Workout: Foot. Ball. Run.

So with World Cup fever officially dying down (till next year, go USA ladies!) there is still the echo of soccer (or futbol, as it is known pretty much everywhere else on the planet) in the air. Here in Sacramento, our local team is kicking lots of butts, hoping for an MLS slot & selling out like… every game. Amazing.

What’s that got to do with running and/or workouts? Well, as you know, workouts get boring. Go out, run a mile. Run two. Maybe do 400m repeats at the track. It gets old. Sometimes you have to mix it up. Here’s a way.

Step 1: find a nice, quiet, flat trail someplace. I like the dirt portion of the West Sacramento Branchline Trail.
Step 2: Get a cheap soccer ball. The cheaper the better. You’re going to probably beat this thing into oblivion. Shoes don’t matter much, I did this in a pair of Skechers GoRun Ultra.

Step 3 is to, basically, go out for an EASY run while gently dribbling the ball. Depending on how often you were in a van with 4 other cleat-enabled kids when you were younger, this has varying levels of difficulty. For me, I played soccer as a kid for all of 2 weeks. I’m ashamed to say I purposefully sandbagged so as to get kicked off the team in high school, as the “rejects” were allowed to do “free workout”, which meant the gym. Or, for me, it meant ditching school to skate. Believe me, I was working out. Occasionally I would help a police officer or security guard with his workout. Righto. Moving along…

What you’ll find is that the ball definitely does not want to simply roll in a line ahead of you. Even if you’re a good dribbler, that gravel (and rocks, sticks, squirrel poop, etc) is going to knock your ball every which way. And then you chase it down, redirect it, keep it moving.

BE FREAKING CAREFUL. It is incredibly easy to pay so much attention to the ball that you run right into a ditch, or a mountain biker or a cougar. After you get her number, apologize for knocking over her teenage son on the mountain bike. Seriously though, you will get REALLY focused on the ball, so make sure you mindfully keep an eye on your surroundings.

There’s a positive side to this (besides that phone number). You’ll occasionally find that the ball gets away from you and you have to chase it. IMPROMPTU FARTLEK! You’ll be sprinting, darting, chasing, resting. I ran 2 miles at an effective 15 minute/mile pace (I think a rock actually passed me) and came home absolutely drenched in sweat. The workout really is that good. It brings to mind the ball running game in Chris McDougall’s “Born to Run”.

As a bonus, when you’re on the sidewalk heading home, you can do knee-up drills. Basically you gently toss the ball up, and knee it high back into your hands. Take a few steps then do it on the other side. Get your knee high, but hit on your thigh so the ball doesn’t fly off into space. It is a wonderful cool down AND gives your already tired hip flexors a nice shake & bake.

Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure you do this somewhere quiet, flat & away from cars. You can dribble the ball around the edge of a grassy park, sure. A flat fire trail. But please please PLEASE don’t do this while on a sidewalk. The ball will get away from you and end up in traffic. Bad things will happen. Then more bad things will happen. And while it is something that I can sit back and say “I told you so” I’d rather not have to. AWESOME.

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