You just run, right? This is why, on the surface, running is so easy and yet so complicated at the same time. If you go too far down the rabbit hole you will lose sight of how blissfully simple this sport is, but if you approach it too casually you quickly learn that there is a lot more to running than putting one foot in front of the other. If you are new to the sport of running here is a quick framework to help you build out your runs. If you are a seasoned runner, maybe take a second to look at your own patterns and see if there is something you are missing that might help you take that next step in the right direction.
Possibly the most important part of the run is WHEN each day you are going to run. This seems trivial, but it is often the most difficult part to iron out. Look at your day and identify the “boulders”. These are the items each day that do not move and can not be rearranged. Typically these things are “work”, “taking the kids to school”, “church”, or something fixed that does not really change on that day. Once you line out what has to happen, look for gaps where you could run. The majority of people run in the mornings or after work in the evening. Running should never become a boulder in your life, but if you are going to reach the goals you set for yourself it will be a pretty big stone.
How do you prepare your body for the act of running? This is where a warm up routine comes into play. The whole purpose of a warmup is to prepare you to run. Your warm up should get your heart rate higher and increase the blood flow to the muscles that you will be using when you run. My warm up routine follows something like this: heel raises, toe raises, leg swings, lunge matrix, walking knee hugs, walking, and then my first mile is normally a little slower particularly if I am planning any sort of speed work that day. I would avoid just walking out the front door and taking off. I would also avoid static hold type stretches before running. Remember, the point of a warm up is to prepare the body for the activity you are about to perform. It doesn’t make sense to sit or stand in one place and keep a muscle static for 1-2 minutes. If you want to incorporate static stretching into your cooldown that can be a great place to put your stretching.
Once you are ready for activity, RUN! Do it. Just do it! Enjoy it! Some days, inevitably, you will get into your training, you will start a run, and you will not be feeling it that day. Maybe you were supposed to do a tempo run and going fast just feels like the hardest thing you have ever done. It is ok to bail on a run from time to time. Changing one or two runs in a 16-20 week plan is not going to destroy your race. There. I said it. With that, if you find yourself changing 1-2 runs a week or never doing the speed workouts, then you need to reassess a few things. Maybe that training plan is not right for you. Or, maybe you are not recovering well (sleep, nutrition, or hydration may be off). Stick to your plan to the best of your ability, but run!
Lets talk about after the run. You have that fantastic sense of accomplishment and the sweaty clothes to go with it. Do not neglect the cool down. Just as the warmup prepares you for the run, the cooldown helps bring the body back down and into the resting state. If you are going to be active after the run the cool down may not be as long, but if you just ran before work or on your lunch break and will be sitting for the next 2 hours in meetings you will want to cool down a little longer. Walking or easy biking are fantastic cool down activities. They keep you moving while helping the heart rate come back to near your resting levels. As the heart rate decreases, your muscles will still be warm and more elastic. This is a good time to do your stretching routines. You will likely find that you are able to achieve improved ranges of motion at this time and you are in a better physiologic state to improve your ranges of motion that you are limited in.
Along with the active part of cooling down, hydration and nutrition are key components to helping your body recover. Carbohydrates are required to help transition the body from catabolism to anabolism (from breaking down to rebuilding). Along with carbohydrates, protein is what the body then uses to make the repairs, so consuming something with carbohydrates and protein after exercise helps the body begin the repair process sooner. As far as hydration goes, the general recommendation is about half your body weight in ounces per day for the general public. If you are training for a running event that should be your minimum. If you are training in a hot and humid environment, you will need even more.
There you go. This simple act of running just got a lot more complicated. All of these factors impact your ability to run and the success you will see through your training. Try to add these components one at a time and see how you do with it. Stick to your training and enjoy it!
Zach Ginnings, PT, DPT, CSCS