Lexie Runs

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Hips Don’t Lie: Running with Hip Dysplasia

I know; I’m angry that I’m using a Shakira reference too. My musical taste is better than that. Unfortunately, The National are yet to write any songs about hips or hip dysplasia so I was at a loss.

Quite a lot of my (running) life is spent complaining about a dodgy hip. Every time I mention it, people helpfully jump in with all sorts of solutions. I hear tales of physiotherapists and cross-training and pilates and strengthening exercises. That’s wonderful and I love the support of the running community, but inwardly I sigh. My problems stem from something called hip dysplasia, which nobody has ever heard of and I have to repeatedly explain. It means the mechanics of my hip are slightly different and so whilst yes, all of those solutions help, it isn’t quite so straightforward.

Hip Dysplasia - Anatomy of the hip

Anatomy of a regular hip, (c) International Hip Dysplasia Institute

What is hip dysplasia?

In short, the hip is a “ball and socket” joint and is the largest of its type in the human body. The ball fits in the socket and allows free rotation of the joint. With hip dysplasia, either the joint is malformed and the wrong shape, or sits in the wrong position. Either causes increased force and creates abnormal wear and tear on the cartilage that lines the hip socket.

Nobody is certain about the exact causes of hip dysplasia. In my case, it’s thought that it was because I was a breech baby. It seems apt, considering I’ve spent the 27 years since my birth falling arse over tit on a reasonably frequent basis. Young bodies are malleable and during my birth, my hips got forced inwards, distorting the joint forever.

Hip dysplasia - feet turning in

I can actually still walk, pain free, while my feet are like this

This meant that as a child, I would turn my left foot inwards at a near 90-degree angle. I also couldn’t sit cross-legged in a school assembly for more than about 5 seconds without pain. To this day it’s a revolting party trick, that I can walk with my feet at 180 degrees. On a day to day basis, it’s no longer that severe, although I’m noticeably a little pigeon toed and it gets increasingly noticeable as I get more tired. Some friends have claimed not to notice it until I point it out. Sometimes people on the street notice it and stare.

It is the only thing I remember being bullied about at school. I blame Ant and Dec for having a segment on SM:TV Live entitled “Wonky Donkey”; I seethe when they win the National Television Awards each year.

How it affects my running

Note foot/leg turning in at bizarre angle

It’s the one characteristic I remain incredibly self-conscious about on a consistent basis. This has actually got worse since I started running because for the first time since home videos of my childhood, I’ve seen it captured on film. Almost every race has some level of photography and the bigger road races often provide video footage of you finishing. Seeing me sprint for a finish line is akin to a newborn lamb scampering along – limbs everywhere, all going in different directions. I have, on more than one occasion, burst into tears at seeing quite how ridiculous my legs appear when captured on camera. That is an overstated reaction and I won’t pretend otherwise; you have to remember I’m mad.

I can’t truly comment on how it affects my running because I’ve never experienced the alternative. It seems logical that a joint lacking optimal fluidity should have a negative impact on the mechanics of running. I’ve certainly compensated in other ways and that this has created some imbalances. I have general stability issues that stem from my hip and fall over a lot, repeatedly damaging the left ankle. Pain often kicks in at around 8-10 miles in my left hip to the point where even walking becomes agonising. I can’t sleep on my left side the night following a race. A lot of time is spent trying to hammer out what are “standard” problems and what is an unavoidable consequence of my hip and searching for workarounds. Really, I could probably do with a coach who understands dysplasia and can rebuild my technique to account for it.

The future

The twist in my hip means that my leg moves in a different way from most people. Realistically, I’ll spend the rest of my running days with unwavering devotion to strengthening exercises and physio trying to manage it because else I’m immediately in huge amounts of discomfort. There is no way of correcting the condition aside from surgery to attempt to reorient the joint. One or both hips will require replacement in the future, at a much younger age than is considered normal. Until that day, here’s another odd and grossly disturbing party trick of mine as a result of hip dysplasia:

But if you’re all about the destination, then take a f*cking flight

I am injured again. No saga, it wasn’t even a running injury. I’m just a grown woman who manages to fall down the stairs with alarming frequency and on this occasion, rolled her ankle in the process. screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-19-36-40It took a couple of days for reasonably severe swelling and bruising to show but almost two weeks later that swelling is still refusing to fully recede. I’m not in pain but am occasionally getting odd twinges of shooting discomfort through my foot. It’s going to be a while longer before I risk running.

