Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Camber Me This, Runners

Riddle me this, Runners.  What could possibly be causing that chronic left (or right) knee, IT, foot, or other pain?  I stretch, cool down, ice, don't run every day... ??  I don't get it.

I went for a 10 mile run on Sunday morning.  This year, I've been plagued by not-so-serious (yet annoying) left-leg issues - first plantar fasciitis + a knarly knot in my left calf that refused to release for weeks (likely related), left IT band tightness, with its characteristic wrap around the knee from lateral to medial sides, chronic quad tightness, then I (re-) sprained my ankle [for like the seventh time] at the Wildflower Triathlon.  Yes, I was the crying runner; I was SO disappointed as I tried to run about 3/4 of a mile after I turned on my ankle, but I knew the sprain was bad enough to result in a DNF.  Minor injuries are really annoying and can keep you from training for weeks.  But I try to be conscious of all the ways these can be exacerbated....please read on...

Back to Sunday.  7 AM.  I ran from my house, down San Vicente facing traffic like my dad taught me in first grade.  I always run on the asphalt in the bike lane, for a couple reasons.  One, the asphalt really is softer than the concrete sidewalks.  If you live in LA, you know our sidewalks can be very uneven, so a tired runner can easily to trip and fall.  Plus, there are far too many alleys where cars can pop out and hit pedestrians and you can't react until it's too late.  So, street it is.

On the way back, and without thinking, I disobeyed my dad and ran up the same side of the street back home, not facing traffic.  I do this all the time.  There are pros and cons to this method (but the pro outweighs the cons).  Please hear me out.

Cons: (1) You're in the bike lane, and (2) not facing traffic, which is dangerous as people drive too fast and are not always paying close attention to road hazards.  [Since taking Traffic School last week after my speeding ticket in San Juan Capistrano (lame), I learned that it's actually illegal for a pedestrian to be in the bike lane when there is a sidewalk.  However, I also learned that pedestrians always have the right of way, even if they're dead wrong.  Just letting you know!] 

Pro: (1) You're determined to beat the effects of the camber.  It can help you combat overuse injuries (which, as we've already established, are annoying).

Water runs from crown to curb to drain water into sewer system.
So, there is only one pro, but it outweighs the cons in my opinion.  If you're a new runner or not yet aware of how this affects you, road camber is the convex curvature of the road surface which allows water to drain toward curbs and sewers.  As a runner, this means you're running on a slope, and this can sometimes create problems.

Consistently running on the same side of the road, i.e. always facing traffic - while safest - is not the best idea for runners.  Due to functional leg-length discrepancies, when you always run facing traffic, your left foot is always landing on the road lower on the slope than your right foot.  Additionally, your left foot pronation is limited while your right foot will have to over-compensate and over-pronate.  Thus, running the suggested 180 strides/minute for miles and miles and months on end may result in a variety of biomechanical issues.

There are a few things you can do to try and combat the Camber Conundrum.  First, as I've mentioned, consider running facing traffic on the way out, then not facing traffic on the way home (or vice versa).  I fully admit - this is not ideal, but it's a good solution for road runners.  You can also consider softer surfaces, trail running or the track (for slow speed workouts only!) which are typically camber-free. [Please note that long intervals on a track can also place pressure on the left leg due to typical track directionality rules].  You can also jump on a treadmill.  I know - gross.

When you return home after a run, make sure you stretch well, get on the dreaded foam roller, consider lower body weight training to strengthen both sides of your body or hit a yoga class.  Try to keep yourself limber - the goal is not perpetuating imbalances which can lead to longer-term problems.  We are all inherently imbalanced, especially when we train hard, but working to stay healthy and as "even" as possible is most beneficial.  I also like to see my chiropractor to help avoid imbalances.

One last thing, Runners.  If you choose to run in the bike lane, please defer to cyclists.  It's their lane.  Get out of the way when there's a bike headed your way.  I usually wait behind a parked car, or if I don't want to stop I jump on the sidewalk for 10 or 20 strides, then pop back onto the road.  When running facing away from traffic, please be conscious not to dart into the bike lane to get around cars - you could knock a cyclist straight off their bike and possibly into danger if there's a car near-by.

Run on, Runners, and stay healthy!  No more riddles today.  

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