Diary of a Reluctant Runner – Post #4

By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT  

Well, dear readers, my current running journey is over. After 12 weeks of training, more early mornings than I care to think about, more mileage then I’ve done since I was playing soccer, and a few injuries to boot, my half-marathon race day came and went. And though it was challenging, both in ways I did and didn’t expect, I’m not sorry that I decided to put myself through this experience.


Race day itself was Super Bowl Sunday, which also happened to be the day immediately after a giant storm in the area absolutely drenched everything. And though it wasn’t raining when the race started, the day was cool (ideal for running) and extremely windy (not so much), with a couple instances of light showers for about 10-15 minutes during the race. A relatively flat course combined with a great running playlist (if I do say so myself) really set me up for an amazing run. But, as we know, not all things in life go according to plan. I found that I was able to pace myself appropriately and everything seemed to be going well, but whether it was an unfamiliar route, fighting the wind, or a combination of factors, I found myself feeling slightly ill and cramping up after mile seven. And because I had previously resolved to not stubbornly push through when objectively I knew it would be bad for me, I took the rest of the course at a combination of jogging and walking. 


Now, the unexpected issue hit at mile nine. Like I said, I knew it was in my best interest to alternate some short walking breaks in to my run, but at that ninth mile marker, a huge wave of emotion hit, and suddenly I felt completely disappointed in myself for not jogging all the way through, when I knew I was fit enough to do so. It was rough, I’ll admit, mostly because the PT in me knew that it was the smart thing for my body to alternate my pace and slow it down. But I had put in so much work up to this point to be physically ready for this race that it felt like I was letting myself down. And it was in this moment that I really did feel closer to most of my patients than I had throughout this entire experience. You see, we are all motivated and driven by different things to push ourselves to our own personal limits, but sometimes those limits are not in our best interest. That’s often what puts people on my treatment table and it’s the main reason I’m always teaching others to listen to their bodies and to respect the limits that they are setting. And now here I was, mad and upset that my body was telling me something I didn’t want to hear.


It was hard and took another mile, but I was able to make peace with my limits that day, recognizing that, in other circumstances, I did have the ability to jog the entire race. And as annoying as it was, I kept my run/walk alternating all the way to the final mile, which I was determined to jog in its entirety. And at 2 hours and 34 minutes, I crossed that finish line, got my medal, water, and banana, managed to get to my mom’s car, as she was kind enough to drive my sister-in-law and I, and spent the rest of the afternoon stretching and binging on donuts, chicken wings, nachos, and brisket sandwiches (it was still Super Bowl weekend, after all). 


Though I may have been tempted to maintain my previous levels of exercise that coming week, rest and recovery is just as vital in the training regiment as the actual physical work. So that next week was a rest week, a week I took to recover, stretch, get some acupuncture and PT treatment, and overall let my body recover from the stress and strain I had been putting it under. I’d like to say after that week off I was revitalized and ready to resume higher levels of activity, but apparently someone was conspiring to get me some more rest, because I did get sick towards the end of the week, which just forced me to really rest and recuperate my body even more. And to be honest, I’m not upset about that. I don’t know about you, but I will definitely push myself past what may be reasonable at the time, physically, mostly because I’m stubborn. But if it was a cardio workout just walking around my small apartment, I wasn’t going to push it any more.


While I wasn’t exactly ecstatic at the end of the race, and I never experienced what others describe as the “runners high” I was glad that I went through with this run. I found that, even 6 years after my last half-marathon, I could still train and compete in a long run. I found that I still had the ability to push my body physically and that it would respond in kind, as long as I took care of it throughout the process. And I came to peace with the fact that I had to change my plan mid-race and am proud of myself for completing this run. Because going in to it, my goal was to finish the race; not run it the entire way, not set a personal record time, but to finish the race, which I did. Sure, the stubborn, competitive side of me is still chagrined that I didn’t jog the entire way, but the more reasonable side of me realizes that I had the endurance and ability to do so, and sometimes, that knowledge is enough.


So where does that leave me and running? Well, I still don’t like it. And thankfully for me my sister-in-law also doesn’t get the runners high and isn’t chomping at the bit to do another half-marathon any time soon. But there was something about those early mornings, just me, my music, and my running shoes, that provided me an almost meditative state and set me up for a good day. My energy was high throughout training and I just felt better overall. So as much as it galls me to admit it, I think I’ll keep up some (light) running on a regular basis. Nothing crazy, mind you, but about 10 miles a week sounds very doable and appropriate to me. So, until my next crazy idea hits (or I get coerced in to it), I’ll still be that runner on the road, albeit not as early and not as often, but because I enjoy that time to myself. And I really enjoy eating, so I have to counter-balance that in a healthy manner somehow. 


Happy Training,



Diary of a Reluctant Runner - Post #3

By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT


Through all my training for this half-marathon, this is the week I’ve been waiting for: Taper Week! The final seven days prior to any race, most training programs start to taper your runs, backing off your mileage so that you’re still running and moving, but not at the same intensity. For example, a week and a half ago I was running 30 miles that week, which included a 12-mile run on Saturday. This week I have 13 miles total prior to my race. Despite the ups and downs, I have found that my endurance and running ability has markedly improved. I’m no longer sucking wind at anything over 4 miles and my right knee and I are in a better place. I’m taking this week prior to my race as an active recovery week, because as much as I like the taper, I can’t have a week of no activity.


