If you’re new to running, you might want to check out Part 1 in this series, entitled 5 Things To Do Before A Run.
If you’re a seasoned runner, these are probably things you already do well so if I missed anything, please share your tips with the other readers by commenting below.
So it’s summer weather and you’ve decided to give running a try. Running is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, just like walking, just faster. Running can be as slow as jogging or as fast as sprinting or anything in between. Whatever your pace, even it takes you 12 minutes to run the mile that Meb Keflizighi ran in 4 and a half minutes at the 2014 Boston Marathon, whatever your pace, as long as you run, you’re a runner and these rules apply to you.
1. Warm Up. Let’s face it. You can choose to warm up for a few minutes or not. But whether you call minutes 1 to 5 a warm-up or not, your muscles need some time to get into the groove of things and they will claim that warm up time. So if you decide to do some dynamic stretches, you can. If I decide to warm up, I’ll run in place or kick up my heels or do jumping jacks or just a really brisk walk to the park.
Personally, if I am pressed for time and I don’t warm-up, it’s almost guaranteed that during the first 5 minutes, I will feel like an overweight contestant on the first episode of The Biggest Loser, and I’ll huff and puff as though I’ve never worked out before, because my body is taking time to get accustomed to the change in activity level. I mean, even the most sophisticated sports car takes a few seconds to go from 0 to 60. That period can be as short as 3 seconds for a Porsche Spyder or 30 seconds for a VW Beetle, but a transition period is built into the capacity of every machine. Your body is no different. We need time to get from couch sitting to running at marathon pace. Give your body some advance notice that you’re going to ask it to perform at its peak. And warm up.
I do not recommend stretching as a warm up exercise. If you’re just going to do low impact exercise, stretching might be fine but stretching the muscles that support your knees, calves, ankles and feet before you run, I think, is a bad idea. When you stretch, you pull the muscles into their tautest configuration. Then when you run immediately after, you are exerting these tight muscles and asking them to bear load at their weakest state. This is something I’ve been saying for a long time and now the running magazines seem to be saying the same thing. Check out this article from Runners World for what the experts have to say on pre-run stretching.
2. Pace yourself. Usain Bolt can sprint the 100 m in less than 9.58 seconds but he probably couldn’t hold that speed for a mile. If your goal is to run a mile in your fastest possible time, then go for it. But if you plan to keep going and going and going, you’re going to want to conserve some of that energy for the rest of the run. Distance runners like to achieve negative splits when they run. That means they start off slow and with every mile they run, they run at a progressively faster speed. In order to achieve that feat, they don’t start out running their fastest, they start off moderate and try to keep picking up the pace. If it sounds easy, it’s not. The longer you run, the more tired you become and the harder it is to maintain your pace, let alone top it. But it can be done if you pace yourself.
3.Push yourself. Didn’t I just say pace yourself? Yes, of course pace yourself, give yourself room to improve. But then, keep pushing to improve. Push yourself! If you’re running negative splits, start slow and keep getting faster. If you usually run at a constant speed, try to keep adding a few more kilometers on each run. Maybe you can’t do negative splits for your whole run but maybe you can run the last mile at a pace 1 minute less than usual.
If you usually run/walk, try to reduce your walk breaks or increase the distance you run before you take a break. Or maybe you’re trying fartleks (Fartlek is a Swedish word for speed interval running) so you can try adding one more interval or extending the length of your interval.
Whatever you do, just keep trying to improve. Compete with the person you were yesterday so that your present self is always winning.
4. Remember to breathe. I have trouble remembering to breathe when I run. That’s because even though I’ve been doing it since the nurse slapped me on my bottom when I was born, I don’t breathe properly. I tend to take shallow breaths from my chest, inhaling and exhaling through my nostrils. At peak performance, runners need more oxygen than what they can get by shallow breathing. When you inhale and push the air all the way into your lungs, you take in more air and have the capacity to keep it longer, which means you have more air in your body as you run, your body feels lighter and more aerodynamic, making your run easier. So just take deeper breaths! Right?
Sounds great but it’s not so easy. For a lot of chest breathers, when we inhale, we pull in our diaphragm and when we exhale, we release it. However, when we pull in our diaphragm, we contract the muscles and our lungs are not at their full capacity. What we need to do is when we inhale, the diaphragm should be released, like pushing out your stomach. Now you can hold the air in your lungs for a longer period and release it slowly, through your mouth.
It’s best to practice this before you go out running. As you practice, you’ll also want to count off the number of steps you take with each inhale-exhale cycle so you’re not always inhaling and exhaling on the same foot. Try to inhale and keep the breath for two or three steps and then exhale for another three or two steps, Alternating 2 and 3 will ensure that you always change up the foot that you inhale on, which studies say might help prevent injury. Check out this online article at Competitor magazine that talks about breathing.
5. Stay hydrated. If you run outside for longer than an hour, you need to replace fuel and water. Every body is different, we all sweat at different rates and burn calories at different rates but after an hour of activity, regardless of your metabolic rate, you need to put something back in. And no matter how little or how much fluid you lose by sweat, your body needs water to keep performing. Keep some water in your fuel belt, run with a hydration pack in your pocket, stop at the water fountain in the park, run with some cash so you can buy a bottle of water, however you choose to do, if you’re running for over an hour, or less on a hot day, stay hydrated.
Enjoy the sights and sounds and smells that are there for the taking. Enjoy the view that you don’t get while you’re driving. Enjoy the looks you get from the walkers and “stand-ers” that you pass by, the thumbs up or slight smile you might get from other runners, the dogs that bark at you as you run past them on the area they’ve gotten used to thinking is theirs alone in the park. Enjoy the sweat that beads on your forehead and trickles down your shirt. Enjoy the sound of your running shoes hitting the pavement. Enjoy the feeling of exertion that you don’t get with so many of the other activities you do. Enjoy the feeling of being able to run with your own strength. So many people have neglected to enjoy the beauty of their strength until it was lost. So many people would love to just lace up their shoes and run.
As I write this statement, I think about the people who lost their lives or their limbs in the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, or the massacre at the 1972 Olympics or the countless other tragedies that have robbed runners of the ability to run.
And of the courage of so many others who, despite the challenges that they have undergone, despite how painful it must be, they still get up and lace running shoes onto prosthetic legs, or they brave the emotional pain they are reminded of every time and they still run. And so, I smile, because even though I knows about those challenges, I have never had to deal with those challenges myself. And I know how incredible blessed I am that I can just run with the wind whenever I want.
Every run doesn’t have to be a race. Every run doesn’t have to be timed and GPS-tracked and entered into a fancy calculator that predicts your marathon pace.
Sometimes, you should just take the time to run because you can and because it makes you happy.
Eat Right, Live Right, RUNWRIGHT
Anything else you do during the run that you think I should have mentioned?