The big things – weekly mileage, hard workouts, long runs, and easy runs done consistently and progressively – do matter. You need those in order to train well. However, the little things matter as well, especially when done consistently. These little things typically focus on recovery and overall well-being – both of which are vital for making you a faster, stronger, better runner.
With training for fall races starting over the next few weeks, it’s worth focusing on the little things now. If you can make these a habit early on, it’s easier to include them during the more demanding peak weeks of training.
Don’t skip your warm-up! Most dynamic warm-ups (such as this one) only take five or so minutes. For a short time investment, you feel better on your run, perform better, and reduce your injury risk.
Foam Rolling and Stretching
Running damages our muscles. The harder or longer the run, the more muscle damage incurred. This muscle damage is necessary for adaptation, but if left uncared for, it can cause tightness. Tightness in turn can pull on muscles and increase risk of injury. To offset this tightness, improve recovery, and reduce injury risk, you want to stretch and foam roll. Foam rolling is a form of myofascial self-release: you apply deliberate pressure and movement to the fascia of your muscles (the outer layer) to break up tight spots. In this sense, foam rolling is more effective than stretching, but stretching is still important. Stretching improves mobility and helps your muscles move through a full range of motion. You can do traditional stretches or yoga: try these stretches for runners.
Find a way to make foam rolling and stretching a habit. Once you habituate yourself, you will be more consistent and less likely to skip it. You can foam roll before you run, immediately after, while watching TV after work, or right before bed. There is no ideal time; the best time is when you will most consistently do it.
There is a large debate about the significance of the “metabolic window” – the 30-60 minutes after hard workout. Some experts will point to research that indicates it matters, others will find evidence that says otherwise. Many elite runners prioritize eating within an hour (or less) after finishing a hard workout. We do know that energy availability matters and that proper nutrition aids in recovery. Many runners find that if they don’t eat enough after a hard workout, they feel ravenous and more likely to reach for less nutritious choices later. So even if it’s not essential, eating after a hard workout is beneficial.
A hard workout is a quality session – hill repeats, intervals, tempo, long run, etc. The recovery window matters less after an easy run or recovery run, simply because you burned fewer calories and incurred less muscle damage on an easy run. You do not have to be precise in your timing, but make it a priority to consume quality carbs and protein after a hard workout. You can pick an easy post-run snack, a protein-rich breakfast, or a hearty power bowl. Hydration is vital for muscle repair as well, so drink water or an electrolyte beverage with this meal.
Injury Prevention Exercises
Clamshells and bridges may not produce a “burn” or be the most exciting exercise, but they are incredibly beneficial. Exercises that focus on core strength, hip mobility, and glute strength reduce the risk of most running injuries, such as IT band syndrome, hamstring strains, and piriformis syndrome. These can be tempting to skip, but even five minutes after a run will make a difference. Try one of these quick injury prevention workouts for runners.
One coaching client once marked “maximum effort” on her rest day. The comment was tongue-in-cheek, but there was some truth to her assessment. We give our best on our run days, so shouldn’t we do the same on our rest days? Improving as a runner is the result of stress applied (training) and recovery from that stress. Rest days optimize our recovery, help us run faster, reduce injury risk, and prevent mental burnout. Take your rest day seriously, even from the start of training when your workouts or mileage are not too intense. Read more about the importance of rest days here.
What little things are important for you?