Ghengis Khan introduced the world to the first mail system and the concept of diplomatic immunity. I didn’t know this, as I didn’t know there was such a thing as North Korean cuisine and that if you knew the right people, you could have it for dinner in Ulam Bator. I’d never been to Mongolia but my dinner companion had. He is a documentary filmmaker for National Geographic and I was having dinner with him because I’d decided to stretch a bit.
Friday night had snow in the forecast. A week of bitter cold was kissing off with a road slickening couple of inches. The last thing I felt like doing, was driving into the city. I could go home, sit on the couch, watch a movie with my wife and simply hang out.
But I didn’t.
I schlepped into Manhattan and despite the huge chorus of negativity I listened to in my head, I showed up at a very hip Korean restaurant, high above 32nd street and had a blast. Good food, better conversation. I met 3 new people and I liked them all intensely. One of them, I may work with some day.
3 months ago, my Achilles tendons had become so tight, that I couldn’t bare to have a massage therapist touch them. Years of ambivalent attention to my flexibility in my lower legs led to plantar fasciitis over the summer and then a plantar fascia rupture in a race this fall. I’m still recovering: every day is painful. Every day is a reminder that my pain is of my making. I could’ve stretched, I could’ve taken the time, I could have avoided the stupidly exquisite pain of that rupture but I didn’t.
I’m 47. I’m pretty solid on how I feel about most things. I know what I like. I have good friends and honestly, most days, I’m not looking for new ones. My Achilles are not the only part of me that lack flexibility.
Since getting hurt, I’ve had no other option but to get serious about stretching. There’s no magic to the process, it’s about giving it the time and doing it consistently. Running is still a somewhat tortured experience but it is getting better and when I get a massage my Achilles can be part of the therapy. I can bear to have people touch them. If this were the sole benefit of stretching, I think it would be enough. But I’m hopeful that I realize much more of an upside. Some day, I want to run without this burning feeling in my heel. Some day, I think I’m going to be able to explode up a hill the way I used to (on a good day).
Flexibility helps our joints to function smoothly through the full, appropriate range of motion for a given task. When flexibility is below optimal, we suffer. Inflexibility around the joints leads to irritation, leads to inflammation, leads shortly to misery.
To stay flexible I’ve got to stretch. Whether it’s taking 15 minutes to do my routine at night for my hamstrings, calves and glutes or making the drive into the city for a dinner with unmet companions. When I make the effort, when I consistently work on my flexibility, I’m a happier man, in every way.
Tonight some friends invited us to come over and hang out in their hot tub. My first impulse was to pass. I like these people quite a bit and I felt bad that we were turning them down. Then I thought about what that hot water might mean for my flexibility, changed my mind, we signed up for the soak.