Keep Your Legs Fresh and Healthy
How many times have you gone out for a run and felt like your legs were made of concrete, or worse? Well, let me clue you in on a little secret. They might not feel so bad from something that you DID as from something that you DIDN’T do. Many people don’t realize that it’s important to treat your legs well during the time between runs in order to optimize the enjoyment of your workouts.
1. Let’s start with getting ready to run. First, drink at least 8 oz. of water a half hour before heading out to keep you from getting dehydrated. If you’re going for longer than a 10K, you might consider taking a water bottle or planning a route that has a water stop along the way. Keeping well hydrated will keep your legs from cramping, especially in hot weather.
2. Next, check to make sure that your shoes aren’t too tight. If they are, you might feel a little pain in the arch of your foot when you first start off. Also, ask yourself, “How many miles do I have on these shoes? “If it’s more than 500 miles, the mid-soles might be compressed beyond their ability to return to normal between runs. Running is a relatively inexpensive sport and you don’t want to be skimping in this area.
3. I’m not a big proponent of stretching before running, but I highly recommend it after you’ve finished running. If you’ve taken the Level I ChiRunning class then you have learned the “body looseners,” which are a great way to get your body loose and relaxed before heading out. Be sure to start off your runs with a very relaxed and easy stride – not too fast. As you feel more warmed up, you can increase your pace slowly until you’re running at the level that you’d like to be. If you start off too fast, you risk running out of gas early in your run and your legs will feel more sore afterwards.
4. The time period immediately after your run is when you can do the most to insure that your legs will be fresh and ready for your next workout. After a 3-5 minute cool down jog do your stretches and take your time. Don’t just jump back into your car and head off to your next event, or you could be walking around with tight legs for the rest of the day. Doing a cool down and stretching period allows the lactic acid (the waste product created by your muscles) to be “flushed ” out into your bloodstream and eliminated from your body. If it is allowed to linger in your system, studies show that it turns to concrete, or worse.
5. If you have the luxury of being able to take a hot bath or a hot tub after your workout, do it. Soaking your legs allows your muscles to be warmed and relaxed back into their normal shape so that they can move on into the day in a more cohered state. A shower doesn’t work as well, unfortunately, but it’s still good for your legs if a bath is out of the question.
6. When you’re finished with your bath you should do some “leg drains ” by lying on your back with your feet propped up against a wall for 3-4 minutes. This will allow the blood to drain out of your legs so that fresh clean blood can be pumped back into them when you stand up. You can do leg drains either immediately after stretching or after your bath. Either way, you’ll notice a markedly different pair of legs under you when you get up.
7. If you’ve just done a strenuous workout, one of your next two meals should be a solid protein meal, which helps your muscles to rebuild themselves. It’s also good to get in a hearty green salad with lots of fresh greens and vegetables, which will help you to put valuable minerals back into your system.
8. Are you the type that likes to plan ahead? If you are, you can eat a good carbohydrate meal the evening before a strenuous workout. This “high octane fuel” will help your workout to go much better. A heavy meal eaten the night before a hard workout might not be fully digested by the time you go out to run, and that will slow you down considerably.
9. Speaking of eating before running, if you eat before you run, be sure that it’s at least 3 hours before. Almost nothing you eat immediately before a run will be far enough into your system to help you during your run. If you do have to eat before running just be sure that it’s not a big meal or you might end up with heartburn, stomach ache, side stitches or be leaving it on the road somewhere. I’ve never heard of anyone starving to death on a run. In fact, if I’m hungry before I go running, it usually subsides within the first mile or two. It’s best to run on an empty stomach, even on race days. Eating well the night before allows you to just get up, get dressed, and head out in the morning. The biggest decision you might have to face is which way to turn.
10. The last thing I’ll mention is that whether or not you’re a regular runner, you should be drinking water all day long. Eight to ten glasses of water spread out through the day allow you to replenish the fluid lost to exercise. Don’t drink your water all at once. Just keep an even flow going.
The more time you spend taking care of your body between runs, the more it will reward you with many years of enjoyable workouts. You’ll also notice an increase in your performance levels. It’s a universal law: the more time you spend preparing for something, the better the results. Have fun with this.