Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Runner's Knee Cured - part 3

In Part #1, I declared myself cured from 20+ years of "Runner's Knee".
In Part #2, I enumerated the my long and painfully stupid search for the cure.

Now, I will reveal what the ridiculously simple two word cure is. Drum roll please...

small steps

That's it. I take small steps when I run. In other words, I shortened my stride.

NOT the cause of the problem
Here is a short list of the "sports medicine experts" mis-diagnoses:
  • flat feet
  • tight hamstrings
  • improper tracking kneecaps
  • overpronation
  • bad "Q-angle"
  • weak quads
  • tightness of the "lateral retinaculum"
All complete bullshit.

The cause of the problem
The root cause was that I:

  • over-strided and landed on my heels when I ran
This is actually a very common mistake, particularly among recreational runners like me who never ran cross-country or track. In retrospect it seems so obvious, and why the "experts" didn't think of it is mind boggling.

Now, I am sure that some smart ass barefoot runner will tell me "if you had ditched your shoes and ran barefoot, you would have solved that problem."
And unfortunately he would be right. The damned cushioned shoes that I thought would alleviate the problem were actually allowing it and even encouraging it.
I wish I would have tried barefoot, a long time ago. Instead...

How I found the solution
By accident.

I had given up searching for a cure to my Runner's Knee, and resigned myself to a lifetime of pain, stretching and ice bags. That is until last month when I realized my Runner's Knee was gone.

I had to look back to figure out what changes I had made to understand the cure:

My accidental cure for Runner's Knee

More Trail Running2005-$230,000Smaller steps
In 2005, I searched for, and bought a new house. The #1 criteria was that I had to be able to run out my front door and into Umstead park.
Since then, I do about half my miles on single track trails.
I had thought that trails were easier on my knees because of the softer surface. WRONG. It is because the roots and rocks forced me to take smaller steps. Trying to stay balanced on the uneven trail taught me to land with my foot directly beneath me instead of on my heel in front of me.
Biking2006-$(Embarrassed to admit)Smaller steps
I started biking in 2006 when I quit running for a year, and have since been using it to supplement my running.

I started to noticing that the more I biked, the more I could run. When running fast down a hill, my feet would spin in small circles instead of bounding down with long strides. The pedaling trained my legs to take smaller steps.

The PowerCranks might have had something to do with it (but my experience with PowerCranks requires it's own epic blog post, complete with tragedy, humiliation, and the triumph of human will).
No stretching 2009-$0Smaller steps
I used to stretch my hamstrings before, after, and sometimes in the middle of a run. Everyone told me that tight hamstrings were bad, and that I had to stretch.

But over the last few years I have stretched less and less, and my knees and hamstrings felt better and better. I now do zero stretching and can run more miles, at a faster pace, than I ever have before.

My hamstrings are very tight now, and I can barely touch my knees let alone my toes. The result is a much shorter, quicker stride... smaller steps.
Less shoe2009-$89Smaller steps
While my Red Shoes are far from minimalist, they are much less than what I had been wearing.
These are quite different than the orthotics and motion control shoes that the "experts" had prescribed. They are light weight and very flexible. There is no stiff "support" or "motion control" features, and I can easily fold them in half.

After I took out the cushioned insert, it feels like I am standing flat on the ground instead of on a wedge like all my other shoes. It feels much easier to move my feet fast, and they seem to encourage smaller steps.

My next pair of shoes will be even less, and maybe barefoot soon.

Well, that's my Runner's Knee story. The whole thing has left me disillusioned and even angry with the whole "Sports medicine" and running shoe establishment.

The fact that an orthopedic surgeon was ready to cut ligaments in my knee to solve my poor running form sounds like something straight out of the dark ages of medicine.
And the only thing hamstring stretching ever did was give me horrible hamstring pain.

In any case, I am now enjoying running a lot more than I ever have. I only wish I could go back 20 years, slap myself up the side of the head and say:

Small steps.

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