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How to Walk a Half Marathon After Knee Surgery

By Alexandra Williams, MA and Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA

Dear Fun and Fit: Hi! I too am an identical twin and my sister and I both have run or walked ten half marathons apiece (not that we are competitive but I beat her every time!). Alas, I had to have a partial knee replacement in Aug 2012 and want to attempt a comeback by walking a half marathon in Nov. 2013. I am trying to find a workout schedule to follow that would incorporate the elliptical to help preserve my new knee. Any ideas?  And if I somehow manage to beat my twin even with my new knee (she still has her originals) I promise to give you most of the credit! Thanks so much…and nice to hear about other twins….those poor “singletons” do not know what they are missing :)  Beth, Washington D.C.

TwinsKymberly: Want to hear more coincidences besides being twins who are active? Both Alexandra and I have had knee surgeries that prevent us from running.  My middle name is Beth. AND I always beat my sis in races. Well, that last part is all theoretical since we don’t race. But you see where I am going. Now let’s get you going!

First, I want to give the disclaimers: check with your medical professionals to get clearance for such training. My sister and I are fitness pros, but not doctors, physical therapists or medical peeps. Fine print is now over.

My ideas for the elliptical are for you to train on it 2-3 times a week, especially the first few months as your knee adapts. Then be willing to work out on the treadmill and walk outdoors as well. Ultimately you have to walk outside for the event, so your training needs to mimic the the race as you draw closer to the race. If your knee can handle the cardio training, try to get in a total of 4 -5 cardio sessions per week. When on the elliptical, go retro every so often (that is, stride backwards). Also vary the elliptical resistance factor and stride length so you are not repeating the same stresses on your knee. On the treadmill, add incline and work in some 1 -2 minute intervals that push resistance, speed, and incline. And though you did not ask about other workout options, we definitely hope targeted strength training is part of your rehab and workout protocol.

I can. I did. I will again.

I can. I did. I will again.

Alexandra: While Kymberly sat home watching soccer on TV, I walked a half marathon a few months after foot surgery, so I can say that you and I are both AWESOME!  At first, I wasn’t allowed to put weight on my surgery foot, so I worked out on the rowing machine. If doing the treadmill or elliptical start to hurt, maybe try building up your cardio this way. I have to say that the rower made my butt ache after 10 minutes!

Once I was allowed to put weight on my foot (and could get it into my fitness shoes, ’cause it was swollen!), I spent a lot of time on the treadmill and elliptical. I started out with a 22-minute mile and had a 14-minute mile as my goal because that’s what Nike said I had to have. So I hope you’re a patient person who doesn’t push her luck, yet does push her limits. When my foot or hip would hurt (from the repetitive motion or overuse), I would put my hands on the machine and take some of the weight off my legs by using my arm strength. I hope you have strong arms!

As soon as I felt mentally ready to be outside, I switched from the machines to the hills near our house, as they mimic the actual marathon better than the machines. Are you ready to go outside? If you get nervous about pushing your new knee, just remind yourself that it feels sweet to beat your sister! Not that I’ve ever thought that way!

TreadmillKymberly: While we are apparently quite “awesome” and long time fitness pros, we are no time marathoners, so we went to colleagues of ours who specialize in this event. Personal Trainers Patricia Moeller and Pauline Geraci offer some specific workouts for you FREE! If you groove on what they suggest, go like them on their Facebook pages. Links included.

From Patricia Moeller: 2 summers ago I had knee surgery in April and ran a 1/2 road marathon in September. Once I got my quad strength and range of motion back I started building miles slowly. If my knee swelled up I knew I had run too far. I took many ice baths that summer. The following summer I was back training and racing trail marathons.
Do front squats first at an incline progressing to standing. Leg curls with bands & then on a machine. Lateral abduction with bands. 1 leg BOSU balancing. Calf raises. Treadmill walking sucks, but if you must, then an incline of 2% or greater will keep the pounding of the knee joint down. Strength train inside (before going outside to walk).
From Pauline Geraci: I am working with a client now who had knee surgery 9 months ago. I ditto Patricia Moeller as far as the exercises. I found this YouTube video to be most beneficial for quadricep facilitation: Church Pew Exercise. The other thing is mental! My client was still treating her knee like she just had surgery. She was afraid to let her knee be her new knee.

Readers: Who else has knee issues and what do you do to work around, through, and with them?

Photo credits: –  jive turkey (twins)

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About Fun and Fit

Get practical exercise advice, your fitness questions answered, and cutting edge health edu-tainment that is accessible and doable from long time fitness experts, Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA. We have taught on land, sea, and airwaves for 3 decades on 4 continents. From writing to speaking, emceeing to hosting a radio show, reviewing products to teaching classes, we believe that little steps turn into big paths. Move a little more than the day before. FitFluential Ambassadors and award-winners both online and off.

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26 Responses to How to Walk a Half Marathon After Knee Surgery

  1. Miz April 29, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    sadly –or more aptly put THANKFULLY—Ive no mizdom to share so I shall SHARE the post and try to find you some.

    Miz recently posted..Breath walking: misfit style.My Profile

  2. Lisa April 29, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I’m dealing with runner’s knee right now (since October, honestly). I hope some day I can do another 5k race and maybe even walk a longer one!
    Lisa recently posted..The Results Are InMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit April 29, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      Well, Lisa, if I can go from foot (and knee reconstruction in 1998) surgery and no marathon experience, to a half marathon, I’ll bet you are already way ahead of me and will be doing that 5K sooner than expected. Good luck! And get that knee fixed.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Midlife Fitness and Health Lessons from My DogMy Profile

  3. Yum Yucky April 29, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    Never had a knee injury (knock on wood).
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Before and After Juicing: The Impressive Photo RevealMy Profile

  4. Jody - Fit at 55 April 29, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    I love that you take on these issues cause so many out there that need help. Knee probs are so common!

