Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kenyan Way Speed #8 -- Joint Logic

Morning Speed Work-
200's with 1:30 target:
1:28 (90SR) 1:30 (75SR) 1:26 (60SR) 1:28 (45SR) 1:24 (30SR) 1:27 (15SR) 1:23

not too bad -- probably should have run this a bit faster

Evening Easy Run-
6.78 miles, 53:38, 7:54 pace, Avg HR = 144, Max HR = 154

A little over a month ago I posted about my belief that there are four parts to conditioning for running. A) Muscles, B) Joints, C) Cardiothoracic, and D) Psyche.

In that post I elaborated on the fourth item, psyche, and left you with the cliffhanger promise that I'd discuss the others in the future. Welcome to the future.

I'd like to give you my non-medical, non-researched, first-hand understanding of joint conditioning in this second session of conditioning for running. I didn't want to do any research for this post because I don't want to give myself (and especially not you) the idea that I am qualified to administer medical advice. Your doctor should do that. My advice is worth exactly how much it costs -- nothing.

Every cell in the human body needs oxygen and nutrients in order to live and function. Most tissue in the body is quite vascular, meaning that an ample supply of blood has easy access to individual cells via a network of capillaries. But intuitively we know that ligaments and tendons just aren't that way. If it doesn't gross you out, think about the texture of ligaments and tendons the next time you take a bite into a roasted chicken leg. These connective tissues get their oxygen and nutrient supply somewhat like a sponge. Fluid works its way in as they expand, and out again as they contract. So movement is a critical element to healthy ligaments and tendons.

Joints are defined as the intersection of two bones, and are held together by ligaments (except for the fixed joints of the skull). The movement of a joint is caused by the contraction and relaxation of muscles, which are attached to bones by tendons. So tendons and ligaments, for the sake of this article, are the critical components to which I refer when I speak of joint conditioning.

I hear plenty of people say that they can't run because they injured their knee years ago and that ended their running career. I'm generally skeptical about that diagnosis, even though I keep it to myself, because it doesn't make sense to me. Joints need to be conditioned just as muscles need to be conditioned in order to run. It's like saying I'm never going to use my arm again if I have a muscle tear in my bicep. To reiterate, moving the joint expands and compresses the connective tissue, which delivers nutrients and increases flexibility, strength and functionality of your joints.

I had some knee pain when I first started running. But I listened to my body and rested when necessary and pushed forward when appropriate. My joints didn't get better by sitting on the couch. Pretty soon I didn't have any joint pain at all. And that brings us to today, and the reason why I wanted to discuss this topic. On the home stretch of my easy run this evening I stepped on a curb in the dark and tweaked my ankle a bit. Uneven surfaces are a major hazard of night running. It hurt pretty bad at that moment, so I stopped immediately and walked the mile back home. For a few anxious moments I thought about the impact that an injury would have on my training and how injury has sidelined some of my friends. Luckily for me the pain was temporary and disipated to the point that I can barely feel anything at all right now . . . a few hours later. I'll probably be fully recovered tomorrow.

I feel confident that my running has conditioned and strengthened my joints, and that I weathered this slight ankle twist because of my level of physical activity. Had I taken that misstep prior to running, it might have bothered me for a week or two. But I think the ligaments in my ankles are healthier, stronger, and more flexible thanks to running. Think of it as a rubber band that either dry-rots becuse it's never stretched, or maintains its elasticity because it's used regularly and oiled by the touch of your skin.

To extend this train of thought a bit further, increased flexibility is essential to quality of life. I hope when I'm 70/80/90 that I can still move around without pain. And I firmly believe that frequent impact exercise increases my chances for full, pain-free mobility in my advanced years, despite the beliefs of non-runners who profess that running deteriorates the body.

If you know of any inaccuracies listed above, please let me know. Thanks in advance.

Evening Splits
8:22, 7:59, 7:57, 7:45, 7:48, 7:52, 5:59 for .76 miles (7:52 pace)

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