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Just Call Me Gumby

This is an excerpt from I Run, Therefore I Am--Nuts! by Bob Schwartz.

Chapter 2

Just Call Me Gumby

I recall being on vacation a few years ago and giving myself the
luxury of having a massage. As my seemingly sadistic masseur was pounding away on the back of my legs, he casually asked, “You're a runner, aren't you?”

I immediately replied in the affirmative, as pride filled my limbs. Like a proud peacock strutting his 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, which I assumed would be how many miles I ran that morning.

Guess again, nimblerod! He burst my swelling ego like a pair of 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 masseur. 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 PR(personal record) 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 an overindulgent contortionist. I'd open the door with my feet! I'd lie on his massage table and casually scratch my ear with my big toe! I'd tie my shoes just by bending over at the waist and keeping my knees locked! I'd show him a thing or two about being springy and pliable.

The problem was that I had the flexibility of a steel pipe. The word stretching sent 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. Postrun stretching consisted of bending down to pick up the morning paper from 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. Additionally, my ability to sit cross-legged was a distant memory, and I couldn't seem to get my socks on without wrestling myself on the floor.

Miraculously, I came upon the answer to my flexibility prayers. I discovered that proper stretching was supposed to stop at the point when it began to feel uncomfortable. Hey, my kind of exercise. No strain, all gain! 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 that required placing the exterior edge of your left foot on your right shin and pulling it toward your chest, while contracting your hip flexors, looking over your right shoulder, and whistling “Yankee Doodle” as you exhaled slowly and wiggled 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 masseur 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.

More Excerpts From I Run