This is Part 2 of a two-part series. If you haven’t done so already, please check out How I Conquered the Infamous IT Band Syndrome [Part 1].
Progress Is Power
It’s a common habit for people to fear change. But what happens when the fear of staying the same is greater? One outcome is to proceed in the search for growth and progress. Let’s face it, if we are not progressing we are digressing. Take our bones, for example. To the eye, they seem hard and solid and are many times thought of as a static structure. But the skeletal system is dynamic, with many different functions. When you put a constant demand on your bones, they grow back stronger and stiffer, adapting to their new environment. This would be similar to the callus on our hands or the growth of our muscles. Our bodies acclimate and adapt to survive. Yes, we are no longer fighting sabertooth tigers or hunting for our meals to live. However, our bodies still want to survive like every other living thing on this planet, from the fish in the ocean to the bacteria causing infection. Think about it, if a person is bedridden, their bones become weak and brittle. But on the contrary, by putting more stress on the body, our bones naturally grow back more bone tissue to strengthen themselves. Bones are live tissue constantly being broken down and rebuilt. Progress is impossible without change.
Run? I thought they said Rum!
I’ll never forget the lesson I learned on my honeymoon in the Caribbean Islands. On the first day, my wife and I had just finished a round of beach volleyball when I saw a native running down the oceanside barefoot. Hit by a sudden spark of motivation and the smile of approval from my wife, I took off running. Of course, my light morning run quickly turned into a race around the entire island. Halfway around, my feet began to feel strange. I quickly realized the skin on the bottoms of my feet were ripping apart! It turns out your skin grows back a thicker and stronger layer from barefoot running. We have the same genetics as our ancestors who spent millions of years hunting and escaping predators barefoot. I continued around the island until I reached my starting point. After my run was over, my feet needed to be cleaned and bandaged quickly. The medical facility at the resort asked for one thousand dollars! This led me to Plan B. I went to a nearby shed where a few locals were kind enough to assist. They gave me a shot of rum, a towel to bite down on, and fixed me right up. Afterwards we all shared a good laugh and I left them with a tip for their generosity. Walking like a penguin, I waddled back to my wife. She did not find the story nearly as comical.
My ITBS Recovery Recipe
The story above demonstrates how we put stresses on our body, forcing it to respond and acclimate to its new demand. When I put my injury in perspective I couldn’t reason with just plain REST. Of course I needed some rest, but I thought that if I slowly started putting demands on the injured area, maybe I could recover and train simultaneously. After some thought, a few words of advice, and a round of trial and error, I developed the outline below that cured me from ITBS, allowing me to train in the process.
As I noted in my last post, How I Conquered the Infamous IT Band Syndrome [Part 1], I am not a medical professional and this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. I’m just sharing what worked for me from my own personal experience. Miles and miles of my own ultra running experience and maybe–just maybe–this is the kind of expertise you have been searching for all along.
Two Weeks’ Time
First, I took two weeks off completely from running. I did not run but I did not rest either. During those two weeks, I weight trained and walked to keep my body moving. Blood flow will help in the healing process. In the past, I’ve even taken two weeks off prior to a race, only minimally affecting my endurance level. It’s been said that the loss of fitness and performance is not affected until after two weeks’ time.
Step by Step
After two weeks of recovery time, my knee felt much better. I decided to go for a 10-mile run to test the waters. Who was I kidding?! After only a few miles, the pain immediately shot directly back to my outer knee. But I fortunately noticed a pattern. The pain intensified on declines and was minimal on inclines. This observation led me to spend 4 weeks training solely on a Stair Master which surprisingly worked! It was amazingly satisfying to push the limits again. But the key to the Stair Master was to never touch the side handles. This way you gain the full benefit of the exercise and do not cheat yourself. The thought process is that you’re still forcing your body to respond in a similar intensity that running provides. I increased my mileage incrementally, eventually reaching one workout of 37 miles in 6 hours. There was certainly a lot of time spent staring at the gym wall building intense mental strength. I also brought an iPad to watch movies along with an endless playlist of new music.
Under-Train Not Over-Train
When I began to transition back to running outside, instead of pushing the edge of over-training, I pushed the edge of under-training. Also, I periodically substituted training days for the Stair Master or the stationary bike. There are many people who swear by cross-training and I can certainty attest to it on my road to recovery. It was important to alternate run days with cross-training or rest. Without effective recovery time, your body may adapt and improve short-term but will ultimately fail long-term. It was a tricky balancing act between training and recovery.