You may have noticed that I mentioned my right knee feeling better. Well, a combination of PT-recommended changes, as well as consistency in my stretching routine, and increased butt activation and strength during running has resulted in a significant decrease in my knee pain and stiffness. I’ve been able to easily go up and down stairs for weeks and my squats are getting progressively back to their original depth. While it’s all feeling much improved, I felt like there was still some room for improvement prior to race day. To that end, I started adding some acupuncture interventions in to my routine last week that I will keep up through the week following my race.


Whenever I mention acupuncture, I get one of two reactions; either someone will be curious and ask more, or they’ll have open skepticism. While not an expert by any means, there are two things I know about acupuncture: first, it’s one the best studied and validated eastern medicine techniques by western medical institutions, and second, it’s worked for me before. Without getting in to too long of a story, three years ago I was having left shoulder pain that wasn’t improving much, even with physical therapy, so I decided to try some acupuncture. Long story short, it significantly decreased my pain and maintaining a PT exercise routine has kept my left shoulder in fighting shape. To that end, I decided it was worth a shot for my knee. 


While there are many wonderful acupuncture practitioners, I opted to go to a local college of eastern medicine and be treated by an intern. I was fortunate that my practitioner had been an aide in a PT office in a previous life, as well as a personal trainer, and was well versed in the demands of both training for a half-marathon and my job requirements. I not only received acupuncture to address my right knee pain and thoracic and lumbar tension, but some cupping to assist with soft tissue release. And while I looked like my back was attacked by a drunk octopus for a week, I must admit, physically and mentally, I felt a lot better after my appointment. 


I am a physical therapist and I truly believe in the power of physical therapy to address any physical ailment that a person could experience. But I also believe in the power of collaboration, and that sometimes it takes multiple types of interventions to address an issue. Things like physical therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, medical intervention, they’re not either or; rather, they’re more powerful when used to compliment each other for the patients’ benefits. To that end, I also believe in working with students and interns. As a clinical instructor who is often working with physical therapy students, I know that while they may not have the same experience as a veteran clinician, they are up to date with the most recent research and techniques, and they are always supervised by a more experienced provider (at least, they should be). And, let’s be honest, it would be a bit hypocritical of me to ask my patients to work with and trust my students if I’m not willing to do the same. 


As the countdown continues to Sunday, I’m both anxious and excited to see the culmination of all my training come to a head. You all will have one more blog post after the race to really see how I fared, but know that, while I still don’t like running, I’ve enjoyed the increase in energy and improved cardio endurance, and I’ve even grown fond of my quiet morning runs when it’s just time to myself. So much so, I may keep up a couple days of running a week but sticking to lower mileage. And I’m reallylooking forward to the post-race, Super Bowl Sunday menu at my parents (including donuts, chicken wings, nachos, and burgers) as my tangible reward for this training journey. 


Happy Training, 



Diary of a Reluctant Runner – Post #2

By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT


I still dislike running, and now everything seems to hurt. I just had to get that off my chest to start with. I have been able to maintain my schedule of running five times a week and taking strength training classes three times a week, and more often then not running before strength training had me feeling much more warmed up and ready for class than I had before I started running more. Overall, I felt like I was able to maintain a good balance in my work outs and that I was taking care of my body appropriately. Sure, I wasn’t the best with stretching, but I was doing more than previously, so that had to count for something, right?


Apparently, my body had different ideas. After my long run a few weeks in to my training (7 miles, in case you were curious) I got home and immediately went to make a delivery to my upstairs neighbor. To make a long story short, going up stairs was fine, but I found that coming down using my right leg wasn’t going to happen. I stretched, I foam rolled, and I iced up a storm that weekend, but going down stairs was still not happening. Fortunately, I work in a physical therapy clinic, with co-workers who are nice enough to check me out and work on my leg. I definitely felt a lot better after some PT intervention; not fully back to normal, but better. I went on my run as usual the next morning before work (4 miles, FYI) and was fine during my run, but hurting a lot more in my right knee afterwards. Again, I got worked on at work, and again I felt perfectly fine the next morning.


I’m sure, dear reader, you see where this is going. I felt perfectly fine, with no pain during my morning runs, but afterwards doing things like going down stairs and standing up from sitting were a major production. One of my co-workers finally sat me down and we had a “Come to Jesus talk,” where they wanted to make sure I was aware that I had given myself Runner’s Knee. Now, of course I was aware of this, but just like many of you and several of my patients I felt that if I had no pain while running, I was fine, and I’d deal with the daily activities that were causing me pain until after my race. Of course, I, too should have known better that just because I was hurting now didn’t necessarily mean I needed to stop my activity completely. So, with my PT (wink, wink), we worked together to come up with a plan to get me back in shape. 


