This past fall, I trained for the New York City Marathon. With six weeks to go, I was feeling good. I had a 20-mile run in the bag and my workouts were solid.
At the end of September, I headed out for my second 20-miler. I decided on a destination run that followed a point-to-point course. Since the shoulder of the road was cambered, my right leg ended up being a smidge higher than my left for the entire three-hour run.
That leg discrepancy, along with accumulated training fatigue and weak glute muscles, had me limping through the next few runs. I started to panic. I knew the pain of a tight hamstring, that terrible cramp that you just can't get out. It shortens your stride and leaves you literally sidelined on long runs.
But legs always feel beat up during marathon training, right? Thinking I might just be tired, I took a few days of rest and cancelled some workouts, but the tightness in my hamstring remained.
Read More: 5 Hip Strengthening Exercises
For about a week, I alternated between denial and fear. For anyone unfamiliar with the NYC Marathon, it's not an easy one to get into. I was fortunate enough to gain a spot through the lottery, but there were no guarantees it would happen again. Plus, I had asked a lot of my family and myself in those first 10 weeks of training. Not getting to the starting line wasn't an option for me.
So, after a bit of a pity party, I consulted with my physical therapist and developed a plan. If I wanted to resume training, I'd need to strengthen my glute and core muscles--fast.
When it comes to a tight hamstring, a few key exercises can stabilize the muscle. Hip bridges are at the top of the list. My trainer challenged me to lift my hips high in the air in a set of 10 each day for 30 days, adding more reps as I felt the pain subside.