I’ve had a long and evolving running career.  I started running in college and did my first 10k shortly thereafter.  I ran my first marathon in my 40s and have done several 1/2 marathons since.  I finished 3 Pikes Peak Ascents and one Pikes Peak Marathon, taking 3rd in my age group for the Triple Crown of Running (a series of 3 races).  I love challenges and 15 months ago took up Spartan Racing.  This year I finished 1st in my age group in the Open Division of the Breckenridge Beast!

I should also mention that I have a long history of medical challenges.  I’ve had cancer, been in a horrific car accident and had double carpal tunnel surgeries, among other issues.  The accumulated result was that I had very little upper body strength and mobility which made many of the Spartan obstacles even more challenging!  Try picking up a 75 lb. Atlas stone when you’re 5’2”, your spine doesn’t move much and your grip is virtually non-existent (needed help opening jars).  

I had gone for help to a number of practitioners and utilized modalities including chiropractic, physical therapy, hypnosis for the chronic pain and headaches… all without much lasting success.  Interestingly, my thoracic spine was so locked up from the car accident that none of the chiropractors could fully adjust me!  A fellow Spartan racer recommended that I see Grove Higgins and I did.  Grove has a unique blend of neurology, biomechanics, soft tissue and chiropractic skills and mastery in each.  He, too, tried to adjust my spine, but when it didn’t work, the difference in his approach became apparent.  Instead of quitting, recommending 12 visits for more of the same or recommending heat or massage as the others did, he shifted lenses to a neurological approach.  If my spine was being held tight protectively by my brain, what else could we do to reduce the threat and get it to loosen its grip?

It started with improving joint mobility in other areas of my body that could move.  I now understand that improving your brain’s map of your movement capabilities reduced overall threat substantially.  I also had brain trauma from the car accident and a previous history of vestibular issues (couldn’t hang upside down without the world spinning).  We worked on improving my sensory (vision and balance) and breathing skills.  The accumulated reduction in threat from mobility, sensory and breathing work relaxed my brain’s hold on my spine to the point where it could be adjusted and we could work on more active movement and control like posture.  

It didn’t stop there though.  Grove, being a multi-skilled athlete himself, quickly grasped the other skills I would need to successfully complete in Spartan racing.   Once we had mobility and posture we were able to address sport-specific strength and coordination.  As a result, I’ve improved dramatically.

I recognize that the bulk of NeuroRunner’s audience might have an “Interesting, but what does this have to do with running?” reaction to what I’ve related so far.  So let me add this.  My running has improved immensely through this process!  I never realized how much spinal mobility and arm strength would translate into running endurance and power.  I also never understood the value of sensory and mobility training, and even shoes (I’ve switched to zero-drop) in injury prevention.  On the descent of the Pikes Peak Marathon in 2009, I managed to fall twice, sprain both ankles (I have an enduring relationship with ankle sprains, too) and pull both hamstrings!  Since working with Grove, I’ve rolled my ankle once or twice, amazingly without consequence!  My improved mobility and body map made this a total non-event.  All of this has improved my skill and confidence in downhill running which played into my performance in Breckenridge.  

Perhaps most importantly, it has allowed me to continue to run.  Previously, whenever I ran a significant distance, tension accumulated in my neck and upper back to the point where I had migraines.  I thought I would have to give up running anything over a 10K.  That has cleared up as a result of the work I’ve done with Grove.  I now can not only continue to race, but continue to improve.  And I can offer hope to my friends who think they might have to give up running for some nagging injury or pain, too!

Mary Jo Campbell – Colorado Springs, CO