I Have Conversations with My Legs (A Running Update)


Is this just a runner thing? An athlete thing? I don’t think “talking” to your body that unusual. In yoga, teachers frequently tell you to “check in with” or “scan” your body to pay attention to how the different parts are feeling. And you go “oh, wow, my hips are kinda stiff” or “there’s a weird pain in my shoulder. Huh” or “hmm, my calf itches. Can I scratch it even though we’re in savasana?”

I guess it’s one thing to occasionally really focus on how your body feels, both holistically and each individual part.

But then I go and have full-on conversations with my legs during runs. Usually when we’re not getting along. Take an attempt at a tempo run back when I was marathon training…

Me: Okay, we’ve got six miles with a three-mile tempo run today! Let’s do this!

Legs: Yeah…no.

Me: Wait what? What the hell?

Legs: Eh, we’re just not feeling it. See?

Me: But…come on, we’ve gotta stay on the training plan! I don’t have time to reschedule this workout later in the week. Let’s go.

Legs: Nah.

Me: Okay, fine, buttheads. What if we just do a two-mile tempo?

Legs: Nope.

Me: A one-mile pickup?

Legs: You could try, but it probably won’t go well.

Me: What if we just do some fartleks for a couple miles?

Legs: Hahahaha, nice try.

Me: Fine. Screw the speedwork. Can we just do six easy miles?

Legs: Six miles seems like a lot.

Me: Five miles?

Legs: When’s the last time you got new shoes? These aren’t feeling too good.

Me: They’re not that old.

Legs: Really?

Me: Stop being babies. We haven’t been working that hard this week. It’s only week three. We can’t start skipping workouts this early.

Legs: Meh.

Me: Fine. Three miles. Can you suck it up and handle that?

Legs: Fine. But you still won’t like it.

Me: …sons of bitches…

Then there’s my knee. The one I had surgery on seven and a half years ago. The one that took nearly a year to stop bugging me and feel normal and let me run on it again. The one I babied for several years, avoiding running more than two days in a row, wearing a knee brace, icing it religiously after workouts. The one that got me into yoga.

When I finally decided to ditch the knee brace and just run like I used to, five, six, even seven days a week (sometimes), with the occasional speed or hill workout, my knee responded brilliantly. Every so often, though, it still twinges — usually not from running, I think, but from some combination of running + other activity. Like recently I’ve added more strength workouts and weight lifting, and even though strengthening the muscles in my legs should, theoretically, help my knee by providing more support for the tendons and ligaments (my brother’s almost done with med school. I totally know this shit), there’s an adjustment period where everything’s sore and tight and angry with me and letting me know it via pain in my knee.

Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve also been incorporating HIIT workouts once or twice a week. HIIT workouts typically including a buttload of jumping — jumping jacks, plank jacks, jump squats, jump lunges. Jump squats and jump lunges are the fucking worst. I think I’m in decent cardio shape until I’m told to jump more than five times in a row. Anyway, one of Cal Poly’s track and field trainers once told me that running isn’t bad for your knees, but plyometrics — jumping — is what will tear them up. So maybe I should just stop with the stupid jump squats.

Anyway, usually, nowadays, when my knee tries to get in on the conversation, I tell it to suck it up and move on. “You’re fine,” I’ll say. “Stop being a little bitch. Remember? You don’t hold me back anymore.” My knee isn’t as talkative as my legs. It’s (thankfully) much more stoic — it might whimper a little, but it soldiers on with the run.

But a couple weeks ago, when it started acting up on what was supposed to be a six-mile run with a massive hill and got shortened to a three-mile run with a massive hill, I tried a different tact.

“Hey buddy. What’s up? You’ve been through a lot lately, huh? Yeah. I get it. Sorry I haven’t been great about yoga and stretching after runs. I’ll work on it. You wanna foam roll tonight? How would that feel? Good, right? Okay, just keep it up — you’ve got this — and we’ll foam roll when we get home. I can even ice you if you want, a little. Yeah? Cool. Just a little over a mile to go, okay? Hang in there. See? You’re already feeling better. There you go.”

I’m telling you, it totally worked.

For a week.

Then last week, something twinged in my hip/hamstring/IT band area and a few days later, the pain started quickly spreading to my knee and then, weirdly, the spot on my inner calf that’s sort of between my Achilles tendon and where I’d feel shin splint pain. So I started easing up on my runs (both intensity and mileage — I’ve barely clocked 10 miles this week) and foam rolling every day, twice a day when I do lace up (or trying to, at least). I’ve determined I need a new, larger foam roller that has one of those trigger point grid things (like this one). I’ve been favoring YouTube yoga classes that focus on the lower body (classes that are heavy on hip openers or promise to help you progress to the splits tend to be good bets — I’ll probably never fully get into the splits, but the process leading up to them involves hip and hamstring openers from all directions, which feel fantastic).

It has gotten better, but I have a feeling the first long-ish or fast-ish run I do will make it flare up again. If that happens, I’m (for once) not going to screw around and put off getting professional help. I tried ART (active release technique) in the past and it was a freaking (painful) miracle cure, so if insurance allows, I’ll probably go that route again.

I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, my legs say hi.