday: Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong

If you've been following along, you know that I've been dealing with a reccurrent hip injury since November (and, really, since last February). In December I decided enough was enough and that I needed to see a doctor. Not because it was hindering my running (it wasn't, really) or because it was really that bad (it wasn't, really), but I figured that, as I was coming up on a year without having gotten to the bottom of it, I needed to know what was going on so I could a) treat it and b) prevent it.

I started by going to a general physician and getting an X-ray done, just in case. After that came back normal, I started going to physical therapy. I first had a couple of appointments with my local PT, where I did a lot of generic stretches and exercises that, to be honest, I probably could have done on my own at home, but I felt better having a doctor tell me exactly what I needed to do.

I also made an appointment to see the running specialist my sister-in-law has been seeing for years (and she's not even a runner, that's just how good this PT is). They're in Raleigh and I'm, well, not, so I made a day trip for it, and when I walked into Abby's office at Run Raleigh PT, the heavens opened up and angels started singing. For the first time I felt like I had someone to talk to who truly understood the words I was saying, and I learned so much during my hourlong visit. As it turns out, this running thing?

Yeah, I've been doing it all wrong.

That was my big takeaway from my visit with Abby (although she is quite sweet and lovely so she didn't put it so harshly). Nearly five years of self-teaching and self-coaching, combined with a lack of any natural running prowess, and I had developed some bad habits and weaknesses in my body that definitely needed some correcting. I think I've done a fine job for having tackled this running thing all on my own, and I didn't really do anything wrong, but things like the weak hips and glutes I've had oh, my whole life, just kept getting weaker because I didn't realize I was allowing them to. And those muscles getting weaker meant that other muscles were overcompensating and therefore being strained. Now that I have a better understanding of the underlying issue for my injury, I've adjusted my running approach so that I can work toward my ultimate running goal: being strong and injury-free.

Heart Rate Training
I never thought I would use a heart rate monitor. People who use heart rate monitors are either super serious athletes, or have health conditions that make using one necessary. I don't fall into the latter, and even though I take my goals and my training seriously, I don't consider myself a serious athlete. What use would I have for a heart rate monitor? I'm already diligent in tracking my workout data in terms of mileage, pace, etc. I thought that keeping track of my heart rate as well would be superfluous. I had always heard the rationale that using them allows you to determine how hard you're working during a workout, but I still didn't see why I needed one. I mean, I can feel when my heart beats faster and slower. I can feel more pumping when I'm on an uphill than a downhill. And listen, I love gadgets, but I just didn't think I needed one that would tell me what I already knew.

Then someone actually explained to me why heart monitors are useful. What I'm about to say may be common knowledge for some, but as a person who has always stuck her fingers in her ears at the mention of words like, "VO2max" and "lactic threshold," I needed someone to explain it like I'm 5. So Abby did just that: heart rate is related to the amount of oxygen muscles use. Higher heart rate = higher oxygen consumption = longer recovery time needed = more risk of injury if proper recovery time is not taken. This was the aha! moment for me. Especially since I was in her office for a running injury that I am at least partially responsible for bringing on myself by doing 2 hard speed workouts in a 48-hour period. I had already figured out that that had in some way been a catalyst for my injury, I just wasn't sure how. Now it was starting to make sense.

I actually ended up getting a heart rate monitor for Christmas. I'm pretty sporadic about when I use it, and I'm still not totally sure how to interpret all the data it gives me, but it's an interesting tool to have. I have known for a long time that I (like basically all runners who aren't professionals who actually know what they're doing) probably run my easy runs too hard, so the main thing I'm using the HRM for at this point is to back off on easy days. I know I haven't even scratched the surface of the heart rate information available to me now, but so far I've found it to be a pretty useful tool.

Warming Up
The first time I saw Abby she asked me what I did to warm up for a run, and all I could do was stare at her blankly and ask, "...What?" I never warm up - that's one of my favorite things about running! I can just get dressed and literally run right out my front door and back and be done. Sometimes I do a short yoga sequence before I run, but I'm always afraid that if I really use my muscles before a run, then they'll be tired by the time I start running and my run will suck. 

Well, it turns out that warming up before runs actually makes them not suck. Like a lot. I now warm up anywhere from 5 (when I'm being lazy or I'm short on time) to 20 minutes (if I'm being really good) before a run by foam rolling and doing a dynamic warmup (which I linked to here, if you're interested). It's so annoying and I feel ridiculous warming up for half as long as my actual run, but I notice the benefits immediately. Instead of spending the first 10 minutes of my run working out the kinks (or steamrolling through them like an idiot and hurting myself), I've already gotten that out of the way. I'm looser, I breathe better, and I hurt less right from the get-go.

Foam Rolling/Lacrosse Ball
I will be the first to admit that my foam roller does not get the love it deserves. It usually resides in a corner in my apartment and rarely gets to come out from hiding. When I did remember to use it, it was always after a run (or just randomly when I was watching TV but I'm talking about running here). So not only does Abby have me now foam rolling before I walk out the door, but she also taught me some new foam rolling techniques. I'm foam rolling muscles that I never knew existed (like my TFL, which technically I guess I knew existed becasue it's tight and in pain all. the. time...I just didn't know it had a name), and muscles I didn't know where related to running or that you could foam roll (like my lats). My foam roller and I still aren't best buds, but we do spend a lot more quality time together than we used to.

