Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting smoked by a seven year old.

When taking on new endeavors, humility is invaluable.  For example, when you decide to run for the first time in a few months and your seven year old freakishly athletic son wants to run with you, you have to know up front that he will, in fact, leap over puddles, turn in circles, run backwards, and periodically sprint while you struggle to maintain your 12 minute mile "jog".  And when you get home and collapse on the floor, he will go down to the basement to practice speed rope intervals for another half hour so he can set the world record at "First in Fitness" in March.  

Me and my Francis at the Warrior Dash.  Not only freakishly athletic, but a darn good-looking kid.  
Well, if I compared myself to Francis, or quite frankly, anyone who is not me, I'd probably get pretty discouraged about my running.  I talk about my shortcomings a lot when it comes to my strengths and abilities, but the truth is, I'm very happy with what I can do.  At a bodyweight of 130 lbs, I can deadlift 224 lbs, squat 174 lbs, and press 85 lbs overhead.  I can also throw heavy rocks a reasonable distance and hike up a mountain carrying a five year old on my back.  I'm proud of myself for always trying to get stronger, more skilled, and more fit.  It is a daily, weekly, monthly struggle to keep my focus and continue to work hard despite the challenges of unfortunate limb length ratios, hip dysplasia, and not having a coach.  I rely on the insight and advice of my friends, a reasonably powerful internal drive, and an ongoing effort to increase my body awareness. 

Body awareness is perhaps one of the most valuable tools for the self-trained individual.  Body awareness sounds like a simple concept, however, its not very simple at all.  Some of us are more gifted than others in being aware of sensations and being able to pinpoint what is causing them.  For example, when running alongside my exuberant child, I feel a pretty overwhelming sense of discomfort. I automatically assume I'm out of breath, but then realize I'm not.  So, then maybe my legs are cramping up, but that's not really the case either.  My stride is steady, my pace is consistent, I'm not breathing hard, and I can even talk to my son as I run up and down these monster hills in my neighborhood.  So, why does it feel so unpleasant?  Well, my legs are tired.  That's pretty much it.  They feel heavy, and a little crampy, but overall, not bad enough to quit.  So, I ran the whole hilly mile.

If I were twenty years old, I would probably go out the next day and run another mile, and do the same the next day.  I would increase my distance as I was able and would probably be able to run 10 miles within four months.  But, I'm not twenty, I'm thirty-nine.  And after running a single mile, I experienced some considerable fatigue and soreness.  My back, my knee, my hamstrings, and my calves were all pretty upset with me.  So, where to go from here?  

Tape.

My favorite tool in the weight room and on the field.  Sometimes, we need a little external support.  A weightlifting belt can help support your spine.  Knee sleeves can hold your knees together during heavy squats.  But sometimes, just a little help is all that is required.  Tape can help to support tendons and ligaments that may otherwise shift enough to cause pain and inflammation.  Muscles do not exist in isolation, instead, they are part of a network of muscles large and small, connective tissue and bone. All these elements work together to produce movement and any break in the chain can result in pain or even worse, injury over time.  I tape my wrists when I lift overhead.  I tape just below my elbow whenever I do grip work.  When I run, I tape my calf just below my knee.  Why?  Because it eliminates the pain I get in my knee when first running after a long time off.   "Runner's knee", pain around the patella when running,  is often caused by misalignment of the bones, tendons, and/or patella so a little tape stabilization can help things stay where they're supposed to when beginning a running program.

Tape has cured me of more pain than Ibuprofen.
  
Foam Roller.

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, is an invaluable tool to the older athlete.   Self myofascial release is a technique that can greatly improve mobility, recovery, reduce pain, and restore muscle balance. This technique is commonly performed with a one’s bodyweight and a foam roller, but can also be performed with tennis balls and other round, relatively dense objects. The technique consists simply of positioning one’s body on top of the roller and rolling across it such that the targeted muscle is stimulated. It is thought that the activity of rolling one’s muscles on a foam roller or other device stimulates the proprioceptors in such a way as to cause the muscles to relax and lengthen.  Unfortunately, the more uncomfortable your muscles may feel on the foam roller, the more you probably need it.

Rolling the IT band is a uniquely painful experience.
Probably the most painful area to foam roll, at least for me (and is probably indicative of my knee pain) is the iliotibial band, or IT band.  The IT band is a thick band of connective tissue that stretches from the hip, where it attaches to the glute and tensor fascia lata, down to the knee where it attaches to the tibia.  It can get irritated from running, squatting, or any kind of excessive repetitions that involve knee and hip flexion.  When the IT band is irritated, life gets unpleasant.  Going up stairs and getting out of the car becomes painful.  Not only rolling out the IT band, but also the glutes, hamstrings, calves, shins, low back and even taking a lacrosse ball to the bottom of the feet can help eliminate a lot of the post-running aches and pains that tend to plague me.

Rest and Recovery.

Admittedly, my weakest link.  Sometimes, you just have to take it slow.  Too much too soon will catch up with you.  Unfortunately, you may be quite a few workouts over your limit before you begin to suffer the consequences.  Again, at my age, this is a much bigger problem than when I was younger.  Unfortunately, I tend to get a little cocky when I have a good workout and keep pushing.  For example, last week I PRed my squat and maxed out my power clean.  So, of course, when I decided to add some running into the mix, I thought that running a mile of hills was perfectly reasonable.  A more reasonable approach might have been 4 laps around a high school track with a minute of rest between efforts.  But instead, I sit here with sore calves and a right knee that is telling me some not very nice things.  

So, in conclusion, I need to bind myself with tape, live on my foam roller, and listen to my friends when they tell me I'm doing too much.  There is no need to do it all right now.  I have set my goals and remember that slow and steady wins the race.  It will take me six months, but if I'm patient and do the preventative maintenance up front, it should be no problem for me to be injury free and running ten miles by summer.  

I am now going to go down to the basement and squat in moderation.  

**Disclaimer:  If you experience pain while exercising that cannot be eliminated by correcting form or adding support, you need to stop and consult your doctor.  There are a lot of different reasons for pain and if you experience something new, acute, or that limits your activity level, you need to make sure you are not injured and/or causing further injury. 

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