Q & A: Speedy Recovery Tricks

Q. I’m pooped after my long run! Should I take the next day off from working out and lounge around all day?

A. I’d advise against that. It’s counterintuitive, but you’ll actually recover faster from a brutal workout if you do a short, easy workout the next day. Remember the Shake Out Recovery Run? This is the time to do it. You might be a little sore when you start, but by gently moving your body and increasing the blood flow to your muscles, you are providing your muscles with the nutrients they need to rebuild and recover. Take the day after that off to rest and recoup. Maybe you use that easy run to catch up with a friend who’s a little slower or enjoy the scenery. Whatever you do, take it easy but get up and move!

Q. All I want after a hard workout is get into a hot shower and stay there. For hours. That’s cool, right?

A. You know what’s better? Suffering for juuuuuust a few more minutes (10-15, to be exact) in an ice bath and then sit in your hot, steamy shower for as long as your little heart desires. The thing about the ice bath is that it gets your body to chill out and not swell up. When you’re out there running for a while or killing it during a really tough run, your blood is a-pumpin’ and your body’s fluids are moving at a faster rate than normal. When you stop, your body takes a while to slow back down and you can build up fluid (edema) in your extremities (legs!!) which is seriously uncomfortable and hinders your recovery. Ice bath first, hot shower second.

Q. I don’t really need to stretch after a long run, right?

A. Wrong. Right after a run is when your muscles are the most warm and your joints are the most lubricated. Prime stretch time. As you get older (ahem, I am not old, just old-er), these problems become more apparent. You youngsters probably don’t feel creaky just yet, but wait a few years. You will. In order to promote muscular recovery and prevent injury YOU MUST STRETCH AFTER YOU RUN. Seriously, I just watched Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary film that follows various athletes through their marathon training leading up to the 2005 Chicago Marathon. Deena Kastor won that marathon and in the film she talks about the importance of stretching after a run. So much so that, despite her confessed “laziness”, she has her husband stretch her because she knows how crucial that component of training really is. Treat it like your workout: make the time for stretching.

Now go out and run!

Too Much is TOO MUCH (and how to avoid doing too much)

You ever have that nagging pain that just won’t go away? Do you feel tired on every single run and never get anything resembling a “runner’s high”? Are you getting sick all the time? Do you have trouble completing what would normally be an easy run? Does it take you forever to recover from a workout?

You might be doing too much.

Things like tendonitis, stress fractures, torn labrums, illness, muscle strains and stupid injuries sustained from tripping over curbs and face-planting because you’re too tired to lift your own feet while running…wait, don’t tell me I’m the only person who’s done that. Well, there you go. I trip when I’m tired. It’s very embarrassing and always leaves a mark.

These things happen when you’re doing too much. And where your body is concerned, too much is too much.

As someone who has an auto-immune disease, I have to learn the very hard and painful way what is too much for me. For most of you out there, you can still power on through for days and maybe weeks before your body starts to talk to you. Maybe it comes in the form of tendonitis or a more serious injury. Whatever it is, you will know it because it will stop you dead in your tracks if you don’t take care of it. But there are always warning signs you’ve chosen to ignore. Here’s how to avoid doing too much:

#1. Schedule your days off. At least one day completely off from working out. This doesn’t mean, “Oh, I’ll hop into an easy spin class” or “It’s just a 60 minute yoga class. Stretching is good, right?” Wrong. Yoga is NOT just stretching and breathing. It is hard and it is a workout. Rest is rest. You’ll know it because you’ll feel RESTED after having done it.

#2. Add mileage gradually. Jumping into a marathon training schedule before you can run 8 miles straight without stopping or finishing in torturous pain is a recipe for failure and injury. Stress fractures and muscle strains are common in people who decide that this is the way to go and they are not easy to come back from. Plan ahead at least six months before undertaking such a long race. You’re much more likely to succeed if you take your time with adding miles.

