This article was written by American Trail Running Association member Vicki Hunter, a certified Foundation Training Instructor and Certified Level II Lydiard Running Coach. Vicki qualified for the 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials in a time of 2:49:24 and still competes in races ranging from 5k to 50 miles.
One day when I was in my late 30s, newly married, pregnant, fit and fast, wildly happy with my life, I drove into a tree on a dark mountain road. When I woke up in the hospital, I couldn’t run. I could barely breathe on my own. My injuries: a collapsed lung, punctured liver, broken sacrum, broken pubic symphysis, three skull fractures resulting in brain injury. I healed from those injuries, but I still had more to learn.
Years later, in my mid-50s with two near grown daughters, I shattered my arm in a trail running fall. Again, I faced the process of healing, the fact of finding myself slowed against my will, the realization that my own character had led to the situation. This time, it is my hope that I’ve emerged humbler, more introspective, more grateful for my very ability to participate in a sport that I love and need.
I have been a competitive runner since my late twenties, qualifying for the 1988 Olympic Trials and then turning to mountain running where I placed as high as third in the Pikes Peak Marathon. I have always pushed hard, sometimes too hard, and as a result have gone over the edge more times than I’d like to admit.
But there is another side of me that has always wanted to find the best way to train my body to be able to do as much as I want. I love spending all day running in the mountains and I also love running a fast 5k. Finding that balance has always been a motivator.
I ran my second marathon in 1986 and had no idea what I was doing and started the race with a lingering knee injury. By mile sixteen, I was hobbling, but I refused to drop out. The next day my knee was the size of a grapefruit. I couldn’t run a step, but luckily someone told me about aqua jogging, and I found a warm-water therapy pool where I went every day for the next month. My knee healed, but I never stopped using aqua running as a method of cross-training.
After my car accident, I was in a wheelchair for weeks. Once I left intensive care, I insisted on going to the hospital where I first tried aqua jogging. My healing was accelerated because I was able to take the weight off my injured bones and start moving. At first, the effort to just get in the water was almost too much, but gradually my body learned to relax and I progressed rapidly.
I added in other forms of movement during the pregnancy and by seven months gestation could do a two-hour, very slow, snowshoe in the mountains. My daughter, Jade, was born on her due date. That was when I had to truly start getting stronger because every mother knows, the hard work only begins once a child is born. I started doing therapeutic yoga, lifting weights and I was back to running after a couple of months.
Yet my body was wrecked, and I had major imbalances that plagued me for years. Yes, I could run, but I had foot pain off and on for years including neuromas that I am convinced were due to the lasting effects of the accident. Perhaps, the most painful lingering effect was the aching in my upper back that would be there at the end of the day almost no matter what I did. It would go away overnight and then return as an eternal reminder of the fateful day I almost lost my life and my baby.
In 2014, almost seventeen years after the accident, I was introduced to Foundation Training. Eric Goodman, a chiropractor, has developed a system of movement that combats compression in the body. It’s based on his years of studying anatomy and his own quest to heal himself. The movements are based on three basic principles: decompression, anchoring and integration. Once I learned how to unload the parts of my body that were overworking and to maintain good upright posture, my scapula pain went away, I started running more fluidly and I felt lighter on the earth. I was even able to correct the high hamstring strain that I had for years and that I know many runners suffer from. I was sold. When I retired from teaching Political Science at the University of Colorado, I knew that I wanted to become a certified instructor of Foundation Training.
I am now a Level II instructor and have immersed myself in the study of anatomy and movement to help myself and my students move better through life.
I am still a competitor. I still want to win when I toe the line at races. I still make mistakes, and sometimes I still go too far. But I’m much kinder to myself, and when I look at the many other runners I know–some of whom are my coaching clients, some of whom are my rivals and friends–my hope for them is that they, too, will be kind to themselves, their bodies and their souls. Listening to myself, paying attention; it has taken me years to figure out that sometimes to move forward I need to slow down.
Foundation Training requires patience and time; it is not an overnight fix, but it has taught me how to fix my own body and I cannot think of a better tool for runners of all types.
Over the years, people have asked me, “Why are you always running?” The answer has varied. Now, my reply is: “To re-create myself.”
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