April Column, races, thoughts...

April Column, races, thoughts...

April Column, races, thoughts...

To stretch or not to stretch. That is the question. With apologies to William Shakepeare (Did you know that, purportedly, the first Michigan man to volunteer to fight for the Union army in the Civil War was Flint resident William Shakespeare?), this question has been circulating among runners for years.

In the final analysis, is stretching beneficial to runners? Does it help prevent injuries? Is it necessary for faster running?

Several recent studies have sparked renewed debate, especially in the many running blogs. The research seems to show that stretching does not prevent injuries and does not improve running. In fact, one, conducted by physiologists at Nebraska Wesleyan University, even suggests that inflexible runners, that is, those who don’t stretch, actually run faster.

Like the continuing dialogue over barefoot running, this one seems to fly in the face of what most runners believe and do.

Are you a stretcher? What do you think? One of my training buddies, Michael Holmes, firmly believes in it. A massage therapist, he touts the benefits of stretching. He probably spends as much time with it as he does running each week.

On the other hand, another running buddy of mine, Bob Drapal, doesn’t stretch, not at all. He’s been running for well over 30 years. Once in a while, when he considers running the 100 or 200 in a track meet, Bob talks about stretching. But that’s as far as it goes.

So, neither Michael nor Bob has suffered any real debilitating running injuries, stretching or not stretching.

To further complicate the matter, swing by any local high school track practice this spring. Note how much time is spent stretching—before any running starts. Yet, it is said that five-time New York City Marathon winner and 1984 Olympic silver medalist Grete Waitz never stretched.

To stretch or not to stretch. That remains the question. The late Dr. George Sheehan, the closest running has ever really come to a philosopher, once wrote, “We are all an experiment of one.” It appears that stretching is just such an “experiment.”

***Ask a runner about his/her favorite race course(s) and the anticipated answer is something like “flat and fast.” That’s reasonable, but is it always so? Do we really prefer the easiest and flattest races, those with the fewest or no hills?

Again, my running buddy Bob Drapal comes into the picture. He threw this one out at me, in not in so many words, on one of our recent long runs. We were gabbing about Flint’s Crim ten-mile course, including its famed Bradley Hills. The talk turned to races we liked, specifically the courses. So, we left each other on that morning’s run with “what are your favorite race courses?”

I considered that as I finished up my two or three mile run back home. What are my favorite courses, not necessarily races, although they could be one and the same?

Many of my favorite race courses would surprise one who asked, especially nonrunners. A good number of them are not flat. They might be fast, but I’m not sure I’d know about that. But I think they are interesting, fun, and perhaps most important to me, challenging.

Sometimes I have chosen races because they are flat or, at least, flatter. I may have been looking for PRs or qualifying times or using the race for specific training. And, no doubt, I’ve enjoyed them.

Here is a current list of some of my favorites, not by any means all of them. Certainly there might be additions. In fact, I’ve changed the list once or twice already.

Speaking of the Crim, Bob and I agreed that we love the ten miles of the Long Blue Line. It is hardly flat, although, since many world, US, and age-group records have been set there, it must qualify as “fast.” The Bradleys are the ones that get most of the attention, but there are other hills, too, especially between miles two and three and near the backstretch along the mansions and golf course.

Although it wasn’t held last year due to Dolores’ recovery, I’ve always enjoyed Harrison Hensley’s Run Thru Hell. Yes, it’s always hot and dusty and usually very humid. But what really makes this “hell” and special are the hills. They just keep coming, all ten miles.

Another course with hills and hills and more hills is the Bastille Day 15K in Fenton. I ran it for the first time last summer. Scott Hubbard rode his bike along side of me for a few yards at the start. There wasn’t much “flat” to this course, he told me. He was right—and then some. Recently, I talked with Bobby Crim, who also ran Bastille for the first time in 2009. He chuckled, fondly or not I couldn’t tell, saying, “It was all up and down, up and down, until that one mile hill at the end.” That was the Denton Hill, long and steep, a grinder if there ever was one.

Flirt with Dirt (5K, 10K) isn’t as hilly as these courses, but it is a challenge. Flirt is a trail race, with a few ups. But the twists and turns, often narrow trail, and rough terrain (rocks, roots, fallen limbs) keep runners’ interest. It’s a bit of a surprise, too, to find all this in Novi, what race director Randy Step calls “the land of malls and mansions.”

The last half of the Brooksie Way Half Marathon has enough tough hills to entertain just about any runner. With the start and finish on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester Hills, the first seven miles almost lull the unsuspecting into a false sense of security. Then, the hills come, five or six in a row, long and steep.

Oh, my list has another half dozen or so favorite courses. The more I think about them, the more others pop up. Not many of them are “flat and fast.” I don’t think I’m a masochist. I’m betting that many runners’ favorites are flat and fast, but, also, many are not.

***With more of us heading outside more often after a long winter, it’s good to remember to be alert (I know, I know--“the world needs more lerts”) on our runs. I was reminded of this just the other day, the first full day of spring.

Having to run early due to commitments, I chose some much lesser traveled back-roads close to home. The sun was up already, so it wasn’t dark.

Not half a mile out, I warily noted a van coming to a corner stop sign. I gave wide berth, sensing possible danger. Yep, the senses were right. The driver made the right turn, lighting his cigarette, and looking only to his left, not the right—where I would have been.

Within thirty seconds, an SUV began veering over to my side of the dirt road. Again, not liking what I was seeing, I stepped into the drainage culvert, just in case. Right I was again, as the woman drove by, head down, texting or dialing her phone. She never saw me and still doesn’t know I was there.

Enjoy your spring running. But, as the old television police sergeant used to day, “Be careful out there.”