Flexibility of a Brick

Over the past two years, I have had a never ending series of little injuries.

The injuries stated with a torn plantar fascia.  That was followed by a wicked bout of peroneal tendinitis.  Then the top of my foot started hurting.  Finally it was a sore hamstring & glute.

I was beginning to think that I couldn’t win for losing.  Seemingly, as soon as I started to recover from one injury, another would pop up.

I’ve been a pretty good patient.  Physical therapy, rolling, trigger point treatment, icing, reducing the length and effort associated with workouts.  You name it, and I’ve tried it.

While there may well be some other underlying issues around my running style and gait, shoe selection, weight (yes, that’s a biggie), and more, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the root cause of many of these injuries lies in the fact that my tendons and muscles basically have the flexibility of a piece of stone.

Some history:  I just turned 46, and have been running or cycling since I was 15.  I ran track and cross country in high school and picked up cycling in college.  In high school, we had a regimented stretching cadence that we followed both prior to and following every workout.  We’d do a warm up run, some core work, and then a bunch of basic (mostly) static stretches.  Fast forward a few years, and I essentially stopped stretching pre or post workout.  To make matters potentially worse, I sit all day long at a computer or conference room table.

Don’t get me wrong – I so some stretching, but whatever I do tends to be centralized on something that is nagging me at the moment.  For example, if my calves are sore, I’ll stretch them.  If my shoulders are sore during a swim, I’ll do some stretching.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I was remembered a comment my teammate Ryan Heisler made earlier this year.  His statement was along the lines that everything is connected in your body, and that if you are having foot issues, the root issue may be someplace other than in your foot.

And if you think about it (and remember that Schoolhouse Rock video about the human body), it’s true.  The leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and so forth.  It only makes sense that foot pain could be the result of something jacked up in your hamstrings or hip flexors.

So, I decided to test this theory.  My going-in hypothesis was that I had at least a modicum of flexibility still.  I was going to test my flexibility through a few simple tests:  (1) crossed-foot toe touch (2) calf-stretch and (3) forward lunge.  The highly scientific benchmark was the range of motion that I remembered having back in my high school running days.  (Let’s just ignore the fact that ~30 years difference might have some impact on my level of flexibility for now).

I decided to do each of these stretches twice each leg, for :30 each leg.  The true test would be the amount of pain I had to endure and at what point I started to feel the “stretch”.

And as you might suspect, I failed miserably.  Essentially, I can’t touch my toes without feeling like my hamstrings are going to rip in half.  The forward lunge (apart from killing my quads) made my groin and hip flexors scream as if someone had forced me into a split.  I literally thought that some giant gorilla was shaking me around like an old Barbie doll or something.

So, how am I going to fix this?

For starters, I’m going to start stretching again.  I’ve read that the static stretching that is near and dear to me is no longer in vogue.  Dynamic stretching is the way to go.  And so, I”ll incorporate some of that into my routine.  I’ll stand more.  I’ll give yoga a try (begrudgingly).

I will become more flexible.

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Scientific Review of Triathlete (homo triathletus)

BOULDER, CO

Scientists from the University of Colorado in Boulder recently published their seminal research on a new species of human.  Their research was conducted throughout the world and was funded, in part, through sales of certain medicinal and recreational plants.

These scientists have called their new species a triathlete (homo triathletus).  The redacted review of research identifying this strange species was recently published in the Journal of Medical Fabrication Dynamics and is included below.

