Stacking the Deck: An example from this morning’s run

This morning while out for a leisure 2 mile run an old runner’s nemesis, knee pain, was there waiting for me. I was able to deal with it successfully by stacking the deck.

This week I’ve been talking about the concept of Stacking the Deck and I’ve even posted a couple of videos that demonstrate using it during Edgework. I thought this example may help to further demonstrate the concept.

In this case, despite warming up to “game speed” I noticed the discomfort pretty much straight away. Step onto the right foot, pain on the outer knee cap area. Worse on the downhill but also present on the uphill. Pretty standard anterior knee pain. Were I to seek a diagnosis based on my symptoms almost garauteed I’d have been diagnosed with either the vague (and appropriately so) “Anterior Knee Pain” or the more sinister sounding but more specific sounding “Patellofemoral syndrome” or “Chondromalacia Patella.”

Also fairly standard, the pain improved a little ways into the run and worsened again towards the end. I ended on a 1/2 mile downhill section which was not the most convenient time for it to worsen.

This is when I stacked the deck and was able to finish my run virtually pain free.

What did I do? I ran harder. I increased my pace and I pushed off with the leg more vigorously.

I wasn’t “pushing through pain” nor was I taking a “no pain, no gain” approach. The knee felt better immmediately, not worse.

I stacked the deck. Normally when I push in this fashion I’m either a) feeling good enough to push the edge or 2) trying to meet some training goal I’ve set and am in expansion mode. Either way, I usually do this when the scenario is favorable. Because of this my pre-conceived notion of running in this manner is not based on survival but expansion.

So, when my body was posed the question “how dangerous is this, really?” I put myself in a context that was not protective. I flipped the context from one of protection to one of expansion. The result was the favorable one that I was looking for.

How did I know this would work? I didn’t. But I thought it might based on my understanding of pain. Also, I was willing to explore different ways of moving and did so creatively.

Does this make you think differently about why exercise and paricularly vigorous exercise can sometimes be helpful? What about when it’s not?,


  1. Great example.

    Had a similar occurance a few weeks back. I had strained my calf doing some sprints. Had swelling for a while so managed it appropriately with rest and ice and gradually got back into running. While progressing back on one run I felt the “pull” in my calf, again just like when I injured it sprinting. I stopped and walked for a few strides to exam “How dangerous is this?”. Deciding I had allowed normal healing to take place to recover I continued back to running but threw in some novel movement with turning my toes in and out with my stride for awhile. No pain or “pull” in my calf with the change in stride (maybe looked a little goofy with duck running and pigeon toe running). After about a quarter mile I slowly decreased the turning in and out of the toes to regular running and no pain. Completed my last mile of the run with no pain or “pulling”.


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