Move It or Lose It
For runners in the Southeast September rolls in with a tantalizing sort of torture, promising happy long runs with a crisp wind at your back and the rustle of leaves on the path - a sort of runner happy medium where the temperature is just right for long, relaxed runs and afterwards there's the promise of cider and scarves.
Except September is never like that in North Carolina. It will tease you with one or two such days and then when it's time for the weekend long run the sun glares hot and humid and your tank top and shorts stick to you with all the chafing discomfort of July. Summer always outstays its invitation and leaves you in a miserable puddle at the end of nine miles.
And when those nine miles already include sore muscles, cracked toenails, and blood blisters on your feet? Yeah. Not fun.
You don't really realize just how repetitive the motion of running is until you try doing something else. I had decided not to play soccer this summer or fall season because of a full schedule and the propensity of picking up odd injuries here and there - black, cracked, or missing toenails; pulled or bruised muscles; twisted or sprained ankles, the various spikes to the shins and calves; knee pain from taking a blow to the knee or stressing the tendons and ligaments with sharp turns; and even the occasional concussion. Very few of the injuries ever sidelined me for more than a week or so, but with the late twenties I've noticed that the injuries take another toll: that of tiredness and the inability to immediately bounce back. And so I decided to take a break from soccer to give myself more time to rest and recover and avoid the temptation to overdo it and go too hard.
Of course, when I got the desperate text asking if I could please sub for a team that was going to be drastically short some placers I said yes, so on Thursday evening I pulled my soccer bag from the back of my closet and laced up the cleats.
You really don't know what your body is used to until you quit an activity and come back to it. I'm usually pretty good at activating my glutes on runs, but there's nothing like firing a hard kick at a soccer ball to remind yourself of how much more you can be using your glutes. I'm usually pretty efficient with my torso movements on a run, but there's nothing like the hard twists and turns playing defense on the soccer field to remember that you've got some lazy lats. And there's nothing quite like the hard, uncushioned minimalist cleat to remind your plantar fascia how easy they have it in their over-engineered running shoe. Oh, and don't forget the toenail you almost lost by halftime after you and another player's feet got tangled up and that nail shifted and rubbed the rest of the game so that your nailbed was dark and bloody by the time you peeled your sock off at home.
Oh yes, there's nothing like playing a dynamic sport to remind you that, for as wonderful running is, it's just one part of fitness. Those sore, forgotten muscles remind you of the neglect and nag you to do better, be stronger, because there's always room for improvement.