5 Tips to Tune Up Your Running Routine

Runners live by the clock. Whether measuring minutes in a mile or months in a marathon-training season, we're constantly thinking about where the time goes. We not only have to plan when to run, but also all the other things we might do in our day (or week, or month) that affect performance, like eating, stretching, and getting a massage. And when is key, because there's an optimal time for everything. "If you ice or eat or strength-train at the wrong moment, you could miss the benefit," says Donald Buraglio, a physical therapist and ultrarunner in Carmel Valley, California. Indeed, the consequences of poor timing run the gamut from lingering fatigue to an increased risk of the dangerous condition hyponatremia. So that you can get the most from your running life, here is a daily, weekly, and seasonal guide to help you plan when and how to fit it all in. Extra minutes in the day not included.

Daily Planner

Fuel Your Run

Eat too soon before you head out, and you could be plagued with GI issues. But if your last bite was hours ago, you could run out of steam. The goal is to time your meals so you're able to maintain a steady blood-sugar level throughout your workout. Bob Seebohar, R.D., a sports dietitian who works with both recreational and elite athletes, recommends eating a combination of carbohydrates and protein about one to four hours before a run (morning runners can skip a prerun snack if the workout is less than 60 minutes). Why the big range? Because how your body processes food is as individual as your fingerprint. One runner can hit the road just 15 minutes after eating toast and peanut butter; another needs two hours to fully digest and avoid stomach issues.

Protect Your Skin

Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before you run so it has time to bind with—and therefore protect—the skin. Use an SPF of 30 or higher, and you can run 90 minutes to two hours before reapplying.

Get Rolling

Use a foam roller before your pre- and postrun stretch. This tool helps loosen the tension or adhesions (bunched-up fibers) that limit a muscle's ability to elongate. So rolling your muscles beforehand will make your stretch session more effective. (See runnersworld.com/foamroller.)

Stretch Out

Want to stir debate in running circles? Bring up stretching. Before? After? When injured? All are good times to stretch, as long as you're using the right technique. "Before a run, dynamic stretching helps elongate muscles so you run with optimal range of motion," says Chris Chorak, a San Francisco-based physical therapist and Ironman competitor. Postrun, static stretching (holding for 30 seconds) helps release tightness. Static stretching postrun may benefit chronic, achy pain because tight muscles are sometimes the culprits. Serious pain, however, changes the rules. "Sharp pain is a sign of an acute injury and shouldn't be stretched," Chorak says. "Grab an ice pack instead."

Warm Up

Chronic aches and pains (Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis) benefit from heat before exercise because it increases blood flow and muscle elasticity. A run is less jarring to sore spots when they are warm, Donald Buraglio says. Use a heating pad for 10 minutes before you head out.

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