Mary Williams, Founder, Long May U Run

I am not what you would call a natural runner. Or even an accomplished one. I have never won a race and have only come in first place in my age group when unopposed. I never wear a watch when I run.

But I love what running does for me. I know of no other activity that has such a high return on the time and effort put forth than running. I can run anywhere, from out my front door to a new route in a faraway city. I’m hooked on running and my goal is to run for the rest of my life.

I enjoy feeling healthy and being outside. I sign up for a couple of races a year, mostly to have a goal and also because it’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing with my teenage son.

Running has always been challenging for me. I was a natural athlete when I was young, easily participating in swimming, volleyball, softball, basketball, and other activities – but not running. I told myself that I had ‘bad knees’ (my family called them ‘Williams knees’, as if there was something special or different about our particular knees), ‘chronic lanky syndrome,’ and was generally prone to injury.

The first time I ran was as a teenager in Chicago, mostly in response to cabin fever. It was cold and the ground was covered with snow, but it felt great to be outside. Running began as was a way to be outside in the winter without feeling miserably cold.

But I repeatedly hit road blocks. I’d get up to three miles and be in terrible pain the next day and sidelined for months. I always seemed to be starting and stopping, deepening my belief in bad knees and cementing my self-imposed non-runner identity.

Later in life, as my days became full, it was too time-consuming to swim, team sports were unavailable and gym workouts too boring, I went back to running. I ran a couple of 5k’s, with less-than-impressive times, but I was glad to be outside and loved the social, physical and mental health benefits.

After a couple of years of starts and stops, I began to feel a pain deep in my left hip that grew progressively worse, emerging at one mile and becoming unbearable by the second mile. Obviously, something was wrong.

I went to a doctor, who told me I had crepitus – a symptom of osteoarthritis – in my left hip. I recalled my family history – my mother, brother and uncles with their artificial hips and knees – and projected my future.

Having recently developed The BACKCoach™ System for people with chronic back pain and having learned the importance of understanding and acting at the root cause level, I sought to fully understand both the source of my pain and the reason so many runners get injured.

My background as a biomechanist, ergonomist and injury prevention and wellness consultant was helpful as I undertook this search, though the pieces came from many disparate and unlikely places. I ultimately reached a new understanding of running mechanics.

  • I learned that most people’s postures are fundamentally out of balance and the result of this imbalance shows up in many, many ways – from pain, injury and arthritis to unnecessary (in my opinion) treatments and surgeries.
  • I learned that pain is not an inevitable consequence of aging. I came to understand the fundamental biomechanics of our out-of-balance postures and learned how to reorient sitting, standing and moving in a balanced, relaxed, and effective way that can be applied to all of our activities and postures.
  • I learned that there is no need to counterbalance biomechanical imbalances with stretching or compensatory exercises if we instead align ourselves and move in a balanced way. This concept is quite simple, yet nearly always overlooked.

I then applied these principles to running. There are several approaches out there that offer some improvements in form, but all (again, in my opinion) have parts that are simply in error. And for good reason – there is a lot of erroneous information out there, some of which I now regret to have taught prior to my own investigation.

Some people run with an iPod, listening to their favorite music. Others like to let their mind flow and take a break from their everyday worries. As a biomechanist, when I run my mind is typically focused on running mechanics. What are my knees/hips/feet doing with each stride? What is the best foot strike? Is my spine elongated? Do I lead with my head or my torso? Am I relaxed and fluid or are my muscles tensed?

I now run regularly, with ease, for pleasure, for my health, and without pain or injury. My hip, now properly aligned in its socket, is no longer painful. I fully believe that any limitations I now have can be attributed to either self-imposed psychological limitations or an unwillingness to regularly step out the door and follow basic training guidelines.

I offer the Long May U Run clinics to share what I’ve learned. It took many years and a lot of trial and error to reach the point where I feel that I can adequately teach others these techniques, and I am now confident that nearly everyone can be a lifelong runner.

Running is a passion. It’s challenging. It’s outside. It’s time with friends, or time alone with music or thoughts. I intend to run for the rest of my life. Running is about enjoyment – it should make you smile. Running is best with ease and for pleasure.

Running goals may be fitness, speed or distance-related, and each of these begin with balanced form. Running should make you better, healthier. It should not cause pain. It should build you up, not break you down.

Long may you run.

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