Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The First Lesson - Injury and Stretching

Running  is a great experience!  As a yet-beginning runner I find it addicting, invigorating, satisfying and enjoyable.  It's a net-positive in my life, and hope I can achieve some of the goals I've set for myself in the coming year.  My purpose in writing this blog  is to chronicle my journey as a new runner and share the insights I learn along the way, and perhaps elicit thoughts from my readership.

The title says "My First Lesson", but I really can't say what my first lesson was.  I do have some first thoughts on stretching and injury, so we'll start there.

Some Short History
I am by no means a "seasoned" runner.  I've run off-and-on over the years (I am 43 now), but never with a sense of dedication to the experience.  Mostly I was a body building gym rat for 20 years until I herniated my L3-L4 disc about 3 years ago.  But I can't even say I was an athlete anymore at that point; really just a desk jockey riding my chair for 8 hours and dying a little bit each day.

So my journey to the pavement began in April 2010, when I read T. Colin Campbell's book, "The China Study" and realized I had to change my daily  200g animal protein diet to a purely plant-based profile.  Without going into details at this time, my previous approach of eating quantities of lean meats to support muscle growth was negatively impacting my blood profile (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar etc.) and not improving my sense of health.  It was also expensive and wasn't actually helping promote muscle growth - 16 years of personal experience are behind that attempt.

So becoming a vegan made me feel better (and 30lbs lighter!) which led to increased energy and cardiovascular exercise (sacrilege to traditional bodybuilder mindset) which led (eventually) to running the roads.  I've been running pavement for about 2 months now, so truly, I am just a beginner.

The First Real Lesson
I was awakened at 3am today by a cramping hamstring, a lingering effect of my first nagging injury as a runner.  I suppose I am rubbing up against my first real lesson here:  Don't Run Injured!  Unlike bodybuilding, you can't "work through it" - not for miles anyway.

I injured my hamstring about 3 weeks ago when I stopped stretching before and after runs -- when I followed Jeff Galloway's advice to stretch during periods of non-exercise throughout the day and not at the time of exercise.  Why would I do this?  In Jeff's book "Galloway's Book on Running", he explains that pre-run and post-run stretching elicits a stretch response that causes the muscle to tighten.  Having pre-stretched before my runs and still feeling tightness, I took his advice.  Prior to this I have always stretched during and after exercise (some of John Parrillo's lessons on fascial stretching are pure gold).   I can't say that following Galloway's advice was the only cause of the muscle pull -- there are likely other factors like quickly doubling my weekly mileage, attacking hills and running 6 days a week.  But, I'm also not Jeff Galloway, nor am I built like him.  Everyone must find their own approach to the run, and mine (apparently) includes a pre- and post-stretch.  That said, Galloway's book on running is a great resource and I highly recommend it.

Now that I have injured my hamstring, and aggravated my calf, achilles tendon and glute along with it, nursing it back is a lesson in itself.  I've learned not to overstretch the leg.  A little is good, too much is, well, too much.  I've felt well-enough to run a couple of easy miles this week, and augment with Lifecycle Bike and elliptical training.  My greatest challenge is holding back - after all, anything worth doing is worth doing with intensity, right?

I will miss the Turkey Trot this Thanksgiving, which I was really looking forward to, and take the long Thanksgiving weekend off from running entirely.   Besides catching up on some early holiday shopping, I'll spend some time outdoors, stretch, enjoy the family and live well.  Happy Running!

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