    I have no advice from experience except to say that you can do the Elliptical wrong too so peeps make sure you are using it correctly. :)
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted..Gratitude Monday & Healthy Bite Me! ;)My Profile

  5. Tamara April 29, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    So many great suggestions and fitting advice! I’ve not yet trained a client in this situation, but will know who to suggest them to when the need arises!

    Just so you know; I have twin-envy…
    Tamara recently posted..Hate to exercise? Like it or not, it’s all the same to your healthMy Profile

  6. Debbie @ Live from La Quinta April 29, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    When I originally posted this on facebook, I didn’t see the original question, nor the caveat about the elliptical.

    “For the half marathon.depending on how far you walk now, I’d start gradually building up the mileage. One day a week for your long walk, adding about 10% each week with a cut back week ever third week or so. I don’t think you’d need to go beyond about 10 in training, unless you want to. Try to walk at least 3 other days during the week, including a second long-ish walk, up to about 6. Get good shoes. Start all this about 3-4 months out, since you already have a good aerobic base.”

    If you want to use the elliptcal in training, I would suggest substituting two of the workouts per week, with the focus on time, not mileage (since elliptical mileage is way out of whack). I’d suggest one shorter but faster workout, and one longer but slower workout, split up during the week.

    I still think that the walking training should build to about 10 miles, because if you want your knee to get you through 13.1, it needs to be able to get you through 10.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..(Edible) Things I’m Loving LatelyMy Profile

  7. Christine @ Love, Life, Surf April 29, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Oh knee injuries and surgeries! I know you well!! I had my second ACL and meniscus repair last March and am back to running and will be running a 10 miler this weekend. It’s been a bit of a slow and frustrating road for me. For me, a lot of my problems stem from muscle imbalances in my hips and glutes. I put together this post and video on some knee strengthening exercises that has really helped me. And do your PT exercises!!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Stop Trying to Achieve BalanceMy Profile

    • AlexandraFunFit April 29, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

      Ack, Christine, you are way too young for so much surgery. I know that my first knee surgery was at 38 and the doc said I was old. hahahaha. I kicked him. Not really, but I wanted to. Your point about the muscle imbalances is an important one. If Beth can get both legs working equally, she can maybe avoid future issues. Thank you for sharing the post. Very helpful.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Easy Tips to Stay Active While Traveling: Climb Stairs, Hike Paths, Sweat a LotMy Profile

  8. allison April 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    i am the twin sister of beth from washington dc and i would like to point out that i had both knee and back surgery in the same year so despite the fact that she always beats me at least i have some lame excuse..maybe this race in november i will finally beat her!

    • AlexandraFunFit April 29, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

      Whoooo Hooo, it’s Allison. Twin time. See how Beth left out those little details? I’d do the same! I am sure I’d beat Kymberly if she actually did a half marathon with me. So far the only official “race” (besides local charity 5Ks) she’s done with me was a Mud Run and there was no running, just mud and sand and dirt and a lot of truly disgusting water. Maybe we should take sides. The 2 Beths against the 2 As. We can do this!
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Yoga for Boomer Women: Guest post by Lexi YogaMy Profile

  9. Josie April 30, 2013 at 2:09 am #

    I started running over a year a go. I don’t actually feel pain in my knee when I’m running, its when a stop. Its also very stiff when I bend. I hope its not arthritis. I have rested the knee for a couple of months over the winter and the symptoms have gone so I’m a little apprehensive about starting again. However, this post and the videos from Christine are giving me the confidence to get back on the road.

    • AlexandraFunFit May 1, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

      Ah, the power of adrenaline! Yes, after I teach 3 classes in a row, my knee gets very stiff. Yet I feel nothing troublesome while teaching. My stiffness is due to arthritis that’s a result of having my menisci mostly removed, so I hope this is not your issue. In my case, I guess I prefer moving and having the stiffness to the option of just sitting around. Good luck with the knee. Keep us posted.
      AlexandraFunFit recently posted..Managing Weight As You Age: Guest Post by Jody GoldenfieldMy Profile

  10. Davies Brynum May 1, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Knee injury can be painful and excruciating. My aunt actually broke his knee but I’ve not really experienced it myself. Thanks for your post – really inspiring.
    Davies Brynum recently posted..Onnit Labs Alpha Brain Reviews – How to increase brain activityMy Profile

  11. Beth May 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    Hi..this beth from washington dc, the original poster of tge 1/2 marsthon question…Thanks so much everyone for all the great ideas and support for my comeback! Hope allison doesn’t read them all too or i may be in trouble :). All power to the B twins! I will report back in november on the outcome. Beth
    Ps…allison and i both used to have a pair of those goofy 1960s glasses too… The coincidences keep piling up!

  12. Rika Susan May 11, 2013 at 2:47 am #

    Thanks for the inspiration in this post, folks! My mom is now at that ‘highly frustrated’ stage after knee surgery, when progress is ever so slow. Loads of patience required! Will show her this for encouragement.

  13. Jimmy May 22, 2013 at 1:06 am #

    I love reading about others that has come out on top, it makes me work even harder on getting on top myself.
    I got rear-ended in 2007 where my should, hip and neck got bummed out and it can’t at this time be operate on, so my training is not as a so high level as yours but I’m getting there by swimming in hot water, training with rubber bans.
    I also keep my weight down by not eating wheat and starch, it has helped me to lose over 17 pounds thereby relieving my hip from the extra weight.(If you want I can write a guest post on it for you.)
    Jimmy recently posted..Nyd en sommer is med god samvittighedMy Profile


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