Hey, I recently turned 50. And I’ve actually never run better or been more limber in my life. Why? Because I decided a few years ago that I was going to work on my flexibility. Daily.
It wasn’t an accident or luck. And I sure didn’t come by it naturally. In my 20s and 30s, I couldn’t touch my toes and often got a kink in my neck when I ran. I also had a litany of over-use injuries: IT bands, lower back, shins.
I wasn’t weak. Or at least I didn’t feel weak, but I knew my flexibility kinda sucked and that was a big culprit. So, I just finally said “@&#^ it, I’m going to work on this!”
I should back up a bit. What’s an over-use injury? Is that different than just being sore after a workout? While it’s sort of the same, I came by my over-use injuries from literally over-using my muscles and skeletal system doing ultra-endurance events. In particular, adventure racing, a multi-sport competition that combines mountain biking, trail running, trekking/mountaineering, kayaking, navigation, and sometimes other wilderness-related events. Adventure races can range from several hours to, yes, several days over several hundred miles.
Yeah, sounds crazy. And it is. But it’s incredibly fun, challenging, epic, and rewarding. Most of all — or most uniquely — it really challenges your perceptions of what the body and mind are capable of doing.
The question is always ‘how do you train for a race that’s going to take you several hours or even several days?!’ (And, yes, by several days, I mean non-stop) And the easy answer is that like most sports or competitions you might train for, you never actually go quite as hard or as long in training as you do in the actual event. You just can’t really simulate the exact intensity, nerves, competition, place, etcetera. So, you push yourself to a point where your body is forced to adapt and strengthen itself, and you keep pushing over and over to make incremental gains until you can combine your physical prowess with the mental fortitude to take on the challenge of the real race or event.
And in my case, I was training and racing a lot. And not really doing the proper maintenance and recovery. Yeah, I was ‘young’ and indestructible. Ha. At least you could classify my mental state as ‘Stubborn’ because I would never give up and race through all types of ailments (usually dehydration and exhaustion, go figure). But I was also obsessed with training and tried to do something every day. Hence the quote above. Yes, it might be trying to do some yoga or stretching, but I just didn’t really make that part of training enough of a habit.
So finally in my 40s, I wised up. I said ‘look you gotta start doing the maintenance part or you will have all those long-term injuries your mom keeps yelping about.’ (Thanks for worrying, ma. Love you.). And so, one day… I did.
I just started working on my squats and stretches to help my hamstrings (always tight as piano keys), my lower back (the place where everything comes together), my feet (yes, give your feet some love, you’re treading on them all day), my neck, my hip flexors, and more.
Amazingly, when you loosen up physically, your mind is also freed up to worry less about such injuries. When you get out there and start to flow better, run better, lift smoother, whatever — your mind follows suit. Progress happens on all fronts. It also helps your mindset for when you want to get out and train.
So take that ancient wisdom to heart (and mind, and body) and work on yourself daily. Your new success won’t be an accident.
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