When Pigs Fly…
When you grow up in Cincinnati, OH there are a lot things you become familiar with that people from other cities just wouldn’t understand – Chili on spaghetti, goetta, and flying pigs, just to name a few. Today I will focus on that last part…the flying pigs. Outside of Cincinnati the only discussion about flying pigs is likely short and sweet, coming paired with a sheepish grin as someone states, “sure I will…when pigs fly.” Well, in the Queen City, things are different. Here, pigs fly everyday. They fly as statues throughout the city, on tee shirts of many local runners, and once a year, thousands of these “flying pigs” take to the streets of Cincinnati for a marathon. As the 20th anniversary of the Flying Pig Marathon approached I felt a tug from my Cincinnati pride to sign up, so I did. What would ensue is a myriad of lessons that taught me the value of a good physical therapist (or in my case, several).
Mile 0: The plan
Since I was a relatively inexperienced runner, I felt it was important to come up with a good training plan. Most marathon training plans are designed to last approximately 20 weeks, but due to my inexperience I began closer to 25 weeks ahead, allowing for repeat or resting weeks. I felt this would allow me to make adjustments on the fly, as well as address any aches and pains before they progressed to serious injury.
Miles 1-5: The excitement phase
Ah, the early days of short runs, I remember them fondly. The beginning of marathon training is a lot like the beginning of the school year. The year is filled with promise and excitement as hopes of new experiences and renewal of old friendships build the anticipation of the first day. Running was no different for me. I had new socks, new shoes, and some fancy Bluetooth headphones. Everything was in place for smooth sailing from beginning to end. The first five miles was everything I imagined it would be, smooth sailing indeed.
Miles 6-10: The first problem
As the miles began to pile on, the first problem was developing – my foot. This was the time I began getting pain in my right arch and forefoot. Like any good physical therapist, I had to analyze the problem. Once I did, I discovered a likely solution – strengthening the small, intrinsic muscles of my foot, along with my posterior tibialis (a key ankle muscle), and my hip abductors. I began implementing these exercises 2-3 times a week along with relative rest and I was as good as new in about 2 weeks. All those years of schooling were definitely going to help me through this marathon.
Miles 11-15: Let’s call a timeout
With my longer runs reaching double digits, I began to feel like a true member of the running community. I had learned the importance of running specific socks, along with the finer details of during-run nutrition. I had, of course, also embraced every runner’s best friend, Vaseline. My twelve-mile run was one of the best I had all throughout training and I started to think this crazy marathon idea of mine might not be so bad after all. Alas, my runs of 12-15 miles were awful and I was barely able to get myself to the end of them. Each run was a battle and my shoes felt like they were made out of cement. I decided it would be a good time to take a week off and recover. I planned to return with some tweaks to my nutrition, as well as shifting my weight training to focus on eccentric strengthening of my quads. This style of training should help prepare my legs for the many thousands of steps during each long run. Physical therapy knowledge came in handy again.
Miles 16-20: Dry needling saved my running life
Entering the last few weeks of training I felt good about my current level of conditioning. I certainly wasn’t breaking any land-speed records, but other than some minor bumps and bruises, I was unscathed. Then, at the end of a 16-mile run, my right knee started to hurt. It was minor and I was able to finish the run, but after a short rest my muscles tightened and the pain rose quickly. That evening I was hardly able to go up and down the steps. I could tell exactly what the problem was; the insertion of my IT band was extremely inflamed. I tried a handful of different stretches, foam rolling, and strengthening exercises, but nothing seemed to make a difference. I walked into my clinical that Monday feeling discouraged. As I mentioned my ailment to the other therapists, one of them offered dry needling. I quickly agreed.
For any of you readers that have not tried dry needling, it is one of those things you have to experience to understand. First, you feel a tiny poke as the needle breaks your skin, then you don’t feel much as the needle moves through your muscle. As the therapist moves the needle around you can feel your muscle grab the needle, somewhat like you are having a muscle cramp. This can happen any number of times before your muscle relaxes and the needle is removed. Immediately after the removal of the first needle, I felt the tight band crossing the outside of my knee relax. I immediately bent my knee several times, which previously caused stabbing pain, and it was completely pain free. The only side effect I experienced was minor soreness on the outside of my thigh.
Marathon Day: Never again…I think…
I was happy just to make it to the start line in one piece, but I was well aware that to consider myself successful I had to cross the finish line. Throughout the race I felt every single ache and pain of training come back, and by the end, I could feel all of them together. The last several miles were as grueling physically and mentally as anything I’ve ever done, but I made it to that finish line. I waddled my sore legs over to receive my medal and met my friends and family to head home. In hopes of alleviating what I knew would be the most soreness I would ever experience, I closed the book on my marathon journey with an ice bath…medal still around my neck.
Why I Survived
Once of my biggest worries prior to running a marathon was injury. Throughout my training I asked many runners about their experiences. Roughly half of them sustained an injury during or prior that did not allow them to finish. I attribute my ability to complete a marathon on my first attempt chiefly to good physical therapy. Whether through knowledge, exercise, or intervention I was able to cross that finish line, something I doubt would have happened otherwise. For anyone out there wishing to complete their first marathon, or even their tenth, I suggest having a physical therapist on your team.
If you decided to run a race, give me a call. I’ve been there!