Running Reader Q: My Knee Hurts When I Run. Should I Get a Brace?

Happy Knees Happy RunnerLaurel has recently returned to running after taking some time off to focus on getting a masters degree. “I was really into it, but I kept getting shin splints,” says Laurel. “When my schedule got tighter with classes, I sort of stopped working a run into my day because it was painful anyway.”

Now, she’s back—the diploma is on her wall and she’s moved to a new city where running routes abound! “I’m excited about running again,” she says. “I’m ramping up slowly, but now my left knee is starting to bother me. Should I start wearing a brace?”

I’m a big believer in listening to your body. Pain is a message that something is wrong. Rather than trying to mask it with a brace, I think Laurel needs to figure out what’s really causing the problem—especially since she’s had injuries in the past. To double-check my diagnosis, I reached out to New York City-based rehabilitation specialist Nadya Swedan, M.D.

Dr. Swedan, what could be causing Laurel’s knee pain? “It sounds like she’s experiencing patellofemoral knee pain, also known as runner’s knee. The associated pain could be stemming from a couple of places—she may have injured the cartilage beneath the kneecap, or it could be tendonitis. Everyone runs differently, so depending on her gait Laurel could have gotten runner’s knee because her leg muscles are weak or imbalanced, or the muscles and tendons connected to the knee have become tight from overuse. A tight IT band, or tight quads and hamstrings are often the culprits.”

How do you feel about braces and compression bands? Would they help Laurel? “Those braces and bands are sporting goods store solutions, and I would never recommend them. Sure, using one takes the tension off the power tendon around the joint, but it would be dangerous to slide one on and continue running. It would become a crutch for Laurel—soon she wouldn’t be able to run without it, because it would change the alignment of her knee and lead to injuries elsewhere. Her best bet is to focus on fixing the root of the problem with strength training and stretching.”  

What should she do to alleviate the pain? “Ice is her knee’s best friend. It will alleviate any swelling, decrease the inflammation, and help her body’s own healing mechanisms kick in. She could also take some ibuprofen, but I definitely don’t want her to pop a couple and then head out for a run—that might make her knee worse.” 

Can Laurel keep running? “She can run a little bit, nice and easy, but if the pain continues she should get off her feet. Cycling, with the bike seat raised a bit higher to take pressure off the knee, and the elliptical machine would be good cardio options for her. Rollerblading would also be really great right now, because it strengthens the inner and outer thigh muscles—areas that tend be weak in runners.”

Thanks, Dr. Swedan. I think Laurel will be happy to hear this!

Laurel is a smart cookie, so I’m pretty sure she’ll listen to her body and follow the doctor’s advice. (I just hope she doesn’t sign up for roller derby and find herself with a whole new set of injuries!)

Runner’s knee is super common—have you ever experienced it? What did you do to get rid of it? 

2012 Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon Recap: I Won! (Basically…)

You better believe I hung this baby on the wall!

When Michael K. Farrell sprained his ankle and asked me to do the third leg of his upcoming half-Ironman distance triathlon, I immediately said yes. I hadn’t trained to race 13.1 miles, but all I needed to do was finish. “Make it a long training run,” he said. I was nervous about running well, but my anxiety melted away when we arrived in Tupper Lake, NY. The sleepy little Adirondack town is like Xanax for even the most worry-riddled racer. That’s not to say the competition wasn’t intense—the relay team lineup for the 2012 Tupper Lake Tinman Triathlon on 30 June was fierce.

Windy conditions made for a choppy swim, and Michael K. Farrell swallowed a good amount of Tupper Lake. But he managed to regain his focus during the first transition. Waving away the bottle of Gatorade I held out, he jumped on his bike and was off. I saw him again two and half hours later for a brief 40 seconds, during which I ripped the Velcro strap with the timing chip off of his ankle, wrapped it around my own, and took off for the run.

Michael K. Farrell was second off the bike (he hammered the 56-mile out-and-back course!), which meant there was only one relay team ahead of us on the run. I didn’t think I’d be able to overtake that guy, but I was hoping to hold on to second place.

The first four miles were hot, lonely, and uphill. A woman on the sidelines shouted, “You’re the first girl!” as I rounded a corner, and I since I didn’t have the time or the energy to explain that I was a relay team so technically I wasn’t first, I simply shook my head. Michael K. Farrell jumped onto the course out of nowhere to lift my spirits. He reminded me to use the aid stations (“Dump all the water you can on yourself and take in some calories!”), and hobbled along by my side until the halfway point. (He said his ankle felt fine, but his gait was totally off.) By then I was feeling a lot better and I settled into a steady 9-minute pace. I was passed by a relay runner, pushing us into third place in my mind—still podium worthy, so I wasn’t all that upset.

