Outside of running, I’m a sometimes Tango dancer. Tango is a beautiful dance, although not for the reasons most people think. It is passionate, but subtly passionate. It’s energetic, but it’s a strained, unresolved energy. It’s tense, but the tension creates the sweet moments of relief – the occasional breaths between beats.
It’s fairly common for dancers – especially female ones – to have a strength imbalance in their legs. One leg is the “Support Leg” – the leg that holds and balances the body. The other leg is the “Flair Leg,” which is the one that embellishes with kicks, swirls, toe taps, and extensions.
My left leg is my Support Leg. It’s easier for me to balance on my left leg. The muscles in my left leg are thicker and denser than those in my right leg – every sports masseuse has said so, unprompted.
In comparison, my right leg is a weak excuse for an appendage. It’s skinny and weak. It’s also flexible; when I’m dancing, the toes of my right leg draw beautiful circles and swirls with exquisite timing.
Tango saved my running. Prior to dancing, I occasionally suffered from shin splints, which happen when calves get too tight and those muscles start to pull away from the bone. Tango is a dance that happens primarily on the toes, so that extra calf strengthening allowed me to combat shin splits and run farther.
Tango also ruined my running. This strength imbalance in my legs is what caused the tendinosis injury I’ve been working through for the past few months. The right hamstring took all the stress and impact of my running because the rest of the leg wasn’t equipped to do it. When the hamstring failed, the tendon took over. The associated tendon on my right leg is thick and inflamed, which is what’s causing this pain.
Recovery has been slow, but I’m optimistic. I’m working with a physical therapist and getting stronger every day. I’m doing short runs again – pain free! – and those short runs are faster than they were before, most likely due to the cross training and strength training that had been severely lacking in my training regimen prior to this injury.
This journey has been an emotional one as well – that’s a story for another post.
Long story short, this injury is less than ideal. That being said, the physiology behind it is incredible, and the cause is just so intriguing. Figuring out how all of this happened was a fun puzzle to unravel, and the solution seems to fit nicely into a succinct story.
Running does recruit mostly Type 1 muscle fibers throughout the legs, so there is some muscular endurance benefit. However, in many runners, especially those who do not engage in weight training, we find many imbalances that can lead to injury.