Dealing with the IT Band and Running Long Distances – Rest, Stretching and Wrapping

I’ve been training for a marathon for a while now. As it gets closer, I’ve been doing the longer runs – 12, 14 and 18 miles. I have run a couple of half marathons and they weren’t easy but they went well. Three weeks ago I ran 18 miles – the longest I’ve ever run. This was pretty rough and definitely pushed me. My 9-year-old son, Anders, was a most excellent helper. He rides his bike along side me and carries the gatorade and snacks in a bag on his handlebars. Very convenient. My strategy as of late has been to run ten minutes and walk one. I wasn’t able to sustain that on the 18 mile run – Toward the end I started walking longer periods but I felt pretty good all in all.

Two weeks ago I set out on a Saturday to run 14 miles. It seemed like it would be easy after having run 18. About 2.5 miles in, I started to experience a sharp pain on the outside of my right knee. It felt like there was a string running down that outside area by my knee that was pulling. It wasn’t super intense or debilitating. but it didn’t feel right. I decided to keep running and see if it got better. After another mile, it didn’t change at all. I decided that running another ten miles like that would only aggravate it so I told my son we were done for the day and we headed back.

I told my neighbor about the pain and he said “Did it kick in after a few miles? Does it only hurt when you’re running, not when you’re walking? Yup, it’s the IT Band.”

I happen to live next to a chiropractor and a physical therapist, so I asked them about it and it and found out that the IT Band runs from the length of your leg and is commonly aggravated by long distance running. They suggested some stretches to help it out. The main one involved placing my right foot to the left of my left foot (from behind) then jutting my hips out to the right and leaning my upper body to the left. I’m not sure why but they had me hold my hands out as if holding a tray as well. Maybe that was just to see if I would do it. Anyway, that stretch really works the outside right thigh area, including where the IT Band is. I did this several times throughout the following week and didn’t run at all. Mostly because I’m lazy.

I skipped my Saturday run the following week (last week) as well. I rode my bike to work and back a few times (17 miles) but that’s about it. I rested.

Yesterday I decided it was time to give it a go and see what happens. My son and I set out for a run of undetermined length. To prepare, I did my weird tray-holding stretches beforehand and I did some leg lifts, knee lifts and other stretches to get things warmed up. I don’t usually do this but I felt it would be good. I also wrapped my leg with tape a couple of inches above the knee. I read online about doing this and I’ve never tried such a thing. I just used regular ol’ medical tape because that’s what we had. I wrapped it tight, but not tourniquet tight. It felt a little restrictive for the first 5-8 minutes of running but then it was not even noticeable at all.

Wrapping the leg for IT Band injuries
Wrapping the leg for IT Band injuries – this is what the wrap looked like 18 miles later.

To my delight, the IT band never bothered me. I kept waiting for the pain to kick in but it never did. I had missed a 20 mile run from the prior week and I was feeling good so I ran ten miles out and was still OK. We turned around and headed back to the starting point and around mile 12 or 13 I really started to feel out of whack in a few places, but not my IT Band. My right foot was hurting, so was my left calf, right knee and right hip. I figured these were pretty normal considering I’m a novice runner and was running further than I ever had in my life. By mile 14 or so I was in bad shape, starting to take some extended periods to walk and slow it down. My mile 16 or 17 I was hurting pretty good. I called my wife and asked her to come to my rescue. She packed the other three kids in the van and came and got me. I love her. I clocked the distance afterward and saw that we had gone 18.04 miles. No IT Band issues. My foot on the other hand… I have been limping since then and it’s not feeling good. I may have to have it looked at if it doesn’t get better in the next day or two here. As amazingly cool as I look with a gimpy limp, I think I’d like to get that thing checked out.

So that’s my very brief experience with IT band issues. On my next run, which is only 8 miles this Saturday, I plan on wrapping my leg again and doing some stretches. For me, it did the trick. T minus 16 days until the marathon. My goal is simply to complete it. I’ve been averaging a leisurely 11 or 12 minutes per mile so it’s going to take me a while to get through it but get through it I will. Unless my foot is broken. That won’t work. I’ll keep you posted.

Rock on,

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