So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pump Up Or Chill Out Pre-Race? It's Not That Big A Stretch

In Running With The Bulls, Chris Lear describes a scene at a collegiate cross-country meet where one team huddled up before the start and chanted "Motivate!  Motivate! Ooh, aah, gonna kill somebody!  Ooh, aah, gonna kill somebody!"  The Colorado University coach or one of the runners made a comment along the lines of "yeah, that's going to work..." 

I can't say I've seen anything quite that agressive when I've looked across the start corral, but then again, I haven't been inside the music player of every running enthusiast.  There are most likely as many shades of "pump-up" or "cool-down" on race day as there are shades of race-day attire.  So what is the best state to be in so you can run your best race?

Donohue, Miller, Beisecker, Houser, et. al. (2006) studied the effects of brief yoga exercises and motivational preparatory interventions in distance runners.  They had participants to a one-mile baseline run, then randomly assigned them to participate in either brief yoga exercises, motivational shouting exercises, or no preparation about 20 minutes before a second one mile trial. 

Participants assigned to the motivational intervention improved their running performance significantly more than those assigned to the other two conditions (British Journal of Sports Medicine, Vol. 40, Ed. 1., Jan 2006).  But if you're not into screaming bloody murder just before a race to pump you up, perhaps you might want to try the yoga. 

Men's Journal magazine provides a series of yoga poses they, and coach/author Sage Rountree, propose will "make you a better runner, improve running form and balance."  While Rountree is quoted in the article, "We're not trying to get runners to touch their toes or get their feet behind their head," there's a yoga pose where the runner takes their leg behind their head.  "We're trying to keep them fluid through the range of motion they use for running," she says, "so there isn't a hitch in their stride" which leads to lower extremity overuse injuries.  Some of the poses are below.  If you are interested in the rest of the poses you can either grab up the September 21 edition of Men's Journal or check on-line at

Low Lunge - To get into the Low Lunge, put one foot forward and lunge so that the front knee is over the front ankle and the back knee is down. Move the hands from the floor to the knee and, if steady, overhead. Hold the position for five to 10 breaths and then switch legs (always do both sides in yoga).  This position works all kinds of muscle groups – thighs, groin, abs – and improves flexibility in the split-legged position that's similar to a running stride.
Low Lunge With Twist - From the Low Lunge position, Twist your torso toward the front leg, putting one palm on the ground and the other hand on the knee. Hold for five to 10 breaths. This will stretch the outer hip and the IT band of the front leg, both of which tend to be tight in runners. The twisting should also relieve some tension in the lower back.
Downward-Facing Dog - Start on the hands and knees, with your knees below the hips and the hands just in front of the shoulders. Then, walk your knees back six to 10 inches, turn the balls of the feet to the floor, spread your fingers wide against the mat, and lift your hips into an upside-down V. Hold for 10 breaths.  This is a traditional yoga pose that lengthens your back and stretches everything from the arches up through the shoulders. It also builds upper body strength so you don't end up with tree trunk legs and broomsticks for arms.

Child's Pose - This is a mild stretch for the lower body which can also help with focus and relieve tension. Get into a kneeling position. Then lay your stomach on your thighs and put your head on the ground. Your arms can be lengthened in front of you or simply rest, fingers pointed behind, next to your legs. You should feel lengthening through the back and stretching in the hips, thighs, ankles, and feet. This is a resting position, so you can hold for 10 breaths or stay longer.

Squat - Also called the Garland Pose, the squat in yoga isn't all that different from the one you've done at the gym, form-wise. To get into the position, squat with your knees over your toes – legs at a 45-degree angle from the midline – and hold your hands together like you're praying. The heels don't necessarily need to touch the ground. Hold for five to 10 breaths. The squat stretches the back, inner thighs, calves, and feet – everything that tightens up from running. This encourages a fluid range of motion and helps with plantar fasciitis and ITBS.

Locust - The Locust is a simple and essential pose for distance runners. To do it, lay on your stomach with your hands by the hips, then lift your torso, arms, and legs simultaneously. Hold this for five to 10 breaths and repeat three times.  It's not as easy as it looks. This position strengthens the muscles in your neck, back, and the backs of the arms and legs. You'll find that it improves your posture, especially toward the end of a marathon-length run, when those core support muscles start to give way. Plus, you'll have a little more protection from lower back injuries.

Legs Up The Chair - Legs swell, sometimes for a few days, after long runs. You can wear compression socks, which seems a little silly during warm summer months.  Another way to help the body recover is to move your seat to the base of a chair or coffee table and rest your calves on top of it so that you have 90-degree angles at the knees and hips. Stay there for 20 breaths or more. This will help with cramped, swollen legs, and will also encourage relaxation after an intense run.

Rountree also believes yoga improves focus before and during the race, when mental staying power is as important as physical endurance.  Her most recent book is "The Runner's Guide to Yoga," and is published by VeloPress.

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