The triathlete (homo triathletus) is an endurance junkie whose native range lies largely within developed areas of the globe, concentrated in the Americas, Europe, Australia, but with smaller populations located in other parts of Asia, the Middle East, and extreme southern Africa.  The average male triathlete weighs around 68 – 90 kg, while the female is generally a third of that size.  Sexual dimorphism does not generally exist in this species, with the occasional exception of clothing styles.  This strange species of athlete has evolved to occupy a narrower niche than its sister species, the swimmer (homo waterwingus), the runner (homo mercurial hermes) and the cyclist (homo rapidus pedalus).  While triathlete has not developed body characteristics that differentiate itself from its sister species, research indicates that this species has developed an affinity for objects made from carbon fibres and neoprene.  Although most triathletes are born on land, they spend at least a third of their time in a variety of aquatic environments.  They are equally at home in saltwater environments, freshwater and free-flowing waterways.  They will often be found inhabiting chlorinated, rectangular ponds.  Triathletes hunt for their preferred food of gels, kale, electrolyte drinks, and soy-based energy bars, often living off of convenience food reserves of pretzels, de-fizzed sodas, bananas and chicken broth.

Naming & etymology

Don Shannahan and Jack Johnston, prominent researchers from the San Diego, CA area, were among the first to identify and classify the triathlete as a distinct species in 1974.  Additional research was conducted and published by John Collins in 1978.  The naming convention was based upon the three primary habitats of these creatures:  in water, upon bikes, and afoot.

Biology and Behavior

Physical Characteristics

Exteriorly, triathlete resembles its distant cousin homo sapiens in appearance.  Specimens are found with a myriad of skin and hair colorations.  A commonality found amongst triathlete is that they tend to clothe themselves in form-fitting brightly colored costumes.  One might question the skull structure of some members of this species, given the proclivity to cover their cranium with helmets.  Research has indicated that some, in fact, have evolved teardrop shaped craniums, which is believed to aid in the reduction of a concept known as drag.

Wide-scale observation has revealed that the male of the species may have an innate fear of body fur.  Observations of triathlete in groupings or conclaves within their natural habitat indicate that the males typically are hairless on their lower skeleton.  Additionally, this species often has strange numeric tattoos upon their arms and, oddly, on one leg.

Some specimens of triathlete have been observed with strange color schemes upon their skin – often alternating darker pigmented skin with areas of lighter pigmentation.  Notably, these color variations are found upon the ankle, thigh, and often upon the upper back (which usually presents in semi-circular pattern around the shoulder area).

Hunting and Diet

Triathlete appears to be an omnivore in general, although there are pockets within the species that abstain from certain foodgroups.  Some are apparently berrytarians, consuming a large amount of berries and fruit – often in mixed up beverages called “smoothies”.  Other specimen of triathlete eat nothing but meat (paleo), nothing but gluten products, and nothing with gluten (gluten free).  Research indicates that a high percentage of triathlete have no idea what gluten is, but they either consume it or they don’t.

Interestingly, triathlete tends to gravitate to thick liquids that come packaged in foil-like shells.  These “fruit” (sometimes called “gels” by triathlete) often come in a variety of flavorings, somewhat dependent upon the variety of plant producing the fruit.  Some of the favorite plants include Powerbar, Gu, Hammer, etc.  Curiously, these plants not only produce the foil-like fruit mentioned herein, but they also produce odd square-shaped vegetation that reportedly provides sustainable nutrition for hours.

Behavior

The most remarkable thing about this new species is the behavior that it displays.  H. triathletus is often found in strange gatherings ranging from around 100 to well over 2000.  It is during these gatherings that the true characteristics of this species are displayed.  These gatherings, however, do not represent the totality of the uniqueness this species brings to the ecosystem.  H. triathletus are often found in small packs in one of their preferred habitat, swimming merily, furiously pedaling, or running as if fleeing from their sole predator, Homo fatamusbottomus.

In culture

Indigenous folklore reflects that triathlete appears to enjoy suffering.  They have been seen stumbling, crawling, and otherwise struggling.  Some of the more developed of the species even has been witnessed completing their unique mating activity – called by some “the Blazeman Roll”.  Other species tend to view triathlete with suspicion, fear and concern.

National DOMS Day

Yesterday in the United States was dubbed as “National Running Day”.  Posts on social media clamored for people to go out and run.  People were compelled to go run “for something or someone”, to run 1 mile to 100 miles, to just get moving.

