Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Running Helps One Child Overcome Her Fears

I have just completed the fall quarter at school in San Diego, and returned to New Hampshire on Monday.  My goal over the Christmas holiday is to get a couple of other people who run with our kids to join the blog.  In the meantime, I can share running stories firsthand:  something that is much harder to do when I am 3,000 miles away. 

I would like to share an experience with one of our children who has only lived at St. Charles for a few weeks.  I was sitting at the table finishing supper, and I felt a light tap on my shoulder.  I turned around to find Anna (names must be changed for the privacy of the children) looking at me with absolute terror in her eyes and wanting to know who I was.  I smiled and introduced myself.    She moved behind Mother Paul Marie, who was also at the table, and hid herself.  After a few moments, she gathered enough courage to come back over to me and ask me my name.  She did not run away when I answered this time, but had both hands in her mouth and was still shaking with terror.  After about a minute she gathered the courage to tell me her name:  Anna.  Clearly, this is a child with high anxiety levels and who wants to meet new people but has to struggle with her terror to do it.

The next morning, Sister Maximilian was telling me how Anna’s run went the day before.  Since Anna is a beginner, Sister takes her for a walk/run by herself after the other children come home from their run.  Sister is careful to give Anna a lot of positive encouragement.  She was talking to Anna about how to respond to strangers when they say “hello” during a run (it is rude to ignore people yet we want the children to know not to stop and begin a conversation).  Sister suggested to Anna that it is nice to say “Merry Christmas” to people this time of year.  Soon they were passing the school, and the janitor was walking near the building.  Sister Maximilian said, “Good afternoon,” as they passed.  Anna said, “Merry Christmas!”  The man smiled and Anna was beaming with happiness as Sister Maximilian pointed out to her how she had made that man’s day happier. 

Children learn more than running during their runs.  In this case Anna had the opportunity during her walk/run to confront a big fear she has, and to learn how to be polite to a stranger in an appropriate and beautiful way.  She is on the road to learning so much, and her daily walk/ runs are helping her to do it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Sisters' First Running Shoes

I just finished reading Pete Larson's post and video expo on different running shoes and footstrike:  Relationship Between Running Footstrike and Footwear: From Stability Shoes to Barefoot.  His incredibly interesting study of running shoes is going to be something I follow with interest.  However, while reading his post I couldn't help being reminded of Sister Maximilian's first running shoes.

It all started when Sister came to visit the convent before entering and asked if she could bring her Birkies with her when she came.  Her Birkies did come with her:  she was allowed to wear them in her room!  That all changed a few years later when Sister finished her Novitiate and came to work at St. Charles Children's Home.  Her new Superior was happy to allow her to wear Birkies in public, as long as they were the London style with the closed toe.  From that day forward, Sister always wore her London Birkenstocks.

Fast forward a few more years, to the summer when Sister Maximilian was walking every day with Rose on woodland trails.  By the end of the summer, their daily walks had turned into daily runs.  Rose was wearing sneakers.  Sister was wearing her London Birkenstocks.  I happened to be 300 miles away that summer at our Motherhouse preparing for final vows.  Since preparation for vows was a summer-long intensive time of prayer and study, I had no contact with Sister during that summer.  Finally at the end of the summer she came to the Motherhouse for the retreat.  We were not allowed to talk because it was the retreat, but I noticed her shoes right away.  I had never known Sister Maximlian to allow her Birkies to become so dilapidated!  They were all scratched and smashed.  No shoe polish would have helped those poor shoes.  I wondered what on earth had been going on when I was away.

The day the retreat ended I learned that the shoes--with Sister Maximilian in them--had been running on trails in the woods all summer.  So, the Birkies were Sister's first running shoes.  Later that fall we learned about real running shoes, and those poor Birkies never had to endure the trail again.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shin Splints for Thanksgiving? No Thanks!

I am having a little shin splint trouble at the moment, and decided to learn about it. I am taking Brad Walker, the author of the following article, up on his offer to post and share his article. Be sure to follow the link and check out his site for The Stretching Institute. Happy Thanksgiving, and may you not be troubled by shin splints!

Shin Splints and
Shin Splints Treatment

Learn the causes behind Shin Splints,
their treatment and prevention.

Article Sections
 What Are Shin Splints?
 What Causes Shin Splints?
 How to Treat Shin Splints?
 How to Prevent Shin Splints?

