If you are an experienced runner then you know how crucial it is to fit in a proper warm up and recovery. Your biggest fear as a runner is likely an injury that would leave you unable to run for an extended period and thus lose the progress you’ve made. The most common question asked in the running community has an answer that is likely different for everyone. How do I balance mileage and recovery to best avoid injury?
As with nearly every workout, the challenge is that everyone’s body is different and reacts differently to stress. This same problem translates over to running. The workload that works for me might not work for you and that is okay. The goal for almost every competitive runner is to be able to perform your best at the biggest race of the year. You can’t perform your best if along the way you get tripped up by an injury that sidelines you for an extended amount of time.
Research shows that you start to lose some of your aerobic endurance after 72 hours off without some sort of aerobic exercise. This means: rest in a small quantity is good and harmless for your body, but you don’t want to take too much time off or your progress regresses.
How can I avoid injury?
A proper warm up before running varies depending on what kind of runner you are and what kind of workout you are planning each day. For a workout heavy in speed training, you will want to get plenty of hamstring and hip/groin stretches in. The quick leg turnover that takes place in speed training puts stress on a different set of muscles than what a long run would.
Speed training relies on the quick trigger muscles of your hips to force the quick turnover in your legs that makes or breaks speed. Therefore, a proper workout for a speed workout would be heavy in stretching in the hip flexors and groin as well as getting plenty of strides and buildups prior to the workout. Make sure your first burst of speed is not 100% of your total speed! This is asking for a pulled muscle in your hips or hamstring and will likely lead to a lengthy recovery.
After your workout, lactic acid begins to build up in your legs, which causes soreness if left untreated. There are many ways to limit this. Cool down through a short jog (anywhere from a quarter mile to a mile is recommended) to push out as much lactic acid as possible. Rolling out with a foam roller can also help to push lactic out of your legs and allow you to feel more refreshed as you tackle the next day of work.
Distance runners, in general, are very connected with their personal routine as far as static and dynamic stretches go prior to a run. For a distance runner, very little has to change depending on what you are doing. Racing usually throws a wrench in the plans due to the large quantity of speed in the beginning and end of the race.
Pre-race, you are going to want to get in multiple fast strides to prepare the quick firing muscles for the beginning of a race that tends to be the quickest part of a race. Other than throwing in a couple of strides and buildups pre-race you can pretty much stick to the same routine as usual before a long run or recovery the day after a race.
Recovery after a run looks different mileage-wise for each person, depending on what level you are running at. However, pacing looks the same for pretty much everyone. Post-race should be at a pace where you can have a conversation with someone next to you without being completely winded. The day after the race is meant to give your legs a chance to build your muscles back up after you have just torn them down. This process is repeated and is how the muscles in your legs get stronger as the season or year goes on.
Stronger legs = Faster legs. To achieve faster times, you must give your legs time to recover after an intense workout or race environment. One little trick that has been found to be effective is to take your heart rate right when you wake up in the morning. Your resting heart rate is an indicator of how well you are recovered from the day before. If your heart rate is at a higher level than usual, then it is fine to cut a mile or two from your run the next day. The most important thing is to listen to your body! Only you know what is normal for you.