I picked up speed in the last three miles, but still managed to get passed by a third relay runner just after the 12-mile marker. I was deflated. I felt like I had let Michael K. Farrell down (they don’t usually hand out hardware to fourth place finishers), yet I continued to push the pace.

I was psyched when I spotted Michael K. Farrell cheering on the sidelines up ahead–the end was near! He sprinted the last half mile with me and we crossed the finish line together. My watch stopped on 1:58:30*, and I had that satisfied, I-just-ran-a-half-marathon feeling.

Michael K. Farrell and I proudly accepted the award for 1st Place Co-Ed Relay. (I wanted to tell everyone it was the Cutest Couple award, but Michael K. Farrell wouldn’t let me—he thinks I need to be more modest.)

And then we learned we won! Turns out the three relay teams that finished ahead of us were made up of all men. We were the first co-ed team to cross the line! Thrilled and slightly dumbfounded (who knew there’d be awards for every category!?), I high-fived Michael K. Farrell and we shuffled off in search of dry clothes and sunscreen (I have a thing about reapplying every couple of hours).

Participating was a lot of fun, and showing the world that Michael K. Farrell and I make an award-winning team was exhilarating, but I still don’t have plans to take up swimming or cycling (outside of a spin studio). I’m more than happy to leave those legs to Michael K. Farrell, the best teammate a girl could have!

*The official results clocked my run at 1:59:30. I guess my watch decided to snooze for a minute.

Have you ever completed a triathlon? Do you swim or bike on your cross-training days?

Beyond Base Camp: My Mt. Everest And Annapurna Circuit Adventure

Trying to sum up 34 days of trekking in the Himalaya is pretty tough, which is why it’s taken me almost two weeks to write this post. The actual hiking wasn’t too difficult—if you can run, you can walk up (and down!) a few thousand meters. It was dealing with everything else along the journey—cold sleeping accommodations, cold showers, cold travel companions—that often proved challenging. Still, I managed to smile more often than not and I will always remember this trip as one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Here are a few note-worthy memories:

Bonding at 17,598 feet

Picnicking at Everest Base Camp You wouldn’t believe how great a peanut butter sandwich tastes when eaten after tip toeing through a rockslide zone and crossing a glacier. Dining with my FFEs (Friends For Everest’s) made the moment even more filling.

Om mani padme hum


Meeting a Buddhist monk Lama Tashi is 96 years old and lives at an altitude of about 4000 meters (13,120 feet) in a monastery carved into the side of a mountain. (Ahem, hill. In Nepal, it’s not a mountain if it’s less than 6000 meters.) He charged me Rs 100 to pray for my trek, and then I gave him another Rs 500 to bless the rest of my life. Best $7.68 I’ve ever spent!

I’ve got my hands full

Counting to five Experts say chatting with locals is the fastest way to pick up a foreign language. So when a couple of little girls decided they needed my help to walk home from school, I took advantage of the opportunity and got them to teach me a few words. I will always think of their smiles when I recite: Ek, Dui, Tin, Cahr, Panc.

Flushed with fever

Catching pneumonia Getting sick overseas might seem like a bad thing, but it really wasn’t that terrible. I learned that even when I have a fever, can’t stop coughing, and might have fractured a rib (the pain was insane!), I could still hike to the next guesthouse… and the next one… and the one three days later. I feel nearly invincible! (Nearly. My body was so wrecked that I slept for four days straight when I finally got home.)

Biking to Bhaktapur File this under: “What was I thinking?” Even though I had been diagnosed with a lung infection and was on medication that warned against operating heavy machinery, I still felt the need to spend my last day in Nepal doing something exciting. After pedaling through rush hour traffic (terrifying!), avoiding potholes the size of elephants on back roads (impossible!), and huffing and puffing my way up some killer hills (spin class doesn’t prepare you for this!), I made it to the medieval town of Bhaktapur. There, I took in views of ancient temples and enjoyed a calm cup of tea. The thought of traveling the treacherous 22 kilometers back to Kathmandu was almost too much, but I channeled my inner NYC bike messenger and completed the round trip.

Now that I’m home, I’m looking forward to lacing up my running shoes and getting back to my normal routine. Stay tuned for more adventures!