“No Days Off”

Inside the Box book cover image 72dpi 400x600p

With a Four Barrel coffee in hand, standing on 16th street in the San Francisco district of the Mission with my girlfriend yesterday, I watched some of the San Francisco Marathon’s 24,000 runners who participated in the day’s events scramble by at about 10-minute pace. It’s always fascinating to take in the variety of shapes, sizes, gaits and overall mechanics of the 4-hour marathoners.  Not to mention the outfits: Some wearing tights, tops, jackets and gloves while others ran in the bare minimum. Some wrapped up in compression wear and lugging backpacks and advanced hydration technologies. One barefoot. Others dressed as fairies. And in a nod to Folsom street that was not to far away from where we were watching, one runner was dressed in leather shorts and holding a leash chained to his neck.

They were at 21 miles and the facial expressions showed how they were dealing with the grim reality of having crossed through the 20-mile barrier and were facing another five miles of extreme discomfort. But what they were doing was moving: they were running.

I was just standing there for a while and noticed when we decided to walk to breakfast that I’d become stiff. The hot spots were all old friends of mine: the  left hamstring, the left Achilles tendon, the lower back, the right knee. Creaky and complaining. It was easy to connect the dots that it was some of my own marathoning—including having raced the San Francisco Marathon a couple of times in the 1990s—that has strip mined the various muscle and fibers that are now so sensitive. For someone of my age (48) and background (more than three decades of running), I’ve noticed that as great as CrossFit is in developing strength, power and range of motion, if I don’t warm up thoroughly before or restore tissue thoroughly after I have a lot of trouble recovering for a workout the next day. In adding CrossFit Endurance running sessions to the overall mix, this sort of discipline becomes even more crucial.

The great personal discovery of a year and a half ago was that there was hope for me in terms of getting back out there and enjoying some racing again. The key is in addressing on a daily basis all of these tissue problems through

  1. Clean up the movement first: “An easy way to think about this situation is this, the more damaged or severe the injury or problem is, the less tolerance the athlete has for sloppiness or less than ideal mechanics,”  says MobilityWOD.com’s Kelly Starrett, DPT. Starrett’s video blog on this subject is here. In my case for example, when I run my right foot flares out in a way that my left foot does not. In another blog Starrett talks about the value of paying attention to the position of our feet both when moving and even at rest pays off dividends in terms of working to clean up movement.
  2. Mobilize the feet. In addressing chronic Achilles tendons problems Starrett talks about how this is often related to a foot not doing the job that was intended of it; that the foot is designed “to be able to contour support and adjust” and—if the arch and the muscles of the feet are knotted up— we end up loading our Achilles. In this MWOD, Starrett demonstrates some quick work you can do with a lacrosse ball to attack some of these problems.
  3. Recover the tissues. In this MWOD Starrett talks about the importance for someone like me to spend time after each and every workout using a “pressure wave” sort technique to open up range of motion, attacking the tissues of the quads, hamstrings and glutes.
Kelly Starrett teaching a mobility seminar at CrossFit Invictus.

One of the things about this brand of work is that it’s effective as long as I keep doing it; hence, following Starrett’s directive to take “No days off.”  So in taking up a training plan for a ½-marathon in early 2013, integrating these basics into my daily routine is step number one. Just standing on the sidelines watching people run–and feeling rusty as I start walking down the sidewalk–is a clear indication of why this is so.

In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.