All runners despise being injured don’t they? Injuries cause stress and complaints and we think of nothing but when will we be able to run again. HA, no, not this girl! I’m ace at being injured; I practically revel in it. Lazing around in the warm, watching Netflix instead of putting in the miles in the cold? I’m amazed more of us aren’t self-sabotaging; I probably subconsciously throw myself down the stairs so I can justify not running.

I’m (mostly) joking but we do have a tendency to catastrophize and treat injury as a death knoll instead of an inevitable part of our journey as runners. Considering it’s likely to come to us all, I try to view injury as a detour rather than a delay. I do wonder if several years of shoddy mental health has helped me develop this attitude. Running is usually my coping mechanism for anxiety and so you would expect me to fall apart without it. The thing is, I’ve had years of not being able to do the things I ought to, or want to do. The days of not being able to get out of bed, of missing work, of flaking on social commitments because leaving the house is too terrifying a prospect. It’s frustrating and misery-inducing but it’s also a part of my life and so I’m bizarrely calm and practical about not running. Would I like to have run today? Yes, but what’s one more thing that I can’t do because of my health? It’s an odd sort of resilience that I wish I didn’t have but it saves me that additional layer of angst.

“I’m awful at not doing anything” is a common refrain from injured runners but there’s still a lot you can be doing whilst injured. Here are five things contributing to my running during any period where I can’t physically run (because remember, it’s only a detour to your journey):

1. RELAXING

I know, it’s difficult. You’re terrible at doing nothing. Sometimes it can be beneficial to take the pressure off of ourselves. There’s a physical toll that comes from the endless procession of races. Not only that, but I find that I experience an emotional toll of constantly training for something, of constantly feeling that I should be aiming for a PB. This mindset matches up with when injuries induced by running seem to occur. I suspect lacking motivation and feeling tired means I neglect strength work and let my form slip and before long, I’m injured and have taken myself out of contention.

With the pressure of racing or attempting a PB gone, I then tend to do my best running. My favourite races and PBs, they’ve come on days when I expected nothing. A good chunk of running is mental exercise – the will to carry on when it hurts, dragging ourselves out in bad weather, and yes, not caving to pressure on race day. That last one is a particular weakpoint for me and so being set back by injury and thinking there’s no chance of getting a PB? That can be just what I need to prosper.

2. TRYING

Running gets to be a reasonably intensive process, doesn’t it? We’re training 3-4 times a week, if not more frequently. Throw in the odd bit of cross-training and the strength work that we all know we should be doing and you find that you’ve run out of time to pick up anything new. I’ll admit to being resolutely unimaginative with my cross-training; you’ll find me in the pool. The majority of friends supplement their running with a bit of cycling. Very few of us are venturing out of that box of triathlon components.

Unless you’ve had surgery and are waiting for stitches to heal, there are reasonably few injuries that are going to fully put you out of action. Throwing yourself into something new can distract you from the frustration of not running, keep your cardiovascular fitness up, and strengthen muscle groups that perhaps you’ve unknowingly neglected with your standard routine. Try something new and it could become an important part of your running routine.

In the past year I’ve been bouldering, rowing and kayaking and on one particualrly ridiculous day attempted aerial yoga, but I’m blessed enough to have lived in London and had the capital’s resources at my feet. There are still far more activities that I’d like to dip a toe into when running isn’t taking up my time. And that is how I very recently signed up for a course that is legitimately titled “Ballet For Grown Ups”. Hilarity to follow.

3. VOLUNTEERING

I’ve written before about the benefits I experience from volunteering at parkrun. I definitely don’t volunteer often enough; when I get into a good rhythm with my running it’s too satisfying to watch the times fall week on week.

southwark parkrun

Volunteering at Southwark Park

Injury is a good reason to fit in a block of volunteering and do your good deed for the year. We all know that parkrun can’t take place without the volunteers who selflessly give up their chance to run that week and we’re all incredibly thankful for them. Yet every week, emails and twitter appeals go out from parkruns up and down the country in search of more volunteers just so that events can take place.

