How do you get ready for your runs and what is the best way to prepare and recover? My preparation begins the night before. Even if I am doing a shorter run, I like to get up and go in the morning. That means my nutrition needs to be on point before bed. I will usually eat something with protein, good fats, and good carbs (think turkey burger with avocado, sweet potato, and roasted vegetables).
I usually lay my clothes out the night before so I can literally get out of bed, change into my clothes, and be ready to go (before I get distracted by 50 things like feeding my son, changing him, opening all of the shades in the house…let’s be real, I always get distracted by these things, even when someone else is there to take care of everything!). If I am feeling hungry I usually have a small snack, such as a half banana or a banana muffin. Something that is gentle on my stomach, especially if I am still planning on getting right out the door. Either way, it’s important to have enough fuel, but to make sure your stomach is not bogged down trying to digest something too heavy.
Now that I have made it out the door: to stretch before running, or no? There has always been a lot of controversy over the efficacy of stretching. Personally, I do not stretch before running, for many reasons, but have also found a small study to support my thoughts on this. My main reason for not stretching before I run is because I like to feel warmed up before I stretch. That being said, once I get going I do not want to stop. If I stop I will be done. I am not interested in running a mile, stretching, then continuing my run. It is not how I would run a race, and you practice like you play right? If stretching part of the way into your run works for you, keep doing it! Personally, I run always with the intent of eventually racing, so I do not like to do my recreational runs too differently from my race runs.
Further, PLOS published a study in 2014 comparing the difference between subjects when they stretched before running and when they did not. Read the study for more information, but my take away was the when runners stretched before running, they felt like they were working harder (perceived exertion) at the beginning of their run yet they were running slower. The overall run ended up being about the same time whether they had stretched or not; however, if I feel like I am working harder but I am actually moving slower, don’t sign me up.
So now I am out, cruising along on my run, feeling good. I typically start my runs out somewhat slower. It depends on how far I am planning to run, but generally I do not hit my pace until mile three. The first mile I am excited to be out there, but trying to pace myself. Mile two is always my slowest mile without fail. After that, I usually hit my pace. The reason I start slow is to ensure I can make it through the whole run. There is nothing more defeating than getting out for a long run, and realizing halfway through that your body physically will not be doing the full distance, despite your capability to complete it. By the end, I always lengthen my stride and pick up my pace, finishing with a sprint. For example, if I am running four miles, I will start the first mile out slow, my second mile always ends up slower, then my third mile I usually drop about 30 seconds from my mile time. I increase speed for the last mile, and when I am a half-mile out from the end I start moving fast enough that I am not quite sprinting, but a pace that I would not be able to sustain for more than a mile. The last .10 mile I sprint, always. Any energy that is left, I use to sprint. I do this for two reasons:
- When I am doing a solo run, this always helps my lung capacity and the strength/endurance in my legs. I have not looked into the science of this- it is simply what I have found in my trials and errors of training. When I sprint the end of my runs and pick up the pace as my run continues, my overall pace becomes quicker.
- If it is a race, I want to make sure I have given that race everything I have.
Post run I LOVE to stretch and ROLL. I do a couple static stresses first as my body is still heated and my muscles good and warm. It’s beneficial to hold your stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds (this is like a microwave minute, it feels like forever!). Once I have done several static stretches, I grab my foam roller and roll out my entire lower body, paying special attention to anything that is particularly sore. Be sure you stretch your calves, as well as your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and hip flexors. I mention this only because I went through a period of not stretching much because I did not feel as tight, and it was a bad move. I ended up injuring my Achilles area and needing to take about a month off from running. Even if you no longer feel like your muscles are tight, be sure to stretch after your run.
Finally, I like to refuel about 30 minutes to an hour after I get in from my run. This will differ for everyone, but for me eating too soon after a run wreaks havoc on my digestive system. This is probably because after a run (or any workout) your body is still in fight or flight mode. This means your adrenaline is up and your blood is being diverted elsewhere. By eating immediately, your body does not absorb as many of the nutrients as it would if you let your body calm back down first. I imagine your body also ends up flushing out the nutrients since your central nervous system is still on high alert.
Another rule of thumb I stick to when refueling is I do not change my diet under six miles. So, if I only run 5 miles, I do not add extra calories. I heard this second hand from a nutritionist and it has worked well for me; however, you need to listen to your body. If your body is signaling for more food, be sure you have had enough water, and eat more if needed. If you are newer to running, this may not apply to you because your body will have to work harder than that of someone who has been running for years.
Post-run, I typically like to stick to a balanced combination of carbs, fats, and protein. I used to underestimate the importance of protein after a run, thinking that since it was more cardio, my muscles would not need to repair. Running still uses your leg and core, and even arm, muscles though, so protein is an important part of the equation. I also like to add an electrolyte tablet (I use CamelBak) to my water for anything over 4 miles. 4 miles is an erroneous number that I use for myself, I simply try not to use the tablets unless I have sweat significantly and used up some of my glycogen stores – enough that they need to be replenished.