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Many runners focus solely on cardio training and working muscles that help them run such as calves, but ignore the hips. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Many runners focus solely on cardio training and working muscles that help them run such as calves, but ignore the hips. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

My hips don't lie: I'm weak - and about to run my first half marathon Add to ...

In three months, I’ve transformed from a sweaty, wheezy jogger who couldn’t ever push past six kilometres, to someone who regularly calls 10K “only a mid-distance run.” I used to balk at a little discomfort, and now I take pride in the continent-size blisters that come with new distances conquered.

But in all the hours of interval running, gait adjusting, shoe shopping, playlist crafting and healthy-meal making that I’ve put into becoming a half-marathoner, I’ve neglected one element – strength training. Friends, fellow runners and absolute strangers said out of the gate that it was the key to long-distance success, and I had always planned on doing it.

Until suddenly, my race is mere days away, and I’m on a table with physiotherapist Greg Lehman at Medcan in Toronto. He is pushing on my raised leg, asking me to resist, to test my hip strength. He wins within two seconds. He tries to mask his judgment but I see it: I’m weak.

So, on to the strength program, with personal trainer Jenna Martin. She says weak hips are a common runner issue. We ignorant runners tend to ignore the muscles that don’t directly help us run (quadriceps, glutes, calves), and our bodies become strong in some areas and desperately weak in others, Martin says. My hips do not lie: They need work.

She demonstrates what strong hips can do: Running in slow-mo, her hips are locked to her torso with each stride. In stark contrast, mine tip downward with each step. “See, that’s wasted energy,” Martin said.

But there’s good news. Martin says that if I start target strength training right away, there will be a benefit on race day – and beyond. My strides will be stronger and more efficient with a few simple exercises.

She has me doing “clamshells” every day, along with core work on an exercise ball. “It’s like a car – you’ve got your engine all ready, with so much focus on cardio. But what about the frame?”

For the last week, I’m to focus on what runner types call “tapering” – which, frankly, sounds amazing. Two short runs during the week, no intense distances – lots of stretching, lots of rest.

“You want to focus on getting your frame in good shape and ready for race day,” Martin says. “You’ve prepared as much as you can, be proud. This is it.” And then, magical words: “Now would be an excellent time to book a massage.”

Follow @amberlym on Sunday, May 25, for live updates as she runs the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon. Look for her post-race column next Tuesday in The Globe.

The Clamshell exercise

Lie on your side with one arm supporting your head. Your bottom leg should be straight, while your top knee, on a pillow or foam roller, should be 90 degrees to your hip.

Clamshell: Keep foot touching on roller and lift top knee as high as possible.

Reverse clamshell: Keep knee on roller and bring top ankle up as high as possible.

Repeat each exercise 30 times on both legs, every day.

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Follow on Twitter: @amberlym

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