Running on air: No more ankle problems

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I was a traditional runner most of my adult life, but eventually I wore out my ankles from poor posture and the punishment of daily runs in New York City’s Central Park. I should have known better. I ignored the throbbing in my right ankle, figuring the pain was another sign of aging. After a few months, I could hardly walk in running shoes. Forget about the rest of the shoe closet.

My husband, Larry, looked grim when he learned that I was going to need a tendon replacement, an Achilles heel lengthening and a bone graft. Opting for denial, I decided that I’d be good as new in a few weeks and back in the park in no time. My wonderful orthopedic surgeon was less optimistic. “If you go back to running two things are going to happen: Your left ankle is going to collapse and your right ankle is going to collapse again.” Even on soft surfaces, running creates stress on the feet and knees. By the time we hit middle age, most athletes have increasing problems with joints, muscles or bones. ”The body wasn’t made to last forever,” says New York City internist Dr. Peter Charap, “It has a limited warranty.” So what are we die-hard jocks supposed to do when the warranty begins to run out?

NYC fitness trainer, Joel Matalon, has been slowly converting athletes of all strengths to ChiRunning. A triathlete, Joel studied Chi principles following knee surgery. He learned from the master, Danny Dreyer, and has introduced the form to many in the New York City area.

On a beautiful spring morning, Joel and I met at the track in a local park. We walked around the track a few times and he began to adjust the alignment of my running posture: Upper body leaning forward slightly, abs tight, legs relaxed, feet hip-width and parallel. “Pull your belly button tight. Relax your lower body. Keep your ankles soft,” he instructed. “And, breathe!”

Larry was not at all pleased when I came home from my first chi lesson. “Running is running,” he said darkly, “Can’t you take leisurely walks instead? I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” I had a feeling that the technique was going to work, but I promised him I would stop immediately if I had so much as a twinge of discomfort. (To date, I haven’t.) Here I am, two years after my surgery, running five miles effortlessly and painlessly. No gimmicks… no smoke and mirrors.

In fact, after jogging five miles, I can put in a full workday and take several additional walks with my dog. I’ve never felt better. Next month, I’ll be running my first 10K in more than two years-and with my husband’s blessing.