First, I started taking anti-inflammatories daily for a week to get the swelling in my knee down. After the first day I already felt 75% improvement, just from the swelling being dealt with. And since I’m being honest, I’m not against taking anti-inflammatories when necessary, I simply would just forget each night when I got home. Second, I became much more diligent in my stretching and foam rolling after finishing each run, and I would have immediate release of tension with just ten minutes of time spent on my flexibility. Third, I was reminded that ice is always my friend. After I’m done with a run, but before I get ready for the day I spent 15-20 minutes with an ice pack on my knee to help reduce superficial swelling and ease any pain from that day’s run. Fourth, I check in with one of my co-workers at least once or twice a week and get a quick manual session to ensure I’m not missing any critical areas with my stretching.


All the steps I took were extremely helpful, but I think it’s the fifth point that’s the most important: I gave myself permission to not work out when I was hurting. I think all of us are more aware of and in tune with our bodies then we give ourselves credit for, we just ignore what our bodies are saying. When I finally got over my competitive stubbornness and took a Friday from all activity, my 8-mile run the next morning was so much more effective and I didn’t hurt afterwards. Training for events and working towards goals are great, but if you’re ignoring how your body is feeling while you’re working out, you’re not truly taking care of your body and health. Rest is just as important as activity, and sometimes we need more of one to help us be our best.


My right knee is still more sore than it usually is and I’m not as ready to do squat sets with my patients as I usually am, but I know that it’s not in any danger of immediate injury. I’ve made a promise to keep up with my stretching, icing, and PT, and in return I fully expect everything to return to normal quickly after my race. Especially since I’ll be fully embracing the rest part of my recovery come the first full week in February. 


Happy Training,



Diary of a Reluctant Runner - Post #1

By Emily Popoff, PT, DPT


One thing you should know about me, I don’t like running. I grew up playing soccer my entire childhood through high school and it taught me two things: First, I ran enough in my younger life to last me my adult one, and second, if there’s no ball and point scoring system involved, I don’t see the purpose. So naturally I’m now training to run a half marathon in February.


I should specify that I didn’t seek out a half marathon to run to fulfill some personal goal or for a specific cause. My motives were much simpler: my sister-in-law decided to run a half marathon to become more consistent in her work outs after my nephew was born and my brother wished her luck and refused to do it with her. After having a few other family members and friends politely decline, my name got thrown in to the mix and I wasn’t going to let her do it alone. So here I am, beginning another fitness journey just because I apparently couldn’t say no to my sister-in-law when everyone else had no problem with it.


Even though running isn’t really my thing, I knew if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. That meant first finding a training schedule that worked for me. Whether you’re a new runner or participate in several races a year, having a set schedule for your training workouts is essential; it gives you the expectations for your daily work out and holds you accountable to a set goal. A quick Google search yields hundreds of different regiments, each proclaiming to be the “best.” When it comes down to it, the best training schedule for you is one that you will stick to. For me, as little as I like running, I enjoy sprint work outs and interval runs even less. To that end, I chose a schedule that is just progressive increases in mileage with two rest days a week. For any training or activity rest days are essential times for your body to recover, so make sure whatever you choose has a couple rest days built in each week.


After setting a training schedule I took a hard look at my diet. I had already started to streamline what I was eating and percentages of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins I was putting in my body. I knew that adding running to my schedule while maintaining a few days of strength training meant increasing my caloric intake and paying attention to make sure I had enough protein. I have been using Fitness Pal this past year to help me pay attention to my food and caloric intake, so it was natural to add in my work outs and plan my meals to ensure I was hitting my percentage goals and making sure my body had enough fuel to efficiently add running workouts in to my routine. 


The third part of my prep was the hardest for me: my sleep schedule. I am, by nature, a night owl. I enjoy staying up in the later hours, mostly reading, but occasionally using the time to clean or get some work done. Early mornings have always been hard, and I don’t ever feel fully awake until at least 10 am and one cup of coffee. However, after looking at the training schedule I knew the best time to fit my runs in to my weekly schedule would be before work. So, a couple of weeks prior to starting my runs I started to incrementally get to bed a bit earlier each night. I don’t really have the will power to just put down what I’m reading and go to bed, so I started using the sleep feature on my phone. I set what time I wanted to get to bed in to the feature and my phone would alert me when it was time to hit the sack. I didn’t have to keep track of time or think about when I needed to be to sleep, I just had to listen for the alarm and know it was time to get to bed. 


It’s been a week in to my training schedule so far and my preparation to start this program seems to be paying off. I’m not as reluctant as usual to wake up early and I’m feeling like I have enough fuel and rest to make it through my morning runs. It was a bit of a shock to the system to be back running, but not as bad as I had feared. Hopefully this schedule will keep me motivated and on track to make it through the half marathon, but I know that with a schedule this long fatigue will set in and motivation will wane. And you all will be along for the ride, good and bad, until race day the first weekend of February. Until then, I’ll be the runner in the road, looking overjoyed to be up running at 5 am in November. But don’t worry, the coffee will kick in before you come in for a treatment session with me later that morning. 



Happy Training,