Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From Yoda to yoga - Confessions of a runner who forgot to stretch

In April of this year, I ran the Vancouver Sun Run, a 10K race that bills itself as the "the third largest timed run of any distance in the world." I ran with nearly 60,000 other runners of all ages and abilities. It was a wonderful spectacle with perfect conditions, cool and slightly overcast. My goal to run a sub-50 minute 10K race seemed well within reach.

Fast-forward 54 minutes and 54 seconds and there I am, hobbling around in agony, my right knee locked up tight, my back sore and words coming out of my mouth in a garbled mess. I looked (and sounded) like Yoda, the character from Star Wars, except without any of his wisdom. A wise runner would have done her yoga. I was not wise. "That runner, I am. Stretch I did not."

In retrospect, it was bound to happen. You see, like many of you, I'm a desk jockey. I sit at a computer all day long, one of the worst things you can do from a mobility and stability stand point. And being a 40-something, I caught the wave of desktop computing from its infancy, sitting on my backside for up to 10 hours a day for the last 20 years. So while I knew about my lack of core strength, and my lousy glute strength, it never occurred to me that my hip flexors would be my downfall.

MyPypeline training coach and triathlete James Greenwood say, "Your hip flexors are the muscle that actually moves you when you walk or run. If it's tight to begin with, it will get tighter still when it fatigues through your race." Oh... bah!

There I was, cruising along at a comfortable 4:45 / km, sub-50 minutes in sight, when at the 5.5 km mark, I could feel my right hip flexor snap tight as a drum. The tightness wound its way around my hip girdle, back to my tailbone and straight down to my right knee. By the time I hit the 6 km mark I was limping along at about 9:15 / km frustrated and angry.

Now I have preached the gospel of doing yoga before but maybe I wasn't doing enough. "Road races are run on hard, uneven surfaces, often stressing one side of the body more because of the camber in the road. If you don't train on those surfaces, you're body won't be prepared for those stresses," say James. "Plus, most racers run far beyond what they trained at. It feels great to 'hammer it' from the gun, but it does catch up with you before the finish line."

If that isn't enough, James goes on to say that as we age the composition of our muscles change. "Our 'fast twitch' fibers, the ones responsible for our speed and power, alter their function over time to become more 'slow twitch' in nature, the one responsible for endurance. We will get slower with age but with correct and regular training we can hold on to more of our speed. However, 'hammering it' is just one more stressor that fatiques our muscles and ultimately causes undertrained muscles to seize up." The 75-year-old who passed me at the 8 km mark obviously knew all of this.

Upon reflection, I can say I did warm up and I did some yoga during my strength and condition training. But this was not enough to prevent injury. Age, race conditions and two decades of a sedentary work style means I have to do yoga regularly. My days of running a race 'cold' are over. A lack of deep flexibility cost me my goal and rewarded with me with three weeks of recovery time.

Don't be that runner -- do yoga.

Fit, Fabulous and 40 is dedicated to anyone who is committed to staying fabulous by eating well, keeping active and maintaining a positive frame of mind. This takes work, so let's do it together. Drop me a comment any time, pass on tips and tricks or just follow along. You don't have to be 40, but you do have to be fabulous!


James Greenwood said...

As with everything in life, consistency, variety and moderation are the key ingredients in realizing your goals.

A combination of Cardio-Vascular, Resistance training and Flexibility / Yoga provides a great balance for the body.

A race is never the greatest place to have to learn a lesson, but it when it does happen - it is not quickly forgotten.

A 45 minute 10km in the 2010 Sun Run?