When running downhill it puts pressure on the iliotibial band causing increased levels of irritation and inflammation. So, in a simplistically innovative state of mind, I created a new way of training. I ran uphill, took it slow on flat surfaces, and ran backwards on every downhill. Seriously, I turned around and ran in reverse on every single descent. Although it was a unique way of training, it payed off and, most importantly, it allowed me to get back to what I love–running! And run I did. Eventually, I began running backwards down every other hill until I was only running backwards down the very steep descents. Soon enough, I was running down every decent but pacing extremely conservatively. It was similar to a fly attempting to exit a home through a closed window. No matter how hard the fly tries it can never break the glass. But if it would only look two feet over to left, to the open door, the outcome would be effortless. Closed-minded hard work can sometimes leave us dead on a windowsill. We are surrounded by simple and effective solutions.
Strap Yourself in for a Bumpy Ride
While running, I used an Iliotibial Band Compression Wrap. In theory, it stabilizes the iliotibial tract and absorbs stress to the area while reducing friction. When you put on the IT Band wrap stick out three fingers, put them on top of your knee cap, and strap the band just above your three fingers. You can find this process by searching on YouTube or Google. This band was undoubtedly helpful for aiding the injury when training.
The three best tips I’d recommend is to land midfoot, lean forward allowing your feet to land underneath you, and run with shorter but quicker strides. You can watch a YouTube video online or pick up a book on Chi Running. Heel striking was a bigger issue for me than I realized. As I said before, injuries can be an opportunity to grow.
If you have a chance, check out the MileStone Pod. Simply clip it to your laces and receive readings for your pace, foot strike, cadence, ground contact, stride length, and leg swing. Furthermore, it compares your results to those of an elite runner. Not a bad investment for $24.95.
It’s All in the Hips
Every morning and every night, I performed hip and gluteus strength exercises. For example: side lying leg lifts, straight leg raises, and wall squats with a ball. During runs I’d stop periodically and do side leans. Other beneficial exercises are side steps with a resistance band and hamstring wall stretches. Some days I’d swim and run laps in the pool. There are plenty of injury-related exercises you can find online to help strengthen the hips and gluteus along with plenty of information to support the benefits.
Foam Roller Ride
Before and after every run and workout I used a Foam Roller. It loosens up the IT band, helping relieve tension and tightness in the muscle. If you are new to the foam roller it will most likely be extremely painful because the tissue is still very tender. But if you stick through the pain, it will eventually feel much better. The pain you feel on the roller today will eventually be the relief you feel tomorrow. For me, rolling at night can certainly be eventful. It typically consists of my son jumping on top of me for a ride while trying not to run over my eight-pound dog in the process.
Chilling Cold Compressions
After the foam roller, I used a Cold and Compression Knee Wrap with a hand pump for compressions. This slows down blood flow to the injury which helps reduce pain and swelling. Ice baths are great for after runs if you can tough it out. Personally, jumping in a pile of ice cubes after running in a mountain of snow didn’t seem appealing. I can run for over 24 hours but can’t sit in an ice bath for over 24 seconds, go figure.
If you want to make a larger investment try the Game Ready Pro 2.1 Control Unit System. This machine is worth every penny. I do not own one my self but I have been fortunate enough to test it. You will notice that Marshall Ulrich uses one in the documentary Running America.
After cold compressions, at night and while sleeping I used a handheld Electric Muscle Stimulation Unit. This causes the muscles to contract, naturally speeding the healing process. But be careful! A few times the ground wire fell off, waking me up in the middle of the night with an electric shock! Who needs a cup of coffee when you’ve been woken up with an electric jolt of energy to the leg?
In closing, I was diagnosed with ITBS in October. I went on to run the Stanton Island 50K in January, the ICY 8-hour in February, and the Naked Bavarian 40 miler in March. Furthermore, this past August I ran the Beast Of Burden 100 miler. These Ultra Marathons were not my best races, nor were they my best times. But I was out there able to run which was my ultimate goal. Between recovering, buying new shoes, and learning proper running techniques, I have not had an issue to this day. Although I am still careful, flirting between the line of training and over-training, I can confidently say I’ve cured myself of Iliotibial Band Syndrome.
Injuries can certainty take us deap into the valleys of self doubt. But with each new valley comes a new peak. The lower we bring ourselves down into those valleys the higher those peaks become. But if we can keep moving forward despite the doubt, despite the obstacles, despite the pain, if we can think for ourselves and have faith in the outcomes, then suddenly, those peaks become a little bit smaller each day. With persistence and positive action there will be a day when we reach the top. And when we are up on that peak and we lift our heads up and take that deep, deep breath of fresh air, we might just be fortunate enough to see a new view giving us new perspective on old habits. We might think back through all the pain and realize that the adversity was well worth it. It was well worth the growth, it was well worth the progress, and it was well worth our new enlightenment. Thank you very much for reading this week. Stay healthy, be strong, and Keep It Moving!