Learn the exercises that can prevent Shin Splints and More!

Shin splints are a term commonly used to describe most lower leg pain. However, shin splints are only one of several conditions that affect the lower leg. The most common causes of lower leg pain are: general shin soreness; shin splints; and stress fractures. For the purpose of this article, I'll only be addressing the first two. I'll save the topic of stress fractures for another issue.
If you suffer from shin splints or are seeking to prevent its occurrence it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, making stretching a part of your fitness regime will have a significant impact. To get you started on a safe and effective stretching routine learn more about The Stretching Handbook and how it can improve your fitness.
Before I move on to shin splints, I want to quickly cover the topic of general shin soreness. Shin soreness is simply a muscular overuse problem. By using the R.I.C.E.R. regimeoutlined in a previous issue of The Stretching & Sports Injury Report, you'll be able to overcome 95 percent of all general shin soreness within about 72 hours.
For lower leg pain that goes beyond general shin soreness, a more aggressive approach must be taken. Lets now have a look at shin splints in a little more detail.
What are Shin Splints?
Although the term shin splints is often used to describe a variety of lower leg problems, it actually refers specifically to a condition called Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (MTSS). To better understand shin splints, or MTSS, lets have a look at the muscles, tendons and bones involved.
Lower Leg Muscle Group picture used from "Principles of Anatomy and Physiology" - Sixth Edition. By G.J. Tortora and N.P. Anagnostakos. Published by Harper & Row - 1990As you can see from the diagram to the right, there are many muscles and tendons that make up the lower leg, or calf region. It's quite a complex formation of inter-weaving and over-crossing muscles and tendons.
The main components of the lower leg that are affected by the pain associated with shin splints are:
  • The Tibia and Fibula. These are the two bones in the lower leg. The tibia is situated on the medial, or inside of the lower leg. While the fibula is situated on the lateral, or outside of the lower leg.
  • There are also a large number of the muscles that attach to the tibia and fibula. It's these muscles, when overworked, that pull on the tibia and fibula and cause the pain associated with shin splints.
Specifically, the pain associated with shin splints is a result of fatigue and trauma to the muscle's tendons where they attach themselves to the tibia. In an effort to keep the foot, ankle and lower leg stable, the muscles exert a great force on the tibia. This excessive force can result in the tendons being partially torn away from the bone.
What Causes Shin Splints?
While there are many causes of shin splints, they can all be categorized into two main groups. Overload (or training errors), and Biomechanical Inefficiencies.
Overload (or training errors): Shin splints are commonly associated with sports that require a lot of running or weight bearing activity. However, it is not necessarily the added weight or force applied to the muscles and tendons of the lower leg, but rather the impact force associated with running and weight bearing activities.
In other words, it's not the running itself, but the sudden shock force of repeated landings and change of direction that causes the problem. When the muscles and tendons become fatigued and overloaded, they lose their ability to adequately absorb the damaging shock force.
Other overload causes include:
  • Exercising on hard surfaces, like concrete;
  • Exercising on uneven ground;
  • Beginning an exercise program after a long lay-off period;
  • Increasing exercise intensity or duration too quickly;
  • Exercising in worn out or ill fitting shoes; and
  • Excessive uphill or downhill running.
Biomechanical Inefficiencies: The major biomechanical inefficiency contributing to shin splints is that of flat feet. Flat feet lead to a second biomechanical inefficiency called over-pronation. Pronation occurs just after the heel strikes the ground. The foot flattens out, and then continues to roll inward.
Over-pronation occurs when the foot and ankle continue to roll excessively inward. This excessive inward rolling causes the tibia to twist, which in-turn, over stretches the muscles of the lower leg.
Other biomechanical causes include:
  • Poor running mechanics;
  • Tight, stiff muscles in the lower leg;
  • Running with excessive forward lean;
  • Running with excessive backwards lean;
  • Landing on the balls of your foot; and
  • Running with your toes pointed outwards.
How to Prevent Shin Splints!
Prevention, rather than cure, should always be your first aim. I was very surprised when researching this topic at the number of articles that totally neglected any mention of preventative measures. They all talked of treatment and cure, but only one out of twenty took the time to address the issue of prevention in any detail.
Even before any sign of shin soreness appears there are a number of simple preventative measures that can be easily implemented.
