I am a runner. Well, at least I would call myself one, despite not having run more than 10km in the past year due to injuries, mainly my knee.
Sure, I went for physio, but did I listen?
Well…. no, not really.
I didn’t want to do those exercises (though I knew they would probably help in the long run – pun totally intended- but so so BORING) – I just wanted to run. And when I say run, by now I was limping along, pushing the fact that I was creating loads of compensatory problems out of my mind. Until my knee tweaked so badly I couldn’t walk. (biomechanical issues, including the ‘fat pad’ pinching – I won’t bore you with the details).
Finally I took the hint that I needed to do something a bit more. I needed some strength, some balance and some core stability. My physio told me to try a Pilates programme (that I would stick to, for once). “Ugh” I thought, “How dull!” but she knew that I was at the stage of desperation that I was ready to listen.. and so I did. And then I was back in the Physio clinic’s pilates studio, standing with lifeless eyes and a grimace staring at the pilates equipment. I was certainly not excited.
There were 3 of us.
“I’m a dancer,” Sarah looked like one, with long, sylphlike legs
“I’m recovering from back pain after a fall off my bike” James looked like a keen cyclist, but was still in some pain
“I’m a runner – sort of – when I’m not injured,” I think I said something like that.
The reformer is like a torture device, a series of springs and pulleys designed to isolate muscles you didn’t know you had (well, I knew I had them, but I didn’t know how weak they were). The physio showed us the first exercise, and I watched her with a little smirk – ‘That looks so easy’, I thought to myself… I mean, come on, I’m a runner… with grit and determination and the ability to push through pain on a regular basis, “I’ll be the best in the class for sure.”. And after a few reps, my muscles started burning. I mean, really burning… like ‘I’m not sure I can finish these sets’-burning. The first session consisted of reformer, Wunda chair (another torture device using springs to isolate and strengthen) a ball exercise and a mat based exercise. The physio corrected me often, trying to facilitate my left side which clearly hadn’t been doing much for a while.
One thing was for certain – I was weak! How did that even happen? I thought I was strong and fit and active. I exercise 6 days a week, for heavens sake! But here I was, being corrected like a beginner, and my muscles screaming for help.
The next morning my stomach muscles were so sore I could barely turn over in bed, which made me feel slightly optimistic… if my core stability was building so fast, I would be super strong and back training in no time…. I did my personalised programme twice a week, once in the group, and once on my own. I admit, I wasn’t an angel, and tried a small jog after 2 weeks, and I had to stop after 2km from pain..
Back to square one, I felt, cussing myself for wasting 2 weeks of hard work on this meaningless outing. I did the programme for the next few weeks, refusing to acknowledge that it could be making a difference, refusing to acknowledge that I was feeling stronger. I knew deep down that Pilates was designed to help people exactly like me, but somehow I wanted it to fail, as though I could then prove something to those who had encouraged it. I grumbled my way through each session, itching to start running again. I definitely noticed the pain was decreasing, but I wrote that off to resting from running. “I’m doing all this hard work, and it will probably flare up again the day I run again”…
But soon I didn’t need the physio sessions, because the pilates had become my physiotherapy. James went back to cycling with no pain, and Sarah continued dancing (she hadn’t been injured but was trying to maintain muscle balance to help her dancing progress), but I had a few more weeks…. “to be sure”, my physio said…. Grrrrrrrrr
And then finally I was allowed to run again, and I waited for the pain to come… and it didn’t… and then I ran again, and the pain didn’t come. Plus, each run thereafter I felt lighter. I felt aligned. I built up my distance and my speed and was back to running 5min/km, my pre-injury running speed over 10km (before you judge, that’s fast for me, and the first time I had got under 6 min/km in over a year). I wasn’t collapsing on the left side every step, and my core and glut strength made me feel stable.
I had to eat some humble pie and admit that the pilates helped – a lot. I still try to do pilates every week so that I maintain the strength and the balance (and can keep running…). It’s not a short-term fix, though it has amazingly long term benefits. The physiotherapy team say that the idea of Pilates is to mix strength elements with functional movements, specific to your sport or activity, which will strengthen your overall sporting capacity.
Pilates is gentle and slow and appropriate for anyone. I would certainly recommend it.