My Legs Hurt Until Mile 3. What Gives?12/06/2010 7:08 AM
I'm training for my first half-marathon. I experience a great deal of pain in my lower legs for the first three miles or so. The funny thing is, after the three-mile mark (or occasionally four on a really bad day), the pain goes away. I have tried stretching before and during the run, and I have been professionally fitted for the right shoes several times, but nothing seems to help. Any advice would be helpful! Thanks, Katelyn
Katelyn, the most likely reason that your pain is disappearing around the 3- or 4-mile mark is because your lower legs have finally warmed up by that point. As we run, blood flow and body temperature increase, which helps the body’s soft tissues become more pliable.
However, the lower leg has a large amount of thick connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia covers both bones of the lower leg (the tibia and the fibula) as well as the space between these bones. Fascia is very fibrous and tough, which allows it to provide support and protection to these bones, but it also means that it takes fascia longer to warm up.
I suggest you consult with a sports medicine professional, specifically a sports-oriented podiatrist or orthopedist, for a proper diagnosis. The pain could be the result of a number of conditions, so the correct diagnosis is needed before determining your treatment options.
In the meantime, it is important that you allow the time on your runs for this 3- or 4-mile warm up period. Run slowly or walk first, and also try some walk/run/walk breaks to facilitate the warm up and reduce the stress on your lower legs, then gradually increase your pace. Thoroughly warm up before stretching; stretch after the 3 or 4 mile warm up period or at the completion of your training run.
Stretch your calves by extending one leg behind you with your knee locked and bending your front knee. This stretch targets the gastrocnemius, the most superficial calf muscle. Then stretch the deeper muscles of the calf, the soleus and tibialias posterior by bending your back knee. You can increase the intensity of these stretches by elevating placing a rolled up hand towel under the ball of your back foot. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat several times.
Susan Paul, MS
Susan Paul has coached more than 2,000 runners and is an exercise physiologist and program director for the Orlando Track Shack Foundation. For more information, visit www.trackshack.com.