Similarly, if injury keeps you from a planned race, then races also need volunteers. They are huge logistical events and we should give more thought to the people who hand us water and push shiny medals into our sweaty little hands. An increasing number of races offer a free race place for the following year if you volunteer in some capacity so you can console yourself that you’re just delaying the race rather than missing it.

It’s also a sneaky way to watch other runners. How often do we do that? Stand back and properly take in what other runners are doing, how they hold themselves, how they move. You’ll spot behaviours that you think look awkward – for me it’s always how other runners use their arms – and give more thought to what you do yourself.

Volunteering has kept me actively involved in the running community when I could easily curl up at home and isolate myself. Friends deserve my support even though I can’t run, and it makes you all the more appreciative of what goes on behind the scenes to allow you to run at these amazing events. Next Saturday I still won’t be running but I will be volunteering at Guildford parkrun, my new local.

4. LEARNING

Most of what I know about the human mind, chemistry and happiness has been discovered through anxiety, depression and sobbing in my therapist’s office. Similarly, most of what I know about physiology and how running “works” is from physio appointments, trying not to scream during sports massages and staring at diagrams of muscles, trying desperately to understand exactly why pain is occurring. We only look at the mechanics behind something once it’s broken and we need to work out how to fix it. This is why I’m repeatedly amazed every time that an injury is actually caused by a weakness elsewhere.

The human foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons. The 52 bones in your feet make up about 25 percent of all the bones in your body. That’s an awful lot of numbers without even considering your legs, what your arms are doing, how your core is supporting all that. There is so much happening with every step we run and we don’t necessarily give that any consideration. Maybe we don’t need to, but I do think that the more I learn, the more self-awareness I gain. That now when a niggle hits, I (vaguely!) understand what’s happening and as a result I can counteract it and prevent more serious problems from developing. It doesn’t always work and it will never be foolproof but I’m still learning.

5. APPRECIATING

The moment I most want to go for a run is precisely 25 seconds after I’ve realised an injury is going to stop me running. I’m contrary like that. The human body is an incredible, terrifying, wondrous thing and we should applaud it and revel in it, even when it’s not behaving quite as we’d like. I’m spending a lot of this current injury period trying to be thankful that I’m just being set back from something amazing that I’m capable of doing 90% of the time.

When I finally get back to running, I know that my fitness will have been annihilated and all the speed progress I was making will be lost. Again. But that first run back is going to be glorious and freeing and I hope I can capture that feeling for a while longer. Appreciate what your body can do, because it may not always be able to do it.

Well God knows I’ve failed but He knows that I’ve tried

The blog has been on hold of late. As some of you know, I made some fairly drastic changes to my life this summer. After spending my entire career so far working in law in varying capacities, and a couple of years in London, I finally accepted that I wasn’t happy and that no job, boyfriend or any amount of running was going to fix that. I tried so hard to make it work because I was afraid that leaving law and/or London would mean that I’d failed but neither of those is right for me at present and that’s okay.

I’ve moved to Surrey, CsFbAxjWIAAn0lA.jpgabout halfway between my life in London and my beloved south coast in Hampshire. I’m only 40 minutes on the train from Waterloo (as opposed to 20 when I lived in Wimbledon, so hardly the ends of the earth!). I have easy access to so many beautiful trails and the North Downs Way is only a few miles from my front door. I’m now the Marketing & Development Manager of a charitable organisation just outside Guildford, only months after questioning why I wasn’t doing just that. It’s tough starting again. I don’t have friends here and there have been a few nights of crying about feeling lonely and worrying that I’ve done the wrong thing but that will settle.

So, to running. I must be doing loads of it, what with my newly found work/life balance and access to beautiful countryside. Actually, no, much like this blog, the running has also been on hold partly because I’ve been questioning my participation in the running community and its effect on me. I recently reread a piece that Gary wrote for Run247 about Strava and whether it influences the hows and whys of our running. Are we upping the distance, the pace, the elevation, because of how it will be perceived on Strava, rather than because that’s what we want or because it’s a sensible approach to our running? It’s called the Hawthorne Effect, in which we modify our behaviour in response to being observed.