And so they did.

There was a plethora of folks running.  My twitter feed and Facebook timeline were awash with posts about how folks went out for a run to celebrate the day.  People posted photos of race-like bibs with “I’m running for _____” printed on them.  People shared comments about group runs, runs with dogs and trail runs.

I’m thinking that there was at least an incremental increase in the number of runners yesterday across the country.

So I’m proud to announce (with the full blessing of me, myself and I) that today – and all June 5th henceforth – shall be known as “National DOMS Day”.

DOMS

Inquiring minds may question the definition of DOMS.  But trust me…if you’ve ever had it, you’d know it.  Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  Ya know – the sometimes intense pain in muscles after an intense bout of working out.  For some, it’s intense pain after any sort of movement at all.

By announcing the establishment of this new national holiday, I’m honoring all those out-of-shape, non-exercising couch potatoes who were motivated by yesterday’s holiday to get off their keester and go outside and run.  They may have only run 100 feet.  Some surely went out and ran five miles waaaay too fast.  Bottom line, those folks will find descending staircases slightly more difficult and painful today.  They will experience heavy legs, fatigue, and soreness.  All by-products of their celebratory runs yesterday.

So live large today!  Get a massage.  Wear some compression sleeves.  Complain a lot.  Have a GREAT National DOMS Day!

A 5k PR with my Wife

This past Friday evening, my wife and I had the opportunity to do something together that we had never previously done before – run a race together.  It turned out to be one of the cooler things I’ve done in a long time.

Let me paint the picture:  one of the local high schools puts on an annual festival and 5k road race called “Running of the Knights” (their mascot is obviously the Knights).  The event is used as a major fundraiser for the athletic department.  In prior years, the benefactors had been the swim team, the football team, a new weightroom and much more.  The festival included food vendors, some obstacle courses, volleyball, a couple of “hampster balls” for humans, and much more.  The run included a straight-up 5k as well as a centipede race – where a group of runners is linked at all times by a rope.

So Mrs TM and I had never run a race together.  We raced the same triathlon once, but honestly never saw each other after the start – so that doesn’t really count.  She had only done one other 5k before.  Even despite her telling me I could run my own race, I decided to run the whole race with her.

Mrs. TM isn’t a fast runner but she keeps moving along steadily.  She normally runs in the 11:00 to 11:30 per mile range.  

Friday evening was just about perfect for a mid-May 5k in Florida.  Temps were in the low 80’s and there was virtually zero humidity.  The race was relatively small (~300 runners + the centipede teams).  At the appointed starting time, we lined up behind a recently spray painted start line, making sure to be behind the high school cross country teams – who we knew would go out like a jack rabbit.  After the gun, we started our little jaunt.  I just about immediately took myself out by not paying attention and nearly tripping on a traffic cone (doh!).  We took the first mile in 9:30.  I thought she might blow up, so I backed us off a little.

There was a water station at the half-way point, and Mrs TM wanted to walk through it, as she said she couldn’t run and drink.  Interestingly, instead of the little paper cups that are normally given out at races, we received full Solo cups of water.  Like 16oz of water.  Curious.  As we were walking through the water station, I heard Mrs. TM’s heart rate monitor going like a Geiger counter close to a radioactive leak.  I asked her what her heart rate was:  173.  Whoops.  Nice zone 1 run, there, babe.

We started running again, and I decided to try to keep things slow – not wanting her heart to explode and all.

But….believe it or not….she pushed the pace.  

The entire second mile was directly into the sun – which was a little blinding, but not too bad.

As we got close to the finish (which was on the track at the high school), I asked Mrs. TM if she wanted to do the most cheesy thing possible and hold hands when we crossed the finish line.  She wanted to, and when we crossed the line, we held our hands high.

We finished in 30:50 (9:50/mile or so) which was almost a 4 minute PR for her!  I was really happy for her and quite proud that I was there with her the whole way.