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Springtime reawakening

After almost 11 years away from the sport, I’ve begun running again.

I stopped in September 1994 when torn cartilage in my left knee cut short my training for a marathon. Facing arthroscopic knee surgery for the second time — I had had the right knee arthroscoped in 1987 — and not wanting to risk losing any more cartilage, I quit running after 24 years, countless miles and races and much personal satisfaction along the way.

Stopping allowed me the time to go to massage school, build up my practice and indulge in other pursuits such as swimming and hiking. Meanwhile, my vegan diet and stretching routine allowed me to stay trim if not fit.

But then came the 2004 Clifton High School alumni track meet. When it was announced, I considered for a nanosecond getting in shape to run the 1,600 meters, the shortest distance race in the meet. Although I ultimately decided against competing, attending the meet, and walking the track that windy, cool Sunday in June last year, stirred memories of two-mile track victories and cross-country meets begun on the track and extending into Main Memorial Park outside the stadium. I thought that if the meet became an annual event, I would run it next year.

It has, and I am.

My goal is to break 7 minutes in the 1,600 meters — a far cry from my best mile equivalent time of 4:35. I saw some older runners in the 1,600 and 3,200 meter races last year, so I know I’ll have some company in the back of the pack, even if I finish last.

The trick is, I have to get up to some semblance of endurance and speed first, without risking injury.

So I’m starting slowly — 2-3 miles a day four days a week right now, working up to a few five-milers, with some once-weekly speed workouts on the track — eight straightaways in a couple of workouts, four 220s another time, a few quarter-miles the last speed workout the week before the race.

Trouble is, my lower legs feel like lead weights.

Specifically, right now I can’t extend my stride the way I used to because my tibealis anteriors and posteriors and my peroneals — ankle and shin and side-leg muscles extending up toward the knee — are extremely tight. Calf muscles and hamstrings also contribute to the stunted gait.

I’m hoping that slow warm-up runs and stretching afterward will ease the problem.

So, too, will massage. I’ve scheduled some sessions to target these areas.

Spring is a time of renewal, of emerging from hibernation and shaking off winter slough to be energized by the ever-strengthening sun and newly invigorated exercise regimens. Massage is a vital part of my careful re-emergence into the world of running.

I invite you to make massage part of your springtime reawakening.

Technique of the Month

Gastrocnemius Myofascial Release

(From “Pelvic Stabilization & the Lower Body” by James Waslaski, LMT, www.orthomassage.net)

The gastrocnemius (commonly referred to as the calf muscle) flexes the knee and plantarflexes the ankle (it crosses both joints, the knee and the ankle).

The client lies face down with his ankles on a bolster. The therapist performs myofascial spreading at a 45-degree angle down and out on the gastrocnemius starting below the back of the knee and ending at the Achilles tendon.

The therapist uses palmar strokes to lift and lengthen the tissue and changes to fingertip or knuckle strokes to work progressively deeper to expand the connective tissue that encases the gastrocnemius and surrounds the Achilles tendon. Alternately, the therapist provides slow, gentle, rhythmical compressions that are noninvasive.

If the client indicates that there is a specific area of pain that radiates or refers (trigger point), the therapist applies direct pressure for 10-12 seconds before returning to the myofascial spreading, working even deeper.

Stretches of the Month

Gastrocnemius

(From “Pelvic Stabilization & the Lower Body” by James Waslaski, LMT, www.orthomassage.net)

The client is seated one leg straight with a stretch rope around the ball of the foot. She brings her ankle to dorsiflexion (flexes toward the torso) to lengthen the gastrocnemius. Then she plantarflexes (flexes away from the torso) the ankle against the resistance of the rope for 10 seconds at 20 percent force.

She relaxes, inhales, and then actively dorsiflexes her ankle while gently pulling back on the rope for 2 seconds. She then relaxes, inhales and repeats several times. She repeats the stretch on the other leg.

Tip of the Month

“Working From the Core”

(From Top Health, The Health Promotion and Wellness Newsletter, Oakstone Publishing, Birmingham, Ala., (800) 871-9525)

The root of your body’s strength is not in the legs. Rather, the muscles of the torso are the key to nearly ever move you make. However, a sedentary lifestyle can rob you of this strength, leading to low back pain.

Stretching and strengthening these muscles help restore strength. Disciplines that aid in doing this include yoga, Pilates and use of a stability ball.

Hike of the month

Pyramid Mountain Loop

This is actually a plug for an informative Web site, www.localhikes.com. On it are listings for hikes all over the country as reported on and photographed by hike reporters. Below is a guide to a hike I’ve actually done, near Montville, N.J., with the reporter’s name at the end.

Highlights: Nice views, glacial erratics including the famous Tripod Rock

Near: Montville, N.J.

How to get there: Route 23 to exit for County Route 511 (Boonton Avenue). Take Boonton Avenue south for a little more than 4 miles and the Pyramid Mountain visitors center is on your right. Park here and catch the blue trail.

Scenery Distance: 3.5 miles round trip

Elevation Gain: 500 ft.

Hike time: 2 hours

Difficulty: moderate

Trail condition: well-maintained trail

Hike type: loop

Summary: Take the blue trail. It crosses a stream and follows the power lines for a short distance, then turns right and begins a short but stiff climb to the top of Pyramid Mountain. There are nice views of the New York City skyline here.

The trail then flattens out and passes through a mixed hardwood forest. Continue on the blue trail, until you come to a junction with the white trail.

From here it is a short side trip to Tripod Rock, which is a large boulder that was plunked down on three smaller rocks by the last glacier. Then double back on the white trail and catch the blue trail again.

It descends steeply, down a rocky slope, and soon it reaches a wet area. It crosses a stream on a log bridge and passes by Bear Rock, one of the largest individual boulders in New Jersey.

Turn left on the white trail, which follows Bear House Brook, then bear left on the red trail (this avoids the powerline route that the white trail follows). Follow the red trail back to the blue and the blue back to your car.

Best seasons: year-round

User groups: hikers, dogs

Ranger contact: Morris County Park Commission, 973-326-7600

Localhikes reporter: This hike was submitted by Brian Sniatkowski, who has posted 16 other hikes on this site

Recipe of the month

Raw Pad Thai

(From www.rawguru.com)

1 tsp. ginger
One-third cup olive oil
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 lemon (juice only)
1 clove garlic
5 black olives
1 medium tomato, sliced
1 handful portabello mushrooms (optional)
4 zucchinis
2 cucumbers

Blend the ginger, olive oil, coriander seeds, lemon juice, olives, and garlic until well liquefied.

Turn the zucchinis and cucumbers into fine angel hair spaghetti with a Saladacco or Spiral Slicer (available from multiple listings on Google and eminently worthwhile purchasing) and toss the resulting “noodles” with the sauce.

Garnish with a sprig of cilantro, tomato and mushroom slices. Enjoy.

Until I see you again on my massage table and share my Heartful Touch with you … be well.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy

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