Wednesday, May 30, 2012


When I last left you riveted by the Chinese water torture that is the story of rehabbing my back, I was feeling down in the dumps because it still hurts, more than I think it should after almost three months of physical therapy, no outdoor running or spin class and lots of strengthening exercises for my abs and glutes.

It's like one of those never-ending video games, where you achieve a new level or find a new token....only to learn that the ultimate Holy Grail remains elusive.You start to wonder if you'll ever get there, or if you should even be bothering.

Well, no video game addict would ever stop looking....and neither will this running addict. Yesterday I received a new token, a new tool in the quest: a one-on-one Pilates lesson with Patty at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, who is also one of the physiotherapists who supervises me on the Alter-G. I don't want to be overly optimistic (that's not really in my nature anyway), but I'm feeling good about this for two reasons:

1) Patty is not only the only Pilates instructor that Cathy, my physical therapist, wants me to see, but she is also a Boston Marathon qualified runner, a mom and a recovering sacro-iliac joint issue survivor herself. She understands this problem not only academically, but personally (in fact, she says hers still bugs her if she overdoes it working in her garden). She also has a good sense of humor and hung up my kid's picture of a train at her desk at work.

2) Jessica of Pace of Me and Dimity of Another Mother Runner both say Pilates done right was THE magic spell that freed them from the curse of their own back and hip issues. First-hand endorsements from athletes I can't beat that.

Patty had me warm up with some Kegals. Pregnant and formerly pregnant ladies will remember those. Apparently, not only do they help with incontinence issues (thankfully I don't have those, though I know some runners do), but they improve pelvic floor strength and thus support the back. I need to be doing them all the time, boosting them as I go by imagining my sit bones moving closer to each other with each squeeze.

As I lay on my back doing Kegals, we talked about which exercises in my current routine seem to exacerbate my pain. This was easy for me to answer: the standing glute exercises and the seated-on-a-Swiss-ball leg raises. Patty counseled me to do only one of the standing glute exercises per day until I identify the one that truly makes my pain worse. She suspects it's the one where I swing my leg out to the side--but time will tell.

She then modified one of the exercises Cathy had given me for my abs. For the "laying on my back marching" one I am supposed to slow down and really concentrate on two things: 1) using my abs to lower the leg as well as raise it (this already makes a HUGE difference in how this feels to my back) and 2) exhaling on the raise and inhaling on the lowering. I'm supposed to do the Swiss ball lifts (carefully) with the same focus. She said to think of there being a puppet string from my lower abdomen to my knee. I have to really concentrate on this--my quads really wanted to help.

Patty also suggested I do this exercise lying length-wise on a foam roller. This makes it harder, but also more obvious when I arch my back.

I also have one new ab exercise: the Pilates Hundreds. If you Google this exercise, you'll see the more advanced "real" version, done with legs straight and elevated. That's not the one I'll be doing. My version has me on my back, knees bent in sit-up position and feet on the floor. I then raise my torso to about bra level and do the pulses. I'm also not doing a hundred pulses. Right now, I'm to do four sets of five inhales and five exhales.

The breathing is key for all of this--and I'm very bad at it. Patty says learning breathing control will help my running, too. That makes me more likely to stick with these latest modifications. I've gotten really good at visualizing finishing a strong marathon, or crossing the finish line in Boston with my new abs and buns of steel. It's still a fantasy, but with each squeeze I feel a tiny bit closer.


  1. Oh this is wonderful! I'm sorry that your recovery is taking such a long time and that you've been frustrated (and I don't blame you as I know I would feel the same), I am excited that you're now beginning to incorporate Pilates into your "tool box" and I believe with all my heart that it will help. The exercises are simple yet so hard when done right and they really help increase self awareness too - retraining our minds as well as our muscles. I am confident this is a good road to be heading down. It also sounds as though you have an excellent teacher and support all around you, which is so important. Hang in there, friend! This IS going to make you stronger and you will get through this!

  2. Kegals strengthen your back...huh. Whodathunk.
    And I'm a complete mess with breathing, I don't have the patience to focus on it!

  3. I started going to Pilates last summer when I started back running (I even wrote a blog post about it, with my "7" looking leg and all :)) and it really helped my hamstring issue and got my core stronger.  I need to start going sidetracked with bootcamp at the same time.  Glad you're going and hope it helps a lot!!

  4. I thought I would never do Kegels again - but now...

    I'm really glad Patty is working with you!  Her help (and the pilates) sound like a great tool already!

  5. I am glad that you are getting lots of great help to get you back in the game.  I have always said that it "takes a village to keep a runner going!"

    Keep up the fabulous work!

  6. Sounds like you are getting good info for life long changes.  I like your video game analogy - one more token!!!     I've re-started Pilates because of you.  I'm sure my back will thank me (and you) in the long run.

  7. That's encouraging progress... Pilates really improved my core strength a few years ago, and since then I've been trying to maintain that strength on my own.  The 'hundreds' are a great exercise!  And good point on the breathing.  That's a nice side benefit of yoga as well.  I'm so glad you're getting so much personal attention! You will definitely conquer this! 

  8. Sounds good! I hope this really is a magic ticket for your recovery. You are so dedicated to getting better I just know you will.

  9. Fingers crossed that this will do the trick!

    I think it definitely helps to be seeing a practitioner who is also a runner. There is nothing worse than getting the automatic answer of "Just stop running."

    Hang in there!

  10. raina_smalltownrunnerJune 1, 2012 at 12:26 AM

    Oy...I am not versed in Pilates. Sure am glad you have Patty there for you! No doubt that all these rigors are going to get you in GREAT shape with form and balance.

  11. Keep visualizing and those steel abs and buns will indeed be crossing the line on Boyleston! I'm still in awe of the fabulous team you've put together to help in rehabbing this. I do love me some Pilates alas I haven't been to a class in eons. I do hundreds daily though.