#3. Cross-train year-round. Cross training isn’t just for the off-season. You should be cross-training throughout your race season, but just do it less. You don’t try to set your personal squat record during training season, but you do incorporate lower body strength training into your schedule at least once a week. See the difference? Cross-training will keep you healthy and balanced so that you can best stave off overuse injuries like tendonitis that happen when you do TOO MUCH of one thing.

#4. Listen to your body. It’s talking to you.

#5. If it hurts, don’t do it. If you have a sudden pain that just won’t go away, something is not right and you should stop what you are doing that causes that pain and get it checked out. Good rule of thumb for many things in the fitness world. You know the difference between “it hurts because it’s hard” and “it hurts because it hurts” so don’t go commenting on how all exercise hurts. It’s a different kind of pain and you know it when you feel it.

Really, though, you have to know your body and know your trigger points. When my hips start to ache, I know I’m overdue for new sneakers and I kick myself for not remembering to stop by JackRabbit last time I was down in Union Square. My hips never hurt unless it’s my damn shoes, so if they suddenly start hurting, it’s either the shoes or something serious. Know thy self.

Be kind to your body. It’s the only one you’re going to get.

Now go out and run!

The Long Run

It’s a major part of every distance runner’s workout repetoire. The Long Run. Hours and hours of pounding the pavement in the hopes that every moment spent will lead to an amazing performance at the next race.

It’s tough. It’s boring. It’s a time suck. But it’s gotta get done.

People who know me well do not invite me out on Friday nights. They know that Saturday is my “Long Run Day” and that, by default, makes Friday night an early night in for me. I come home, put my pj’s on, eat some dinner and call it a night. Some people can go out and drink and get up and run. I am not one of those people. Maybe I’m getting too old.

At least I’m not too old for my long run.

Long runs aren’t races. Heck, they’re not even supposed to be all that hard except for the running-for-hours-and-hours part. You go out, you run and run and run and run and you’re tired when you get back, but when done properly in your training schedule and at the correct pace, you could have gone farther.

Example: me. I run my long runs around 8:15-8:30 usually. I run my marathons (recent ones) at about 8:00-8:10. If I find myself running sub-8:00 minute miles at the beginning of a long run, I immediately slow down. Not that it couldn’t just be that I am getting wicked fast, but I’d rather be wicked fast at the end than dying at the end of a run. If I am running sub-8:00 in the last quarter of my miles on a long run, more power to me and watch me fly! The idea is that my pace is such that I could have kept going. This is the key to long runs.

If you finish a 16 mile run and you know you could have kept going (even if it’s an absolutely-have-to kind of situation), you have prepared yourself mentally and physically for the next jump in distance: 18-20 miles. When you run 22 miles and realize at the end that you could have kept going, you are ready for the 26.2 on marathon day. And THAT is a great feeling.

This applies for all distances. I remember vividly my first 5-mile run freshman year of high school. I was amazed that I ran five miles without stopping and thought, “Hey, my two mile race doesn’t seem so bad now.” It was a great feeling.

So, yes, it’s a lot of time and energy spent on a Saturday morning when I’d really rather be sleeping in or watching a bad movie on the couch with JB. But it’s marathon season and it’s gotta be done. I’ll live and I will thank myself later for doing it.

You will, too.

Now go out and run!

I’m A Newbie: 3 Ways To Finish Strong

The end of a race is the hardest. You’ve started out conservatively, you maintained a steady pace, you remained calm on the crazy uphill portions and now you’re down to the last few miles, meters, feet and it’s HARD. How could you have ever prepared yourself for this? Well, I’ll tell you but a first, a little story.

My junior high school cross country coach was a dad from our community. He wasn’t a teacher, but a volunteer who took time out of his day to coach this rag-tag group of 11-14 year-olds while we ran around our local park. He was a nice man. He was also fond of the bullhorn during races. Whenever we got within about 600 yards of the finish line, we could hear his voice blaring out over the crowd and he was always saying the same thing, “Finish strong, into the chute. Keep going, you’re looking good.”

