Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Brian's Story: Training for my first half-marathon

Brian's been a runner for almost 25 years, but never tried anything as ambitious as a half-marathon. Tomorrow, he'll attempt the longest race of his running career.

Brian's Story: Training for my first half-marathon

Sports Doc readers, my name is Brian Ferrie. I’m 37 years old, grew up in Cheltenham and now live in King of Prussia. Tomorrow I’ll run the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, my first-ever attempt to race 13.1 miles.

I’m far from a novice runner. I started running on my own when I was 13, did four years of cross-country in high school, and have never really let myself fall out of decent running shape since then.

Here’s the catch. When I was about 20, I experienced my first bout with iliotibial (IT) band tendonitis in my right knee, and it has greatly impacted how I train and race ever since. For those who aren’t familiar, IT band tendonitis tends to start as a dull ache on the side of the knee when running, and worsen as running is continued. In my case, the pain became so severe it basically took all the fun out of running.

For a while, I tried all kinds of things to make it go away, including prolonged rest, icing, protective knee straps and Ibuprofen. But whenever I tried to return to a daily running routine, the pain returned as well. Finally, I reached some level of acceptance about my condition. I realized that the pain seemed manageable as long as I didn’t run on consecutive days or exceed about 3 miles when I did run. So I grudgingly decided that as long as I biked and stayed active through my softball and touch-football teams, I wouldn’t dwell on the fact I could only run a few miles when I did hit the trail.

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Training for my first half-marathon: Brian's journey

That mindset basically defined my running for about 15 years. I’d regularly run road races (usually about 5 to 10 a year) but they were almost always 5K’s. On those occasions when I tried to take on a 4- or 5-mile race, my knee reminded me why I didn’t push beyond that. Even a 10K seemed out of reach. A half marathon? Out of the question.

But a few factors combined to change my perspective over the past couple years. First, I decided to step away from playing softball and football, so I suddenly had a lot more free time. Second, I became gripped by a drive to get into great shape; no longer satisfied with the pretty good shape I’d been in for years.

Finally, I noticed how the popularity had exploded of long-distance races like Broad Street, the half marathon and marathon. These races were once the domain of only hardcore runners. Now people with little to no running background were training to take them on and succeeding. So I took it as a personal challenge to stop letting my knee hold me back and run a half marathon myself.

This wasn’t just a mind-over-matter issue though. I knew I had a legitimate condition and if I was going to overcome it, I needed to try some new approaches. So I did a little research and have added two key tools to my toolkit for combatting IT band inflammation.

The first was shortening my stride, because I read that keeping it more underneath my center of gravity would decrease stress on my knee and likely soften impact as well.

The second was buying a foam roller and using it regularly to loosen up my hamstrings, quads and IT bands (which actually run all the way up to the hips).

The result? Combined with the other measures I’ve tried over the years, I can honestly say these new tactics have helped me run training mileage and tackle race distances I thought were forever closed off to me. From the 8.4-Mile Loop Race on Kelly Drive last November, to the King of Prussia 10-Miler this May, culminating with tomorrow’s half marathon.

I still don’t run on consecutive days. That’s OK though since I weight-train on the days I don’t run. And my knee does still hurt sometimes. But when it happens I just ice, pop an Ibuprofen and get back out there again a couple days later. Last Sunday, I stepped onto the Schuylkill Trail in Conshohocken and did a 90-minute run for the first time since high school. Since then, I’ve tapered by running the 5-mile loop at Valley Forge Park on Tuesday and Thursday. Today on the eve of the race, I’m just riding the exercise bike a little in my apartment and stretching, wanting to feel rested and ready. My goal is to not only finish the half marathon, but run it at 8-minute-mile pace.

I think I’ve trained enough. Tomorrow I’ll find out for sure. It’s go time.


Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness.

About this blog

Whether you are a weekend warrior, an aging baby boomer, a student athlete or just someone who wants to stay active, this blog is for you. Read about our growing list of expert contributors here.

Brian Cammarota, MEd, ATC, CSCS, CES Partner at Symetrix Sports Performance
Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS Co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Michael G. Ciccotti, M.D. Head Team Physician for Phillies & St. Joe's; Rothman Institute
Julie Coté, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT Magee Rehabilitation Hospital
Peter F. DeLuca, M.D. Head Team Physician for Eagles, Head Orthopedic Surgeon for Flyers; Rothman Institute
Joel H. Fish, Ph.D. Director of The Center For Sport Psychology; Sports Psychology Consultant for 76ers & Flyers
R. Robert Franks, D.O. Team Physician for USA Wrestling, Consultant for Phillies; Rothman Institute
Ashley B. Greenblatt, ACE-CPT Certified Personal Trainer, The Sporting Club at The Bellevue
Eugene Hong, MD, CAQSM, FAAFP Team Physician for Drexel, Philadelphia Univ., Saint Joe’s, & U.S. National Women’s Lacrosse
Martin J. Kelley, PT, DPT, OCS Advanced Clinician at Penn Therapy and Fitness, Good Shepherd Penn Partners
Julia Mayberry, M.D. Attending Hand & Upper Extremity Surgeon, Main Line Hand Surgery P.C.
Jim McCrossin, ATC Strength and Conditioning Coach, Flyers and Phantoms
Kevin Miller Fitness Coach, Philadelphia Union
Heather Moore, PT, DPT, CKTP Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales, Pa.
Kelly O'Shea Senior Health Producer, Philly.com
Tracey Romero Sports Medicine Editor, Philly.com
David Rubenstein, M.D. Team Orthopedist for 76ers; Main Line Health Lankenau Medical Center
Robert Senior Event coverage, Sports Doc contributor
Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC Athletic Trainer for US Soccer Federation; Aria 3B Orthopaedic Institute
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