Success on the Streets of NYC: Rhonda Underwood
We are SO excited for Finish Line PT patient Rhonda Underwood, who set a 17-minute personal best at the 2014 New York City Marathon — even after having some, ahem, “trouble” at mile 19. She shares how she returned to running following a tibial stress fracture, what enabled her to PR in NYC and the best sign she saw along the course.
How many marathons have you run? How did you become interested in them in the first place?
I’ve run two marathons so far – NYC 2013 & 2014. Never in a million years would I think the term “marathoner” would be used to describe me. In 2010, I stumbled upon the NYC Marathon near the finish line on 59th St. The energy was so contagious! I ended up cheering wildly for complete strangers, and I made a declaration to my friends that I was going to run the NYC Marathon. It took a few years, but after the loss of a best friend to cancer and another bestie scheduled to run the 2012 NYC Marathon, I decided it was finally time to cross the marathon off my bucket list. I still remember my first run in Central Park. I was a couch potato then so I had to do run/walk intervals on the lower loop. That’s the day I fell in love with running.
How did you feel during the race? And what was it like crossing the finish line?
I was emotional the whole time. Over the summer, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture on my right tibia. Suddenly my dream of running the marathon again seemed impossible. Every step I took during the race, I knew I was turning what was once thought unthinkable into reality. It’s what kept me going through the tough parts of the course. And there were plenty of them with head-on wind gusts of 20+ mph and fighting back nausea starting around mile 16. I eventually had to stop on the Willis Ave Bridge and hurl. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish though, so I continued but at a slower pace. I started to feel better the last 3-4 miles, which allowed me to increase my pace and even sprint the last ½ mile. I started tearing up when I saw the finish line in the distance. I had a long, difficult journey to get there, and it made the moment even more special.
[Editor’s Note: make sure to scroll down below for a few thoughts from Michael Conlon on how they approached Rhonda’s rehab.]
What do you think made it possible to PR (even with the break/slower pace)?
Ditching my running watch. I wanted my focus to be on enjoying the moment, not my pace. It made me love the marathon so much more because I wasn’t stressing about my time. I ran based on how I felt, not by what a watch was telling me. I ran the marathon 17 minutes and 30 seconds faster than the previous year. I had no idea I had a PR until after I crossed the finish line. I had a bunch of texts from my parents, boyfriend and friends telling me how well I did.
Anything else funny/humorous/noteworthy happen during the race?
I saw a sign that said “If Britney Spears survived 2007, then you can survive this marathon.” It gave me the giggles for miles.
What’s your next goal?
More running! I want to become a guide for Achilles International and help other runners reach their finish line.
How did Michael & Finish Line help you throughout this process?
I never could have completed this year’s marathon if it wasn’t for Michael and Finish Line. Before I went to my first appointment, I was so lost. My doctor’s only instructions for my injury were “don’t run.” Michael immediately explained my injury to me, adjusted my crutches to fit properly and gave me tips on how to walk up and down stairs to make it less painful. Once I was able to start running again, he gave me tons of advice and things to work on to help me become a better runner. He’s a miracle worker, even though he won’t admit it. I think he’s just too modest! And the entire staff is just as wonderful. You can tell how much they genuinely care about you as soon as you walk through the door. The day after the marathon I stopped by the office, and they were just as excited as I was for my accomplishment. They’re all your biggest cheerleaders and support you through the entire process.
Because it’s oftentimes beneficial to know HOW an athlete successfully returns to activity after an injury, here are few notes from Michael on they approached Rhonda’s rehab:
I think the key to Rhonda’s rehab was the gradual progression on her return to running. First, we ran by time, NOT mileage. She had a little anxiety about this at first but fully trusted my guidance. For the first month or so, we ran solely on the AlterG at a certain percentage of her body weight to reduce impact. I believe we started at 60%, 3x/week. During that time we gradually progressed both her body weight and duration. Once she was able to run at 80-85% of her body weight, we introduced running outdoors at 100% but for shorter durations. We still utilized the AlterG for half of her runs — and eventually decreased that to 25% as her training progressed.
During PT we focused on her running form, specifically improving her cadence and foot strike. We also worked diligently on a stability and strength program to ensure her body could handle the increased load of running. To fill in volume in her program, Rhonda introduced no-impact exercise (cycling) in addition to her HEP.