*Sidebar: Chute? This is before timing chips and you had to cross the finish line in between two ropes-a chute-as they shouted off times and stay in line as they took your bib number. High tech, right?

To this day, it’s the thing the Obi-wans and my siblings say to one another whenever we’re finishing something: a race, a class, a project, a long day…“Finish strong, into the chute.” It reminds us that we’re near the end and we have to give it all we got. If you can hear Coach, you’re almost there. Run harder!

And this is how I learned to run harder at the end than at the beginning.

In order to finish strong, you can do three key things during training:

#1. Negative split runs. You increase your pace every mile/half mile, depending on what distance you’re training for. Excellent training tool, especially for those of you who go off the line as though you’re at the Kentucky Derby.

#2. 5K finish workout. You run your long run at whatever pace you normally run long runs and take the last 5K to try to run at your 5K/10K pace. You’ll learn how the end of a race feels and how to remain calm while pushing your body. Great for marathoners.

#3. Middle of the run sprints. During a midweek run, take your middle 2 miles and break it down into 4 x 400 yard sprints with jogging recoveries in between each repeat. Then continue on and finish your run. It’s a great way to make sure your first half is the same speed as your second half, even with those speedy sprints in between.

Each of these workouts will train your body and your mind to stay focused in the middle of your race and to work harder at the end. If you do the same pace for every run and never vary your strategy, it’s difficult to anticipate what the end of a race will feel like. And trust me, you want to prepare yourself for those last 3 miles of a marathon because they will make or break you. Give these tricks of the trade a shot and you’ll be ready to go on race day!

Now go out and run. And “finish strong, into the chute!”

 

Here Comes The Story Of The Hurricane

Well, we survived! It was loud and windy and wet, but we seem to have come through Hurricane Irene, aka Tropical Storm Irene, relatively unscathed. I swear, those raindrops banging against our apartment windows last night sounded like tiny rocks threatening to break into our little apartment, but nope. Nothing broken, nothing even cracked. I might sound disappointed, I am not. I am relieved that we have power, have our home and there’s no flooding to be seen on our streets.

No flooding. No cars. Hardly any people. It's 11am!

JB and I ventured out for a walk and found our streets virtually deserted. With the rain still misting down, it seemed my fellow New Yorkers were content to stay indoors. Not us! Outside, our apartment looked just fine.

The 'ol Turtle Bay/Sutton Place held up pretty well!

Not even more than a few puddles! We trekked up to Central Park to see how the rest of our beloved city made out.

WHAT?!?!

I have NEVER seen Central Park closed before. But, given how crowded the streets were yesterday with runners and bicyclists, I am not surprised that they felt they could shut it down today. They were probably thinking, “What? Everyone worked out yesterday, we can close it today.” Well, ok then. Take a day off everybody!

I will see you tomorrow, my Park. Sans kicky rain boots, I imagine.

Even the animals seem to be relatively relaxed this morning. (We have a zoo in Central Park, for those of you who didn’t know)

Just a regular 'ol day at the zoo

So, what do you do when everything is closed down (I mean everything: Starbucks, grocery store, gym, everything!)…

Aren't rainy days meant for shopping? This is just WRONG.

…I will do yoga. What better way to spend a rainy day at home but on my mat, zen-ing out and finding peace? After all, I’m actually kinda wary of running in the park after a storm. This guy was whacked by a branch last year and died because he thought it was a genius idea to go running during a storm. Not me, I’m a safety girl.

Ooooommmmm

So, day off after running 14 miles and then sitting on my butt for the rest of the day = desperate for some stretching and twisting. I’m sure I’ll feel lots and lots better after an hour with my favorite yoga podcast. See you later! Ommmmm…

Now go out and run!

What do you do on a mandatory day off? Rest, clean, shop? I’d be shopping today except for every single store is closed. Ugh. Come on, MTA, get it going!