“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Although I hate the word “ain’t,” I used to live by this phrase when it came to running.
In 2005, my friend Ashley asked me if I wanted to run a 25K with her. I had never been a runner, and I had no desire to be a runner. In fact, I played basketball and softball in high school specifically because of the lack of distance running involved in either of those sports. But, in a moment of weakness, I accidentally said “sure” to her request. We were juniors in college and I still hadn’t worked off the “Freshman 40,” so maybe subconsciously I thought this would be a good way to continue eating large amounts of food without gaining more weight. Not being a runner (or European) I didn’t even know how long a 25K was. I half-heartedly ran 2-3 miles a couple days a week, did a 5k to figure out what it was like to stand at a starting line, threw in a “long run”, and called it good. I figured if I could run 3.1 miles then I could definitely do 15.6 miles. I’ve never been very good at math… After a cold rainy race, hating life for about 12.5 of those miles, I was hooked. We immediately signed up for the Detroit Marathon that fall. That was the start of my running addiction.
I am not the type of person that runs just to stay in shape and be healthy. I am competitive and need a to constantly be training for a race, so we continued to sign up for a few half and full marathons over the course of the next 7 years. I lost some weight, lowered my cholesterol (despite not eating Cheerios), and just felt better about life.
In 2012 I took a part-time job at Playmakers, while concurrently working at my “real job” as a Certified Athletic Trainer at a physical therapy clinic and high school. Upon starting at Playmakers, one of the physical therapists I worked with asked what I thought about Good Form Running. I told her I thought it might help some people, but for me personally, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I wasn’t a GFR hater, but I also didn’t feel like it was that big of a deal, nor had I seen scientific confirmation that it was healthier to run that way.
At the time, I was running 5 or 6 days a week while training for the Bayshore Marathon. I was coming back from these 3-4 milers and didn’t want to sit down, knowing that the minute I did, my lower back would lock up on me. I thought it was normal to have pain when you were training for a marathon. Doesn’t every runner feel this? I diagnosed myself with classic sacroiliac dysfunction and kept training.
Being an ATC, I had a few tricks up my sleeve for SI dysfunction. I began stretching my hamstrings, doing some low back exercises, and strengthening my core. I still was in denial that my form had anything to do with it. After a few weeks of denying pain, and then trying to fix my pain with stretching and strengthening, I returned from a run to realize my husband, Rich, had planned an intervention for me. “You keep saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but I think you’re actually ‘broke’ at this point,” he told me. He had taken a GFR class when I made him start running with me, but I was a veteran runner at this point, so I clearly didn’t need to take the class with him. He recommended/insisted that I take a class.
I responded with what every husband loves to hear from his wife… “Fine.”
Three simple points: posture, landing, and lean. How hard could this be? After a few drills, I suddenly realized why I had so much low back pain. I was the classic “checkmark” or “common running form” person: landing hard on my heel, knee locked out, way out in front of my center of gravity. Try that: stand up, straighten your knees so they are completely locked out, and jump and land on your heel. It isn’t good, don’t do it again. But essentially that is what I was doing with every step I took. Basically every time I ran a marathon, I was shunting force through my foot, ankle, knee, hip, and low back about 36,000 times (150 steps/min, 240 minutes of running). Then take into account all the 3, 5, 18, 20 mile training runs in between the races… So try this: stand back up, put a slight bend in your knees, and jump and land on your entire foot (almost like it’s pancake-flat). Mind. Blown. My problem was solved. Just start landing on my midfoot, underneath my center of gravity, with a soft knee!
Six months later, I finally think I broke my “common form” habits. I heard somewhere it takes you 100 times to learn a new habit, but 1000 times to break a habit and form a new one. Not sure the validity of that statement, but it sounds like it should be true? Anyway, it took a while, but I eventually “got it” and ended up cutting 30 minutes off my marathon time (yes, more than 1 min/mile faster), my back pain vanished, and I actually liked running because it took less effort and was less painful.
I’m a believer. I tell people “I drank the GFR kool-aid.” If you were a patient of mine during the 6 years I worked in physical therapy, I am sorry for letting you think you should land on your heel. It wasn’t just a ploy to keep you injured for job security purposes, I promise. It was just stubbornness and ignorance that something better was out there. There is more scientific backing at this point, but I don’t even need it. It personally changed my life. Yes, that is a heavy statement, and I stand by it.
“If it ain’t broke, figure out how to keep it that way” doesn’t have them same ring to it, but I think it’s a much better philosophy.