Early warning system
My body was trying to tell me something from the very start, but I was Beethoven to it. Before my first race in 2009, I had a sore right IT band. 10 minutes into that half marathon, I started to feel it coming on again. As quickly as it came, it disappeared again, perhaps from adrenaline.
I put some of that down to being new to running, and it seemed to go away with a change of shoe type, so I thought.
I've had a couple of accidental injuries too. Sitting with my knees bent too much on a weight machine (one with a seat) meant I had a squeaky shin for 2 weeks.
I damaged tendons on the outside of my right foot when I slipped on ice getting off a bus.
Slow steamed ham
Throughout however, my right hamstring has been providing constant background noise. Every full marathon I have done - 4 since 2010 plus a 50k - has involved me having to stretch a knotted hamstring. It happened at the end of the Quebec City half marathon in 2011. My current half marathon PB was achieved while hobbling the last 100 metres at the Calgary Half in 2013.
Last felt in October last year, it really came back this week. I realized that if I did my usual response of 2 weeks of rest, chiropractor and carry on, I would end up in the same place again:
I decided to head to a sports injury clinic and once my hamstring's fixed, get to the bottom of what I'm doing wrong and make changes to prevent more Groundhog Days.
"What's your overall aim in coming to us, apart from your immediate need?" my new physio asked. "Not to have to stop. A week without running is like a week without sunshine." Yes, I actually said that.
Several simple tests, including just standing still led to an initial diagnosis: my right leg doesn't internally rotate much, and my left doesn't externally rotate. Without watching me run - as I couldn't at that point - it's probable that I track to the right.
To run in a straight line, my pelvis and core is slightly twisted. It lifts up my right hip, pulling hardest of all on my right hamstring. All this time I have assumed that my right leg is shorter than the left, but anatomically it might not be.
The training load gets too much, then I need to back off due to the excessive stress on my right hamstring. When I theorized that this is also why it has cramped violently during all of my marathons, the physio said it was quite likely.
After the assessment, time to work on my long suffering right ham.
I was unprepared for the idea of acupuncture, but ok'd it: time for new methods. The pulse felt inside the muscle is a bizarre sensation.
"Think you can handle one more needle?" "Er..yes." "This one will feel a little stronger." I made a noise that was part pain, part laughter and part police siren while thumping the treatment table. Cue nearby laughter.
It felt sore and bruised afterwards, but by evening the cramping was gone.
Next time, physio will watch me on the treadmill and perhaps give me more exercises to realign my hips and stop me tracking to the right.
Best case scenario?
If my alignment problem can be fixed or lessened, there will be less pressure on my right hamstring, and I should be able to go for longer without taking time off. Ideally, it won't affect me on individual very long runs of 2+ hours.
That would be a dream come true because it would then unlock faster marathon times.
"Let's get you fixed first," the physio said.