Burning Runner: Restoring Body Balance

T.J. is flushing out his weaknesses and restoring balance and range of motion back to his body.

T.J. is flushing out his weaknesses and restoring balance and range of motion back to his body.

Written by: T.J. Murphy

A few weeks ago I wrote a story about Chris Solinsky, American record holder for the 10,000 meters. When I was originally talking to him, he mentioned an anecdote about Matt Tegenkamp, sub 13-minute 5K star, and how Tegenkamp battled injuries by doing the unthinkable: actually taking a relatively long break from running to get everything truly straightened out from an injury-prevention standpoint. Solinsky said that the strategy worked for his Oregon Track Club teammate—that he didn’t suffer from the break but actually came back stronger. Hearing that story helped me embrace the program I’m now on to overhaul my mechanics and my body in hopes of enabling some good running in the future.

On Wednesday I worked with C.J. Martin, owner of Crossfit Invictus in downtown San Diego, on this very program. The way Martin sees it, running injuries tend to produce “asymmetries” in the body that will often send a runner into the never-ending injury spiral, a spiral that I very much have experienced. If an injury isn’t properly or thoroughly rehabbed, as Martin suggested, muscle imbalances and weaknesses will take root with compensatory effects (eg, the strong leg makes up for the weaker leg), and damage is inevitable to a runner trying to click off weeks of high mileage.

The exercises Martin has been teaching me are typically simple bodyweight and balance exercises where you work one side or the other. For example, standing on a box with one foot while the other hangs over the side, conducting a one-legged squat. I’ve been shocked at how much more difficult it is, both in strength and range of motion, between being on my right leg versus my left leg.

Sensing these weaknesses has further committed me to the process, and right now I’m substituting rowing for running to get in conditioning (with a lot of emphasis on technique—making sure I’m using my legs and back properly to get in the right work). This week C.J. noted them I’m making progress in this incremental game of flushing out weaknesses and is clearing me to perform more workouts per week.

In the past I’m sure I would have been freaking out about taking this long of a break from running. But I honestly didn’t know the depth of the various compensation problems and weaknesses. I recall my visit in December to Kelly Starrett, physical therapist and former professional kayaker, who explained how much range of motion I was missing in relation to my right knee and what it was costing me in terms of performance.

“Are you really OK with that?” he asked.

Apparently I’m not.


T.J. Murphy is the Editorial Director of Competitor Magazine. A 2:38 marathoner and five-time Ironman finisher, he is the former editorial director of Triathlete Magazine and Inside Triathlon. His writing has also appeared in Outside Magazine and Runner’s World.