(Cover photo: Gwen Crawford speaking at a female athlete health seminar. July 29, 2015. Credit: Bill Brymer)
By Tracy Green
“Every runner who is doing the Triple Crown should be brushing their teeth standing on one leg.”
That’s Gwen Crawford’s biggest piece of advice, especially for those tackling the races for the first time or coming off a holiday layoff. Crawford, a physical therapist at Baptist Health Sports Medicine at Eastpoint, has a particular interest in running. Her two daughters run competitively.
With the Triple Crown having kicked off Feb. 27, local experts weighed in on how new runners can make it to the finish line uninjured.
“You can just watch someone balance on one leg,” said Kyle Bowling, a doctor of chiropractic and owner of Kentucky Sports Chiropractic. “If they’re just a runner, nine times out of 10 they have very poor one-legged balance. But soccer, basketball, tennis players, because of the lateral movement, they have better balance.”
Why the focus on this seemingly meaningless exercise?
“Running is a one-legged activity,” Crawford said.
When you break down the movement, running is basically jumping forward on one foot – over and over and over again, about 2,200 steps per mile with an impact equal to about 2.5 times your body weight.
Basically, she says, it’s all about the hips.
“If you have a motor control issue in your hips, that’s going to show up as pain in your iliotibial band, plantar fasciitis, wherever your body breaks down. Even though the cause is the same and it’s in your hips.”
And if you’ve recently had a baby? There’s a very good chance there’s no stability in your hips unless you’ve been working specifically on building it back up.
Standing on one leg requires hip and core stability working in conjunction with foot and ankle stability. Meanwhile, the knee, where many people have pain, doesn’t control itself, but it’s movement is dictated by the movement of the hip and ankle.
A multiple-time marathoner himself, Bowling said runners get a bad rep for being injured all the time.
“Really it’s seven to 10 different injuries that stem from just two or three muscle groups,” he said. “You need to do a little bit to prepare your joints and muscles for what you’re about to ask them to do.”
“You can’t just get out of your car in January and go run,” she said. Foam rolling and dynamic stretching help activate the muscles, and dynamic stretching can also promote stability, mobility and muscle control.
Crawford recommends videos from Chris Johnson, which can be found online here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZ-jzVh85zi6Myrcevdcayw
She and Bowling both stress that it’s important not to take on this challenge alone.
“The biggest thing is finding someone to consult with,” Bowling said. That might be someone like him or Crawford, but also the head of good running groups, physicians, coaches and others.
Larry Holt, owner of Ken Combs Running Store, adds that having someone to rely on can also help you develop an appropriate training schedule.
“Those cookie-cutter plans on the Internet don’t work for everyone,” he said. “But you can start there and modify.”
With more than 30 years experience working with runners, Holt said there’s a pattern to the injuries he sees this time of year.
“Plantar fasciitis and shin splints are the most common,” he said, “and both can be avoided or manipulated so that training can continue.”
First, he said, making sure you’re giving enough scrutiny to your footwear is important.
“You need to make that financial commitment up front,” he said. Don’t put off buying quality shoes until you consider yourself a “real runner” because you may well end up injured before that.
Ten years ago, Holt said, most runners didn’t think much about cross-training.
“It makes the whole training process a little easier,” he said. Cross-training provides opportunities to build strength and mobility, and can encourage some of that lateral movement.
“The cross-training aspect is very, very important,” Bowling said.
Holt, known for early morning workouts, also emphasized another potential injury that’s easily preventable.
“Being hit by a car will definitely slow you down. People aren’t giving enough thought to visibility,” he said.
With fewer daylight hours in winter months, if you’re running outside, chances are some of it is in the dark. A small blinking light and reflective vest go a long way and are a very inexpensive way to stay safe.
The Triple Crown of Running began Feb. 27 with the Anthem 5k. It is followed by the Rodes City Run 10k on March 12 and the Papa John’s 10 miler on March 26. Learn more or register at www.louisvilletriplecrown.com. This historic race series benefits the Crusade for Children.
Five tips to make it through the Triple Crown uninjured:
- Stand on one leg for 20-30 seconds at a time, switch legs. Repeat as often as possible.
- Stretch dynamically before a run and statically after. Foam roll or other forms of self-massage before and/or after.
- Wear properly-fitting shoes and replace them every 300-500 miles.
- Find trusted sources who can assess your form, point out weaknesses, and help with your training schedule.
- Cross-train regularly to build strength and mobility. Finding a class you enjoy can ensure you are performing the exercises with proper form and will encourage you to stretch and strengthen regularly when you might otherwise skip it as part of your regular routine.