Seasoned runners know that long runs, tempo runs and speedwork are all critical to improving performance. What's more challenging, perhaps, is scheduling these sessions so you get the most out of each effort. "It's important to time your workouts correctly, and a lot of runners do it wrong," says Jason Fitzgerald, a Washington, D.C.—based coach, 2:39 marathoner, and founder of StrengthRunning.com.
Getting the right amount of rest between quality workouts and before races helps the body recover and adapt, while knowing the best time of day to do certain runs can yield a more productive session. Clearly, whenever you can get out and run is when you should run—but if you've got options, here's how to time everything just right.
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Go Long in the A.M."One of the primary reasons to do a long run is to improve fat-burning metabolism," says Scott Fliegelman, a coach in Boulder, Colorado, and founder of FastForward Sports. So going for a long run after 10 to 12 hours of fasting and just a small prerun meal is a good way to coax your body into burning fat for fuel. Morning is also the time when both core body and ambient temperature tend to be the lowest, so you're less likely to overheat if you have to be out there awhile, says Shawn Youngstedt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina. And because most races happen in the a.m., it's the logical time for a dress rehearsal.
Run Hard in the P.M.
"A lot of data suggests that running performance, specifically over shorter durations, is superior in the late afternoon or early evening," says Youngstedt. Indeed, in his own research, Youngstedt found that swimmers performing all-out, 200-meter trials turned in considerably slower times in morning sessions compared with afternoon and evening sessions.