Running is supposed to help control my anxiety but of late I’ve found that anxiety is controlling my running. I worry that people are seeing my uploads to Strava and judging me for not running further, for not running more frequently, for not running faster, for how high my heart rate is. That isn’t true of course, it’s a mixture of severe anxiety and a touch of narcissism to think anybody cares. Still, I stroll back from failed runs wondering: what will make me more of a #stravawanker, auto-uploading the 1km run where I cried and didn’t have the heart to carry on, or deleting it and presenting a curated perspective of my running? I’m finding it hard to run well when I’m devoting precious energy to a cycle of self-obsessed worrying.

All of social media gets a bit narcissistic though, doesn’t it? Blogs and tweets eventually morph from ways to engage and share content, to becoming attention-seeking extremes. Perhaps because all runners have a slightly competitive nature whether against each other or themselves. Runs suddenly become brilliant or terrible; there are some who seemingly never experience an average run. “I went for a run today and it was absolutely fine” doesn’t make a story, and if you’re shouting into a void of millions, it’s stories that get picked up. That tiny niggle following a couple of miles becomes DOMS or requires ice and KT tape. The next run is a comeback and is carefully documented as such on Strava, and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Run, report, repeat.

It’s easy to get addicted to the attention that comes to those stories and so it self-perpetuates which is why we all know people who now can’t get home from a run without uploading 4 posed-but-natural selfies over every channel available. If you don’t share what is essentially the exact same photo of your face, in your living room, every time you run, how will anybody know that you’re a dedicated runner? Even though the photo doesn’t involve the people you ran with, the place you were running or indeed anything else that documents that time/day/run in any way whatsoever. If your run is spent wondering how you’ll present it to the masses on Twitter and Instagram, it becomes less about enjoying running and more about enjoying your own narcissism. Which is fine, you do you, but I don’t particularly want to follow you and don’t pretend that you’re talking about running instead of “look at me! look at me!”

It’s all left me feeling uneasy of late and I’ve had to curate who I follow and who I allow to follow me because the way that some people use social media to talk about running brings out the worst in me. Anxiety leaves me overly introspective. I am prone to catastrophise. I worry a lot. I seek validation and praise (honestly, try working with me, I thrive on praise). Seeing that unhealthy behaviour endorsed in others is not a good example to me and is harming my running and my mental health.

This isn’t to disparage the use of social media or the blog community as a whole. I still think it’s ace and 98% of the people I have met through it, aren’t affected by this post.

13315319_10154051901741488_3117058541793639544_n

Acceptable selfie, because it commemorates a time and place and people. It is not me alone in my living room.

I would never have met two of my absolute favourite girls if it weren’t for Twitter and now Fiona and Jodie are the first people I’ll go to about great runs and terrible runs, about boy problems and career moves, and the day won’t come where I see them and don’t take 20 photos. I love reading Carl’s reasonably new blog because it’s so refreshing to read something so measured and to see enduring positivity when faced with injuries. I haven’t seen my friend Owen in person since the year after university, but when I was first contemplating leaving London, it was envying the photos he takes while running on the South Downs and the south coast that really started to sway me. I could go on and on with recommendations of great accounts to follow. I adore every one of you who checks up on me to see how my new life is going, how injuries have healed and how races went. I still want to see every single photo of every medal you all get, all the beautiful views you see on your runs (preferably location tagged!), and your gloriously sweaty faces beaming in delight on trails and by landmarks. I’m just bored of people who use running as a way to indulge their need for attention and who tenuously connect unrelated content in order to tap into the running community.

When I moved house I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying which encourages you to discard items that don’t “spark joy” and I’m trying to apply that approach to running and how I talk about it. From here on, I want to post more photos that spark joy in my followers (so expect a lot more views of the Surrey Hills). I want to write content that people enjoy, although I accept that this blog is partially about mental health and isn’t always easy to enjoy. On those days, I hope it’s helping someone. And I want to be honest with what I say, no more catastrophizing, or exaggerating. So to end, this week I went for a run and it was absolutely fine.

(N.B. If you’re seething because you think this post is about you, then it probably is. I make no apology for that; if you decide that a post about narcissism is about you then you’ve proven my point with delicious irony.)

 

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