And when I'm not using my foam roller, I'm cheating on it with my lacrosse ball. I had heard of them being good for things like plantar fascitis, but my physical therapist has me use one for my hip. I start every physical therapy appointment by standing with my side to a wall with the lacrosse ball wedged in between the wall and the fleshy part of my hip, and then I spend 4-5 minutes rolling out each side. It hurts so good that I bought one of my own and take breaks from things like cooking dinner to roll my hip out and try to loosen it up. It feels like I could spend an eternity and it still wouldn't be 

So those are the big things that I've been learning and working on over the last month and a half. I've also been filmed running (and then wanted to cry when I could see with my own two eyes how all of my weaknesses come into play and destroy any shred of good running for that I might have), I've done dry needling, and I've been told to squeeze my butt more times in the last month than in my entire life combined. None of the things I've tried are quick or easy cures, and a lot of times they feel like more trouble than they're worth, but I've definitely noticed an improvement in how I run and how I feel when I'm running! I've got big plans for 2016 so it feels good to start off this year by breaking some of my bad habits and forming good ones for better, longer running!



  1. There is actually a PT office in VA, about 45 minutes outside DC that sounds a lot like where you went and they're the ones that got me to the start and finish of Chicago after a 2 year running injury. I've learned so much from them about my knee injury stemming from hip/gluten strength and general issues with balance and flexibility so yoga has been instrumental in helping there. I've never trained by heart rate but I know a lot for IM athere's who do! I'm not sure of she still does buthat Katie from the blog Run This Amazing Day is an IM coach in Boulder and I believe she trains but heart rate!

  2. She sounds like a magician! I have a heart rate monitor on my wish list for running too- I need to start working smarter with my training!

  3. This is super interesting! I never knew what the point of having a heart rate monitor was either. I mean, I get what it does, but I never understood why a healthy, non-competitive runner would need one.

    I also don't think I realized (or maybe I was in denial) how much good foam rolling BEFORE a run could do. I use it pretty frequently after a run, but only when I'm feeling achy. I neglect it when I feel ok after a run. Guess I should be spending more time with it too...

  4. i had no idea about the heart rate thing, that is so interesting! i never thought i would want one, because i don't care how hard i work or whatever, which is the reason a lot of people get them i think, but the way you explained it makes a lot of sense. i'm glad your PT experience has been awesome. i wonder if 'walking' can count as a warm up? haha.

  5. It's like you're writing about my life. (Except not because you're leagues above and ahead of me.) Ugh. Teach me everything you know, because samesies. I only foam roll when I KNOW something is really bad so I spend 30 seconds on it before running—like my shins, or maybe sometimes my hip or IT band. Sometimes. Maybe. But usually I just take the same "steamroll through it" approach you mentioned. Wonder why I was injured for over a month? And then half the time I'm on my last mile thinking, "It's going to feel so good to foam roll when I get home" and then I just don't.
    Also, the heart rate stuff. Yeah, those words are words I've studiously avoided understanding for the last 2 years. What am I, some kind of serious athlete who needs to know this stuff? Of course not! Yeah, except maybe it'd be helpful...
    So glad you found Abby and she's helping you reach your goals this year and protect yourself for the long-term. (And selfishly glad that I'm getting this info secondhand too ;))

  6. I've learned I run a LOT better if I warm up.. same with the cool down - I GOTTA do it or I'm so sore

  7. when my husband was on a mission to lose weight in order to become a better cyclist (read: lighter=faster), he ran for 1-1.5hrs every day but made sure that he kept his heart rate at 140 and never went over. while that was a bit low for him, he said that's where he burned the most calories but i always thought that the harder your heart pumped, the more cals you burned! anyway, i never looked at my HR when i trained; i was always about cals burned but i guess when i do get back into trail runs, maybe i should!

  8. I have a heart rate monitor but I am not using it right lol. I just like to see that my heart rate is elevated when I am working really hard. And when I am stressed or feeling anxiety it is nice to check it then too, since I wear my fitbit all the time anyways.

    Sounds like I should be stretching before my runs. I totally dont do that at all. not even a little. Oops.

  9. I use a heart rate monitor, but mostly because it came with a watch and I find it the most accurate way to get how many calories I've burned during a workout. I count calories daily, so this has been the best way I know how to do that accurately. I've never really paid attention to the actual heart rate number though! I do write it down in my log though, and looking back, it looks like my "easy" days are normally averaging between 150-170. Which is probably too high! My coaches don't put a lot of emphasis or value to heart rate though, so that's probably why I don't pay attention to it much.

  10. I just discovered your blog, but I am looking forward to joining your link up next month!

    I am 100% guilty of never warming up before I run. I will warm up for speed workouts and races, but that just means that I run a couple miles before the race to warm up. It's one of those I know that I should, but I just never do sort of things. I just came across this link up, so maybe I should make warming up a goal and see if I can get it to stick.

    I discovered the hip/lacrosse ball/wall combination this fall. I messed my hip up this fall and it absolutely saved me from having to bail on a race.

  11. I'm a not-really-runner, but for some reason this was sooo interesting to me. I'm so glad you found someone who really understand you, and can give you such good advice that is actually tailored to your body and your style of running and exercise. Lately my issue with warming up has been before lifting and even though I KNOW it makes a huge difference, it's so easy to be like ehh I don't want to take the time to warm up for even just 10-15 minutes.

  12. Really Heart rate meters are used by the persons who are uper serious athletes, or have health conditions. I heard about the health conditions. But don't know about athletes. they also used them. Warm up is important when you start exercise or start to run.