Running is known and loved for its simplicity. We can lace up a pair of running shoes and get out the door almost anywhere, at any time. Because so many of us have jam-packed schedules between work and friends and family, we tend to focus on the time we have to actually run, rather than the “extras” before or after our workout.
Coming up with a pre-run game plan may seem like a waste of valuable time when you could spend it running instead. But with a little foresight, you can prepare yourself for a better run and reduce your risk of common (and uncommon) injuries. Planning your pre-run routine can help you stay healthy and run consistently, allowing for faster progress toward new personal bests.
FUELING AND HYDRATION
A good run starts with being properly fueled and hydrated. Try to start each run with adequate fuel based on the length and effort of your workout, as well as your choice of hydration. As temperatures rise, you may find you need to carry water — even on shorter runs — if you don’t have access to any water on your route.
Runners are each an experiment of one, so learning the foods that fuel you best without causing any stomach discomfort may require some trial and error. As a general rule, small meals of 100–200 calories can be consumed 30–60 minutes prior to a run, while a larger meal may require a couple of hours to digest.
Also keep in mind that post-run fueling after a hard effort is equally essential. How well you fuel to recover can impact your following days’ workouts, so make sure to take in adequate calories from nutritionally dense sources.
PROPER GEAR AND CLOTHES
Starting each run with appropriate gear sounds like a no-brainer, but changing seasons and variable weather conditions can make this a little more complicated. Pay attention to conditions, especially if you’ll be out for several hours. Protect your extremities, layer well in colder weather, and use sweatproof sunscreen and light colors in the heat.
Finding a shoe that’s comfortable and fits you well is essential to your health as a runner. Try to rotate shoes to improve their longevity and feel your best on different types of runs. Lighter shoes that you love for faster runs such as tempos or track workouts may not have adequate support for long runs, so choose shoes that are appropriate for your planned run.
If you run in the dark, reflective, visible safety gear is a necessity. Brightly colored clothing isn’t enough — you need a reflective vest or flashing light to be seen by oncoming traffic. A quality headlamp or waist light also helps keep you safe in the dark and lets others know your route if you are running alone.
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Once you’re fueled and dressed, it’s important to take a few minutes to warm up your body with dynamic stretches before heading out the door. Unlike static stretching, which is passive, dynamic stretching involves moving your muscles through a range of motion while you stretch them.
Dynamic stretching raises your heart rate and core temperature, lubricates your joints, increases the elasticity in your connective tissues and primes your muscles for work. A dynamic stretch routine doesn’t have to be lengthy to be beneficial — even 5–10 minutes can help you feel more mobile and make that first mile less clunky.
Although dynamic stretching isn’t meant to be a workout, some movements such as lunges add a strength element to your warmup to build endurance in addition to assisting with injury prevention. Dynamic movements also help your brain communicate more readily with your muscles, and these neuromuscular benefits continually benefit your running efficiency.
FOLLOW A PLAN
Before you head out to run, you should know the purpose and goal of what you’re trying to accomplish. Is this an easy recovery run? Steady-state or tempo effort? Are there intervals with a specific warmup and cooldown? Are you trying to nail specific paces?
Take a minute to review what you hope to achieve, and avoid running too hard (or too easy) for what’s intended. While schedule changes or illness can require changes on the fly, try to plan your running routes and workout details in advance to get the most benefit.
Having a coach or personalized training plan is one of the most beneficial things you can do to make progress with your running. A quality training plan balances hard and easy runs to stress your body just enough to improve, without pushing you so hard that you get hurt. Respect this balance. Running too hard, day after day is a surefire path to injury. Trust in the process and know recovery is just as important as the harder efforts.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Pre-run planning doesn’t require much time and effort, but it can benefit your running immensely. The act of running itself is simple, but that simplicity is best balanced with a little foresight and preparation to help you stay healthy and injury-free.