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STOP MISHAP WAITING TO HAPPEN; STRETCH, STRENGTHEN HAMSTRINGS

EVER SEE Roger Craig of the San Francisco 49ers high-stepping his way through a defensive backfield? Poetry in motion, but it's also a pair of well-developed quadriceps doing what they're designed to do.

All runners, even park plodders, have strong quads, the large muscles in the front of your thighs. Quadriceps have a big job to do, they lift your knees on each stride.

In fact, as runners we may have over-developed quadriceps compared to the equally important muscles that work in opposition -- the hamstrings.

Located in the back of the thigh -- also known as the ham -- the hamstring lowers the knee. For runners, it's an injury waiting to happen if you fail to stretch and strengthen your hamstrings.

Roger Craig undergoes an amazing amount of massage and exercises to keep him flexible, hamstrings included. It's the rest of us who lead more normal lives who have to worry about hamstring pulls.

Ask Jack Frizzell, a busy Buffalo attorney. He's just come through a long, painful recovery from a hamstring pull.

"It happened in a race in Orchard Park in May, the Scholarship Run," he said. "What happened is I saw a guy in my age group ahead of me in the last 20 yards. So I went after him. About 10 yards from the finish, bang, I really felt it. I finished the race, but the back of my leg got all black and blue."

Frizzell had suffered the classic hamstring pull. The black and blue was from internal bleeding. Frizzell, who let nature heal him over the summer, was racing by fall. While physical therapy can get runners back more quickly, it's still a difficult recovery.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who wrote The Sportsmedicine Book, describes hamstring pulls as a common injury, usually due to muscle imbalance. Most runners, or those who use running in their sport, have quadriceps that are 1 1/2 -times stronger than their hamstrings, according to Mirkin.

Those athletes who have higher strength ratios between the two muscles are the ones most likely to pull their hamstrings. Skiers, skaters and cyclists -- those who never fully straighten their knees -- have a lower strength ratio between the opposing muscles and almost never pull their hamstrings.

What's the solution? Cross training is obviously one way. So is stretching and strengthening the hamstring. For stretches, Mirkin recommends:

Toe touches: Put your heels together and knees straight. Try to touch the floor with your fingers. Hold for a count of 10, don't bounce, release and repeat at least five times.

Plow: For hamstrings and lower back. Lie on your back. Without bending your knees, raise your legs over your head and try to touch the floor with your toes. Don't force. Hold it to 10. Lower your legs and repeat five times.

To strengthen your hamstrings, put on ankle weights and lie on your stomach. Bend your right knee back and slowly lift your leg off the ground 10 times. Repeat with your other leg.

Your quadriceps may be strong enough, but they need to be stretched before a run. Lie on your side, grab the ankle of your upper leg and bend your knee back until you feel the stretch in your thigh. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat several times with both legs.

Running shorts

Finally, it's getting to be time to try out an icy road trick found in the January issue of Runner's World. John Schliffe, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist living in Alaska, has come up with home-made snow cleats that get him over the frozen tundra. Schliffe puts a series of 3/8 -inch hex-head screws in the outsoles of his running shoes. He uses a pair of pliers and puts four on each side, evenly spaced. When the screw heads wear down, he replaces them. He says he's never fallen, had any knee, ankle or foot pain from the studs. I wouldn't recommend putting them on your only pair of shoes or wearing them on anything but ice.

We've all seen estimates of how running compares to bicycling or swimming and other exercises when it comes to aerobic benefits. But how does it compare to, well . . . sex? The February issue of Men's Health tackles the question. Tom Collingwood, Ph.D., program director at the Aerobics Center in Dallas, said that while "heart rates during sex may approach levels high enough to fall within aerobic parameters, I doubt that enough oxygen is being consumed for a sufficient length of time to qualify sex as truly aerobic."

Upcoming races

Gordon's Gallop, one lap, Delaware Park, 11:45 p.m., New Year's Eve, meet at the statue of the hunter, 837-3031; Mr. Ed's Country Road Race, Super Bowl Warm-Up, 5K, Middleport, 11:30 a.m., Jan. 27, 735-9989.

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