Since about half of all lower leg problems are caused by biomechanics inefficiencies, it makes sense to get the right advice on footwear. Your feet are the one area you should not "skimp" on. The best advice I can give you concerning footwear, is to go and see a qualified podiatrist for a complete foot-strike, or gait analysis. They will be able to tell you if there are any concerns regarding the way your foot-strike or gait is functioning.
After your foot-strike has been analysed, have your podiatrist, or competent sports footwear sales person recommend a number of shoes that suit your requirements. Good quality footwear will go a long way in helping to prevent many lower leg problems.
Apart from good footwear, what else can you do? I believe the following three preventative measures are not only very effective, but crucial.
Firstly, a thorough and correct warm up will help to prepare the muscles and tendons for any activity to come. Without a proper warm up the muscles and tendons will be tight and stiff. There will be limited blood flow to the lower legs, which will result in a lack of oxygen and nutrients for those muscles.
Before any activity be sure to thoroughly warm up all the muscles and tendons that will be used during your sport or activity. Click here for a detailed explanation of how, why and when to perform your warm up.
Secondly, flexible muscles are extremely important in the prevention of most lower leg injuries. When muscles and tendons are flexible and supple, they are able to move and perform without being over stretched. If however, your muscles and tendons are tight and stiff, it is quite easy for those muscles and tendons to be pushed beyond their natural range of movement. To keep your muscles and tendons flexible and supple, it is important to undertake a structured stretching routine.
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance and getting rid of those annoying sports injuries. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won't be effective.
Learn more about The Stretching Handbook & DVDAnd to help you improve your flexibility quickly and safely, you can't go past The Stretching Handbook & DVD. Together they include over 130 clear photographs and 40 videos of every possible stretching exercise, for every major muscle group in your body.
The Stretching Handbook & DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch EXACTLY! Plus, you'll learn the benefits of flexibility; the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; and how to stretch properly. Discover more about The Stretching Handbook & DVD here.
And thirdly, strengthening and conditioning the muscles of the lower leg will also help to prevent shin splints. There are a number of specific strengthening exercises you can do for these muscles, but instead of me going into the details here, I have simply found another web site that has already done all the hard work. It explains a number of exercises you can do for preventing shin splints. You can find these strengthening exercises by going to
The above-mentioned article is the only other article I found that included a comprehensive section on shin splint prevention. If you're only interested in the strengthening exercises, you'll find them towards the end of the article. If however, you suffer from shin splints or you're looking for more information on shin splints, I recommend you read the entire article.
How to Treat Shin Splints!
Firstly, be sure to remove the cause of the problem. Whether is be a biomechanical problem, or an overload problem, make sure steps are taken to remove the cause.
The basic treatment for shin splints is no different to most other soft tissue injuries. Immediately following the onset of any shin pain, the R.I.C.E.R. regime should be applied. This involves Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral to an appropriate professional for an accurate diagnosis. It is critical that the R.I.C.E.R. regime be implemented for at least the first 48 to 72 hours. Doing this will give you the best possible chance of a complete and full recovery.
The next phase of treatment (after the first 48 to 72 hours) involves a number of physiotherapy techniques. The application of heat and massage is one of the most effective treatments for speeding up the healing process of the muscles and tendons.
I have found, both from personal experience and from working with many clients, that this form of treatment is the most effective. The application of heat and deep tissue massage on the effected area seems to bring the best results. If you suffer from shin splints, be sure to spend at least a few minutes massaging the effected area both before and after you exercise.
Once most of the pain has been reduced, it is time to move onto the rehabilitation phase of your treatment. The main aim of this phase it to regain the strength, power, endurance and flexibility of the muscle and tendons that have been injured.
If you enjoyed this issue of The Stretching & Sports Injury Report, please feel free to forward it to others, make it available for download from your site or post it on forums for others to read. Please make sure the following paragraph and URL are included.
Article by Brad Walker. Brad is a leading stretching and
sports injury consultant with nearly 20 years experience
in the health and fitness industry. For more articles on
stretching, flexibility and sports injury, please visit
The Stretching Institute.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Staying Motivated

