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: CreativeCommons.org –  jive turkey (twins)

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