So today I decided to stretch before running. It took me a while to get around to it. By which I mean that it was probably first recommended in about 1976 by my friend Monica when we would run together by the canal in Georgetown. I’ve thought about it approximately every time I’ve run since then, but not actually gotten around to it until today. I finally did the math: scoliosis + couch potato habits + age = predictably bad results. So: stretching.
Didn’t that last paragraph make it sound like I’ve been a runner since 1976? Fooled you! I have run during three phases in my life, which can conveniently be referred to by my running partners: Monica; Jenny; and Saguaro (with a brief interlude of Laura).
I ran with Monica for a brief period in high school. She had the decency to slow down and shorten considerably her long, crew-rowing-inspired runs on the towpath by the C&O canal to let me huff and puff alongside her. This lasted, oh, about five scenic canal runs before the resurgence of my couch potato tendencies coincided with the end of Monica’s almost infinite patience, which end had been cleverly disguised by her almost infinite good manners.
I didn’t run again until college, when I ran with my roommate Jenny. We were only actually roommates for second semester freshman year, when she very graciously did not object when I moved into the postage-stamp-sized “emergency double” that the housing folks had reassured her she would have as a single for the rest of the year. But she will forever be “my roommate Jenny.” We had roughly the same approach to running: same speed; same frequency; and I believe the same number of runs before we got bored and stopped. Or at least I did – Jenny probably runs marathons now. Sigh.
I didn’t run again until we got our second dog, Saguaro, in 2007. If you know me and are good at math, you’ll already have figured out that this is a roughly 25-year gap in my running career. I didn’t even start running when we got our first dog in 2002. Chinook is a very mellow dog, and was a very mellow puppy. If we wanted to do things, he’d come along; if we wanted to veg, he vegged. He fit right in.
Even though they are the same breed and technically cousins, Saguaro was a different dog right from the start. For example, both dogs are golden retrievers, so we expected a certain amount of, well, retrieving. Chinook fetched* but did not retrieve. Ever. He would run after tennis balls, sticks, Frisbees, etc, but would pick up the object and head off in a different direction, lie down, and chew on it. Or just drop it out of boredom and find something else to do. When fetching in lakes — which he does purely because he loves to swim — he generally brings the ball back to a point just far enough from shore that a wading human** cannot get to it without getting the bottom of her shorts wet. The ponds of Chatfield are littered with Chinook’s tennis balls. Saguaro has retrieved, accurately and persistently, since the day we brought him home at 7 weeks. No training necessary. The dog was simply born with a retriever gene that Chinook doesn’t have.
The difference in the dogs was also evident in their energy levels. Chinook’s favorite exercise is rolling in the grass or snow
eating mulch, and sleeping. Saguaro, if he doesn’t exercise fairly constantly, is (how can I put this gently about a dog I love with all my heart) a monumental pain in the ass. He whines. He paces. He finds the Frisbee and shoves it in your face as you lie on the sofa taking your first break from the computer in six days.
When we spent a month vacationing in Tucson when Saguaro was four months old, it became clear that we needed a different approach to exercise than we had taken with Chinook (none). Here, for example, is Saguaro in Tucson not getting the point of the afternoon’s activities:
So then began the third phase of my often-interrupted running career. For those of you who want to know how to get back into running when you’re a 46-year-old couch potato, here’s how: run with two dogs, at least one of whom will need to pee or poop every 50 yards or so, for approximately ¼ mile, turn around, and run home. You will get slightly more exercise than this suggests mathematically because at two points in the run, you will need to find — and run to and from — a dumpster. But I have run — with some brief interruptions — since then, working gradually up to my current distance: one mile or two dog poops, whichever comes first.
The brief Laura interlude to the Saguaro phase: My friend Laura does amazing things like teaching the next generation of lawyers how to be good litigators without being assholes . . . . AND running marathons. Although she is generally brilliant, when I said I had taken up running, she made a category error and assumed that when I used the word “run” it meant the same thing as when she used the word “run.” And so she invited me to “run” with her. Once. After the obligatory stops to wait for and clean up from doggie bathroom breaks, and after seriously considering calling an ambulance for me at about the 2 mile mark, she caught on, and has graciously limited herself to inviting me to run in charity races of 5K or less, which I still don’t finish, but which give us an extra chance to gossip in the car on the way over.
But I started to write about stretching because I finally stretched. Today. For the first time. I discovered two things. The first is that between being a body-unaware klutz and not being able to tell left from right,* it took me a freakishly long time to figure out what this diagram was telling me to do:
And I discovered that, like running, stretching is a group activity in our house. The view from my stretches:
* Past tense. Since being joined by Saguaro, he doesn’t even fetch any more, but lets Saguaro handle the whole annoying process.
** A wading 5’2” human.
*** I read somewhere that this is called “directional dyslexia” which sounds way cooler than “can’t tell left from right.” But whatever it is, I have it, and it provides hours of amusement to Tim, who has learned to say things like “turn toward me” (for a right turn when I’m driving) or “do you mean left left or right left?”