After my post yesterday about living with long-term obstacles to running, I was delighted to find a really great post on RunnerDude's blog about staying motivated when you have injuries.  He lists 10 really good ideas to help get through down times.  Some of them I have used successfully but never thought to put in my post, such as using the time to fine-tune my nutrition and engaging the running community online.  My favorite one on the list, however, was to study up on running, and he lists a few books worth looking into.  Inspired by RunnerDude's post, I looked into some books myself and I found a free book online called Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie, who was a champion runner.  The book can be downloaded here.  The fact that it's free is a great motivator for me right now, so I plan to check it out and report what I find.

Check out RunnerDude's post for some really good tips:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life without Running

I am happy to be the sister who is starting this blog about running with kids.  Ironically, I am the sister who cannot run, at least for now.  I have read several posts and articles about what runners can do when they have an injury to help them cope with the time they cannot run.  Such articles help me.  But it is a whole different story when the impediment to running is a health issue that stretches into years.  Such a long break in running—for me—has been a sense of loss.  Although my efforts to regain former strength have not been rewarded quickly, they are being rewarded slowly, and I hope to resume running in the coming year.
Four things have been incredibly helpful to me over the years of being unable to run.

  • The first is the St. Charles Children’s Home 5k, which takes place every year in Portsmouth, NH on Labor Day.  Coordinating this event for the runners in my region has been a motivation each year that keeps me going.  I feel so honored to pass out the awards to the winners of my race.  Though I have not been able to run in the event for many years, I have been able to make it happen.
  • The second help has been walking.  It reduces stress, keeps me moving and gives me hope that some day my daily walks will turn once again into daily runs.  There can be measurable progress in walking, which is helpful also.  I can climb mountain trails with 800+ foot elevations now . . . which is wonderful cross training to prepare me for running in the future.
  • The third help has been stretching.  I use a book that is a classic in the fitness world:  Bob & Jean Anderson’s Stretching.  The common sense and careful approach to stretching in this book has helped me regain some mobility and most definitely has helped me to improve a skill that is critical to every runner:  listening to my body.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Do Those Sisters Run in Those Habits?

At the very beginning of this blog I thought I would answer a burning question that is on many people's minds when they see our sisters running.  How on earth do we run in these habits?  First of all, we are used to it.  Since we train in the habit every day, our attire does not have any impact on our performance at a race.
During the summer after running races when the temperature was in the 80s or 90s, I would often get the question, “How can you possibly run in that long dress?  Aren’t you hot?”  I always found the question a little amusing because I was as cool as a cucumber and the runner asking me was usually pretty hot!  You see, our bodies are very intelligent.  When it is hot and when we work out, we sweat.  The purpose of the sweat is to cool our bodies down.  When the sisters run in a road race wearing their long, blue & white habits on a hot day, the habits become damp.  After the race, we are as cool as if we were in a swimming pool.  

In the winter we layer just like everyone else.  Probably the most difficult part of running in a habit (especially a white one) is that if it there is mud or slush on the road our hemlines get very dirty.  For that reason we tend to have a designated "running habit."  

One last thing about the habit:  we designed them for running.  Although the skirts are long, they have 4 big pleats.  Our stride is never hampered by our skirts.  So, running in the habit is easy once you get used to it.  Some of our sisters ride bikes in their habit.  Unfortunately, that is a skill I never mastered.  The skirt always gets caught in the bike chain.  Maybe I should practice more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Welcome to Running with Kids

Welcome to Running with Kids!  This is a blog about the running program which the sisters at St. Charles Children’s Home began a few years ago to help kids manage their behaviors.  As it turns out, the running helps the sisters too!  There will be more contributors joining this blog, but in the meantime I thought I would get started by telling you our story. 
In the summer of 1996, Sister Maximilian began running every day with Rose (pictured here).  Rose was the most volatile and aggressive child then living at St. Charles Children’s Home in Rochester, New Hampshire.  One day we had a family meeting with all the kids to talk about violent behavior and what we could do to decrease it in our home.  The kids listed many ideas of how they could release negative energy without hurting each other. 
A daily walk seemed to be the best intervention for Rose at the time.  By the end of the summer, those walks turned into daily runs.  Through the daily run, Sister Maximilian found a way to channel Rose’s incredible anger in a positive way.  Soon, the boys became jealous of Rose’s running achievements and the fact that she was getting into less trouble, and they wanted to run every day too.  With the whole St. Charles family involved, aggressive behaviors by the children were reduced in the Home by over 97%.  It was not long before the Sisters and the children began appearing in road races throughout New Hampshire. 
Over 13 years later, the Sisters continue running daily with the kids.  More about how we do it in another post.