Sunday, May 25, 2008

Maggot Q & A

Q: What about knee pain? My knees have dull, generalized pain ... my knees swell … Any opinions on the running is bad for your knees if you have bad knees theory?

A: Running really isn’t bad for your knees. It can make them hurt, sure, but it doesn’t cause destruction. Football players, who run explosively while carrying 300 pounds, destroy their knees. Runners don’t.

The most common cause of knee pain in runners—especially women runners—is something called “patellofemoral syndrome,” “chondromalacia,” “runner’s knee,” and some other terms I forget. There’s a reasonable description of it here. It’s not dangerous, but it is annoying and painful. The best treatment seems to be strengthening your quadriceps; those little knee sleeves with cutouts for the kneecaps might help.

ITB syndrome give you pain along the outside of your knee; stretching that band helps that one.
After 2-3 months of retraining, most of these problems are solved.

My basic rule: If running is clearly making a problem significantly WORSE, you might not want to do it. Otherwise, go ahead.

Q. I have LESS pain now than before I started exercising regularly. WTF???????

A: You know that line in Apocalypse Now, “I'm here a week ... waiting for a mission ... getting softer … every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker…”? Every day you spend babying yourself is a day you get weaker. No matter what might be wrong with you, you’re not going to get stronger sitting on your ass. Not that I want any Maggots going on homicidal missions into the jungle, but if you get off your ass, you will feel better.

Q: Side cramps. Any tips to help avoid this? Sometimes it gets so bad that I can't finish the run and even sometimes run for a few days after that.

A: This problem plagued me for years. A “stitch” doesn’t even begin to describe how painful this can be. I figured out that I could usually avoid it by—yes—starting slowly, but it wasn’t until I finally learned what it was that I could really fix it. For most people, this is, basically, a cramp in your diaphragm (no, not the birth control device, the thin flat muscle under your lungs that helps you breathe and gives you hiccups). It comes about when your breathing and your stride don’t mesh well, and can be prevented/treated by focusing on your breathing. For me, it works to breathe in step with my feet. Doesn’t seem to matter which foot, but choose one and breathe in or out every time that foot strikes. If you’re already cramping up, slow waaay down while you do this. And if you give yourself a good 5 or 10 minutes of starting slowly, it seems to help a lot. I still have trouble every now and then if I forget to start slowly—happened yesterday, in fact.

Q: Any comments on treadmill vs. road running?

A: I say, however you can do it, do it. There’s running and there’s not running. Running = good. That said, I imagine that if you run exclusively on a treadmill, there are a lot of muscles that are used in traversing uneven ground that are left underdeveloped. I find it fun to get on a fancy treadmill every now and then just to see the numbers.

Q: How do you deal w/ the guilt? (I'm running, therefore I'm not at the work or with the kids.)

A: Do you feel guilty about brushing your teeth? About going to the doctor? About eating dinner? About taking a dump? About washing your clothes? You get the idea. I have felt this twinge, but then I realize that this makes me SO MUCH BETTER of a mother/person that I should feel guilty if I don’t do it. I tell my son that it’s something I have to do to be healthy and feel good.

Q: Any advice for running with a group?

A: I have run solo for much of my running life, but I think groups can be great if you stick to a few rules: 1) No discussion about when/where/if. It happens every week at exactly the same place and the same time. Maybe no one else shows, but so what? If you spend a lot of time figuring out schedules etc., it breaks down quickly. 2) Resist competition. If you want to run next to someone, figure out who is naturally faster and then spend the next five minutes with the faster person running far BEHIND the slower person, until the pace is established.

Q: Am I just buying the hype from the shoe companies or is there a real benefit to replacing my shoes?

A: If your feet/ankles start to hurt, you probably need new shoes. I used to resist this, but after years and years, I’ve found that if I get good shoes from a real running store (i.e. NOT the sneaker store at the mall), my feet feel a lot better. If new shoes don’t feel good, take them back and get different ones. A real running store will exchange them even after you’ve run in them. As for replacing after a certain number of miles—I don’t know, probably not a bad idea. I just replace mine yearly.

Q: I noticed that no one ever talks about fat people running.

A: That’s because my advice is the same for the very small and the very large: Go SLOW. Focus on time, not distance. Get good shoes and a good bra. You will, sadly, have to spend more on your bra and maybe your shoes than a small person does, and it is likely that you will be slower for longer. But there is no reason you can’t do it, and boy do I give you credit: if you strapped 130 pounds on me and told me to hit the trail, I would have a VERY hard time, if I could do it at all. You’re working harder than anyone else, and you should feel proportionately prouder. I also direct you to the most excellent Jul.

Q: Do you have any advice for running in the morning?

A: Ugh. I am an awful morning runner myself, for two reasons: 1) I am soooo much more stiff in the morning that I have to be really careful or I end up hurting something and 2) I’m not really in need of stress relief until the end of the day, so the reward of running is much less. So I’m probably not the best person to ask about this. But that hasn’t ever stopped me from dispensing advice: I don’t do it without some cereal and coffee first.