In the middle of the winter, I signed up for a June bike ride starting in Bedford, Mass., and ending in Ludlow, VT. Around the same time, the Red Sox planned to ride outfielder Shane Victorino's skills from late March into October. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury put the brakes on his playing time. It wasn't until April 24 that he returned to the lineup, seeing his first action of the season.
How can a simple hamstring pull keep a professional athlete out for so long? How does one so athletic, so well cared for, pull a hamstring in the first place? And what hope does that leave for someone like me, preparing for my own competition without the expert care of a Major League training team?
"Commonly, hamstring pulls happen when there is a period of inactivity followed by a sudden acceleration," said Dr. Joe DeAngelis of the Sports Medicine Division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
There is more to the hamstrings than one might think. The back of the thigh is a group of five muscles, and their tendons that travel from above the hip to below the knee.
Victorino has been known for his speed. A track star in high school, Victorino holds the Hawaii state record in the 100 meters (10.80 seconds). In his full-time job as a professional baseball player, he has many experiences of "inactivity followed by a sudden acceleration."
Hamstring pulls are categorized into three grades:
• Grade 1 -- Some stretching with micro-tearing of muscle fibers.
• Grade 2 -- Partial tearing of muscle fibers.
• Grade 3 -- Complete tearing of muscle fibers. This may also be called a rupture or avulsion.
Depending on the severity of the injury (grade), treatment of a hamstring strain can range from rest to -- in case of a complete rupture -- surgery. As always, it is best to consult with your doctor before starting any treatment.
Wouldn't proper stretching prevent a hamstring injury?
Not according to Dr. DeAngelis.
"Stretching, in and of itself, has not been found to prevent injury," DeAngelis said. "There are two different types of stretching: static, or the reach and hold type of stretching; and dynamic, known as Movement Preparation."
Mark Versagen, founder of Athlete's Performance in Arizona, has popularized the latter.
Done correctly, Movement Prep intents to activate the muscles in your body using functional movements that traditional stretching does not reach. The more muscles are warmed up, the lower the risk of injury.
Another pitfall for weekend warrior athletes is over-training.
"Our bodies respond well to variety," DeAngelis said. "Yes, 137 miles is a lot to prepare for, but there is the risk that I can 'over-ride.'"
Something I took as good advice.
A team of cautious doctors and therapists guided Victorino's path from injury back to the diamond. For people like me who look to avoid injury altogether, Dr. DeAngelis suggests the following game plan:
• Gradually work toward your athletic goal. Don't make the first training ride a 100 miler.
• Remember to cross-train. Play other sports and participate in other activities other than cycling.
• Incorporate both static and dynamic (Movement Prep) stretching.
So as I look out to six weeks from now, with 137 miles of riding in my future, I remember the old saying, "slow and steady wins the race." But for me -- just finishing will be my victory.