Call Me Gumby
by Bob Schwartz
I recall being on vacation a few years ago and giving myself the luxury of having a massage. As my seemingly sadistic masseuse was pounding away on the back of my legs, he casually asked, "You're a marathon runner, aren't you?"
I immediately replied in the affirmative as pride filled my limbs. Like a proud peacock strutting their beautiful feathers I flexed (what I felt to be) all my sinewy muscles and concluded he'd noticed my well-conditioned runner's physique. I waited eagerly for the next question that I assumed would be how many miles I ran that morning.
Guess again nimblerod! He burst my swelling ego like a pair of way too small lycra tights exploding at the seams. His next inquiry was "You don't stretch, do you?"
Great, I thought. Busted on vacation by my masseuse. I immediately blurted out "Yes, I confess -- I don't stretch! And I run in worn shoes longer than I should and I sometimes refuel with no more than a can of diet-soda. I've cut a few corners during races, I've lied about my marathon PR a couple of times and I once lined up much closer to the starting line than I should have based on my predicted pace per mile. There -- it's all out in the open! Are you happy?"
He gave me a quizzical look as I slowly extricated my stiff body from the table and walked out of my confessional massage. I vowed to change. I'd be back next year and show him the limberness of a overindulgent contortionist. I'll open the door with my feet! I'll lay on his massage table and casually scratch my ear with my big toe! I'll tie my shoes just by bending over at the waist and keeping my knees locked! I'll show him a thing or two about being springy and pliable.
The problem was I had the flexibility of a steel pipe. The word stretching alone would send shivers down my rigid spine and reverberations through my overly taut hamstrings. Static, Ballistic, Active Isolated or Dynamic -- I'd ignored all types of stretching. I was an equal opportunist at inadequate limbering.
Oh, I'd heard it all before. The benefits of muscles with greater elasticity. Increased stride, less soreness and muscle relaxation. Easier said than done when my ability to touch my ankle occurred only when I was sitting in a chair.
My idea of stretching for an early morning run was to virtually sleepwalk to the end of the driveway and then raise my arms once above my head (and look to confirm I was no longer holding my coffee mug). I'd then bend my neck and quickly glance at my feet to double-check that I had shoes on. Post-run stretching consisted of bending down to pick up the morning paper off the front doorstep.
I'd convinced myself that trying to be limber was painful and no pain was -- well, no pain. But doubts regarding my neglect of stretching began to creep in as someone seemed to be tying my Achilles tendon a little tighter each night, my ability to sit cross-legged was a distant memory and I couldn't seem to get my socks on without getting on the floor.
Miraculously I came upon the answer to my flexibility prayers. I uncovered that proper stretching was supposed to stop at the point you began to feel discomfort. Hey, my kind of exercise. No pain, no gain didn't apply! Perfect. Kind of like an interval workout ending just after the warm-up. This was more up my alley as I enthusiastically began the journey to limberland.
It was smooth sailing once I figured out the more complicated stretches. This included the one which required placing the exterior edge of your left foot on your right shin and pulling it toward your chest while contracting your hip flexors and looking over your right shoulder while whistling Yankee Doodle as you exhale slowly and wiggle both ears in an alternating manner while pressing your buttocks downward against the floor and rotating your toes in a counter-clockwise direction.
I've gotten more flexible but never have made it back to that vacation spot to show my masseuse how I can stand up, grab my ankles with my hands and then bend over and pull up my socks with my teeth.
I'm thinking of sending him a picture though. I'll just sign it, "Yours, Gumby".
This story and more in Bob Schwartz's New book: I Run, Therefore I Am - NUTS!