Photo by Frank Audebrand on Flickr (CC 2.0)

I Had to Lengthen My Stride

Running is supposed to be natural, but I had to be taught.

I’ve been seeing a physical therapist twice a week for six weeks following four weeks in a boot for tendonitis. I suspect I aggravated my right Achilles tendon by improperly running on ellipticals, so one of my PT goals was that I wanted to be able to run without messing things up again.

Most of my PT time was spent strengthening the other muscles in my ankle through various balance exercises under force. I would stand on one foot and pull against a waist-high band. I did lunges with my front foot landing on a resistant half-sphere. I walked heel-toe down a line, swinging a 30-lb weight around my body.

All this was good, but I’m an engineer. I wanted to fix the problem, and that meant diagnosing the cause.

We took video of my jogging on a treadmill — not a big deal nowadays with iPhones. I was landing on the balls of my feet.

“That will never let your Achilles rest. No wonder you got tendonitis.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to heel strike, right?”

“Right, but push your heel out more and lengthen your stride.”

I did what I was told. It seemed like I was leading with my heel and asking for trouble, but the video showed that the real strike of the run came when my knee was over my foot — a good thing.

For the last week I’ve run at home in intervals: 4 minutes, 30 seconds of walking, then 30 seconds of running. I pushed it to 4:20 and 40 and will continue to shift the balance as cardio will let me.

The elliptical/treadmill has its merits: it doesn’t matter what the weather is, I can do it whenever is most convenient for me, and there is a stable platform which lets me view my statistics.

Running in a neighborhood, weather permitting, beats the treadmill hands down. I don’t have to find the right button on the treadmill while running at 7 mph to slow down. I’m not in a smelly fitness room. I’m pulling my body forward under weight instead of merely trying to catch up with the moving belt.

I’ve not tried running on an elliptical. I will have to watch my walking the next time I’m on an elliptical to make sure I am still extending my stride and not landing on my toes. I’m a little concerned the fixed stride length will work against me.

I’m not 100% yet, and I’m not sure I ever will be. I still get up from the chair and from the bed with a little bit of pain. As long as it doesn’t get worse, I can deal. I used to question how Yoda could be using a gimer stick as a crutch before a lightsaber battle, move like a spider monkey on cocaine during said battle, and return to his stick afterwards. I don’t question it now. He has raging tendonitis.

It was fascinating to hear that in order to fix my running, I had to run faster. I had to lengthen the stride. Amazing. There aren’t any 5Ks for me in the near future, but who knows in the longer term?

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