“Balls!” said the Queen. “If I had two I’d be King.”

You want balls? I'll show you balls.

I’d be satisfied with having just two (although, actually, I’m totally okay with not having any of my own). But now I have six!

As it turns out, round objects are essential for any runner’s development — and this is even more the case when that runner happens to be struggling with an injury.

To recap, here’s my problem: I have at least three (I started out with five) really fucking amazing muscle knots in my right hip, buttock and hamstring. I wish they were like trees because then I could count their rings to see how old they are. But some have been there for quite awhile, probably going back to last year when I started having hamstring issues — perhaps even much earlier.

My knots lay dormant, like an inactive volcano, occasionally burping up complaints. But those didn’t stop the training equivalent of clueless real estate developers from putting up a fancy condo development right in their path (this development taking the form of training and racing and a total lack of stretching). Wow, what a tortured analogy! It’s Friday. I’m tired.

On August 7 I ran in the NYRR Club Championships and that race was my personal Krakatoa (or Vesuvius or St. Helens or Eyjafjallajokull — when it comes to volcano disasters, I’m dealing with an embarrassment of riches). Since then I’ve been focused solely on trying to get rid of these knots so that I can walk (and, eventually, run) normally again.

All of these balls have a use, although I’ve “graduated” from one ball type to another in some cases:

  1. This is a golf ball. It is the only thing I have in common with Tiger Woods. It is useful for rolling along the bottom of your foot to work on loosening up tendons. I initially used it to try to help me break up my knots, but it was too small.
  2. This is a cue ball. This is the most valuable ball I own. It is the perfect size for rolling around on, and it’s about as hard a ball as you’ll find. I experience exquisite (but very productive) pain using this ball for an average of an hour a day right now.
  3. This is a tennis ball. It belongs to our cat, but I borrowed it from her for awhile. It’s too soft to be of use to me, so she’s back to using it herself as a useful tool for practicing disembowelments of animals smaller than herself.
  4. This is a miniature basketball. It’s called the “Baller” (snicker). I bought this to work with while awaiting the arrival of the next ball…
  5. This is my second-most-useful ball for therapy. It’s a 10 lb. medicine ball (which makes me think of Jack LaLanne for some reason — a “medicine ball” seems so 1950s) and it has so, so many uses. I used it to “warm up” the knots. I roll around on it for about 10-15 minutes to relax and loosen the top layer of muscles. This is the only way I can then get down into the muscle layers, where the actual knots are, with the cue ball. The medicine ball is also useful for hamstring rolling (it’s harder than a foam roller, not shown in this post because I forgot to photograph it). Finally, it’s a great tool for general strengthening and for expressing rage. My favorite thing to do is to take it outside and bounce it onto our back porch (these are called, appropriately, “slams”) — I throw the thing as hard as I can and catch it when it bounces back up.
  6. Finally, there’s the Swiss ball, which is great for strengthening. There are too many exercises to mention for this one. Do a search if you’re interested.

So there’s your guided tour of my balls.

No, these aren't from Abu Ghraib. They're for helping you!

We have other implements. Would you like to hear about them? Of course you would:

  1. Resistance bands in three tensions. These are great for stretching hamstrings (lie on your back, raise your leg at a 90 degree angle to your body, lock your knee, and pull on the ball of your foot with the band. It hurts like a mother, but it’s effective.)
  2. A more complicated resistance band. I always feel vaguely like a back-alley abortionist when I handle this. You can stick this one in a door and do rows, woodchops and other things. You can also use them for “walking” exercises that strengthen the muscles on the sides of your body and your adductors (tiny muscles in your groin).
  3. Tiger Balm. This stuff is great for applying before and after you torture yourself. It also smells a bit like turpentine and I get transported back to my studio classes in art school every time I open the jar.
  4. Arnica oil. This (supposedly) helps heal bruises faster. I have lots of bruises.
  5. This is a weird massage device that our regular massage therapist gave us. It’s good for digging into muscles and trigger points.
  6. Handheld massager with mysterious attachments. Jonathan uses this more than I do. It also gives off heat if you want it to.
  7. Cubies reusable ice cubes. We have six bags of them. I bought these because walking was difficult enough without also hauling around 8 lb. bags of ice from the grocery store for ice baths.
  8. 10 lb. weight plates. I use these as a poor man’s kettlebell. Among my 4,000 prescribed exercises are various things using kettlebells, but I didn’t want to have to buy those as well. Anything you can do with a kettlebell, you can do with these. I also use them for anything requiring dumbbells (squats, presses, etc.) — I have plates and rods for those too, but I can’t be bothered to assemble them. We have enough crap lying around in the living room as it is.

So here is what a typical day of therapy looks like:

AM session:

  • 10-15 mins of warming up the area with a hot water bottle (heating water to 160F is ideal in the Goldilocksian sense)
  • 30-40 mins working on it with the medicine and cue balls
  • 15-20 mins icing via a pack or ice bath

PM session:

  • 45 mins of manual massage (Jonathan is turning into an expert masseuse and seems quite willing to hurt me since I beg for it now)
  • Repeat the AM routine

In addition, 2-3 times a week I do a 90-120 minute session of stretching and strengthening exercises. I am going to introduce biking again today (just 20-30 mins). I hope to be using an elliptical starting in the next few days. I’m not even thinking about when I can run because that’s not under my control. It’s too depressing to focus on that anyway.

So on a heavy day, we’re talking 4-5 hours of this stuff. This is a lot more time than I ever put into training, where I maxed out at 3 hours on a long run day. It’s unbelievably time consuming and often tedious.

But it is helping. Yesterday I managed 30 minutes of walking before pain kicked in. That’s compared to 5 minutes on Tuesday. This morning I got up and actually forgot for at least the first 10 minutes of consciousness that I had any sort of problem.

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