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Ambition vs. Reality in Keeping Ourselves Injury-Free

Sometimes we really can't do what we used to

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A few simple statistics give a clue to the athletic demographic in the Treasure Valley. One recent national study placed Boise in the top five most-active communities. Registration for the annual Race to Robie Creek (billed as "the toughest half marathon in the Northwest") routinely ends minutes after it begins. And on any given Sunday, the Foothills crawl with hordes of people.

Now sunshine and 90-degree temperatures are but memories for weekend warriors and couch potatoes alike. The difference is that the couch potatoes are still happily sofa-surfing while we wannabe jocks are licking our wounds from physical overuse. Such are the perils of a summer that lasted through the end of September. Thus, it's no coincidence that an Internet search reveals more than 50 thriving physical-therapy practices in the Boise area.

As any athlete knows, making a sudden change in training is essentially punching your ticket for the injury train. We know this, and yet many of us subject ourselves to bouts of tendonitis, muscle tears and stress fractures, all in the name of getting into better shape. All summer, opportunities beckon us to set new goals, race against each other or push to new limits. Consequently, with the fall comes a literal fall, a natural acquiescence to a body that begs for a break. I can't think of a riper irony--becoming more physically active has the potential to reduce us to inactivity when injury results.

Having had my fill of snow last winter, I leapt off the couch in March, attacking spring sports with all the enthusiasm of a Lab puppy. By August, I was running my third marathon of the year and challenging myself to pedal up Bogus Basin Road at least once a week. I'm no rookie; I should know better. Since I passed age 30, I've received constant physical reminders that my connective tissue, once stretchy and forgiving as saltwater taffy, now feels more like dried out rubber bands. If that sounds like a slight exaggeration, perhaps it is. But I don't exaggerate the slightness--I'm being more honest than you might think.

I've discovered that mythological weak spots are a reality. My very own Achilles heel, semi-crippled by a mild case of tendonitis, has forced me to incorporate physical therapy into my otherwise burly training regimen. Instead of logging miles on the trails, I'm counting calf raises in 10s and 20s, strengthening the muscles that support and contract the Achilles. In addition to packing the tendon in ice for 15 minutes three times per day, I'm stretching my soleus and my gastrocnemius as faithfully as a religious zealot prays.

Frustration with injury is inevitable. No athlete likes to feel like a slacker, but I have William Shakespeare to thank for providing me with an elegant redemption from being a wimp. In Henry IV, Part 1, Falstaff comments that, "The better part of valor is discretion." He's right. At least I hope he's right, because by exercising discretion more than I exercise my heart and lungs for a few weeks, I'm counting on valor alone to carry me through 26.2 more miles of running.

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