Supporting the habit

Getting injured was probably the best thing that happened to me as a runner last year. That and failing at my first bid to break 2 hours in a half marathon.

Both those events taught me that setbacks pave the way for comebacks, and the road to self-mastery is long. I have time. It’s okay if I don’t reach my goal today or on the day that I anticipated. If I keep working at it, I’ll get there. It’s like that Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” So seize the moment, yes, but seize it for the opportunity it presents you, which may not be the one you expected. The one you expected will come in time.

My injury (which I’ve learned was triggered by pulling wheeled luggage on a frenzied overseas trip, not running) led me to physical therapy, and physical therapy taught me oodles about the condition of my “running system” – the musculoskeletal network that enables me to run. I learned that my abductors, adductors and glutes are pathetically weak compared my quads, calves and hamstrings. I learned that the abdominal surgery in 1984 is no longer an excuse to tip-toe around my lower abdominals. Not unless I am willing to quit running in the near term, or end up hunchbacked in my 60’s from subjecting my lower back to a couple decades of unnecessary beating.

I was pretty cynical about physical therapy before I experienced it. I was ignorant. I had never been athletic until recently, so I was never in a position to be injured and rehabilitated. All physical therapists do is prescribe exercises, I thought to myself. I wanted a practitioner work her magic on me, not to send me home to do the work.

I recant. I am a PT convert. I adore my therapist, especially. She is smart as whip, stylish as a Mission District diva (how many therapists out there can churn out 15 step-ups wearing skinny jeans and zebra print ballet flats?), and a fellow runner. From our five sessions together came these two pearls of wisdom that will enlighten me forever:

1) An injury to one muscle results from another muscle’s failure to do its job.

2) Do what it takes to support your habit. She literally used those words and it made me chuckle, picturing myself as a crackhead selling all my possessions to “support my habit.” What she meant was: if you run, make the effort to strengthen and balance the muscles and ligaments needed to run safely and successfully. Football players lift weights to get stronger for the game and everyone expects that. Virtually every athlete hits the gym as part of their training. Yet apparently runners are notorious for skipping out on strength conditioning. As though running should come naturally, or the added undertaking would somehow taint the simplicity of the sport. I, however, can’t afford the fairy tale view any longer. My body is neither young nor historically fit.

It’s empowering, actually, to know that the fate of my running lies largely in my hands. I like knowing that I am taking care of my body, that I am getting stronger, that I can mold my body into what it needs to be to accomplish some feat that once seemed out of reach. It is DIY at its finest.  I’m proud to take ownership of me.

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2 thoughts on “Supporting the habit

  1. This is a great post. I learned these lessons this past year, too. I love that “support your habit” quote. That is the reason I am doing yoga and am trying to broaden my cross training habit.

  2. Getting injured really helps you to appreciate running. I sprained my ankle last year (not running related), and it took me 6 weeks to get to where I could run comfortably on it, and a lot longer before it wasn’t tender. I will never take it for grated again!

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