evolving rituals

I enjoyed an interesting conversation with my running buddy this morning, as we tackled our pre-dawn daily miles before heading into the office. We were talking about all of the rituals and rules that we used to observe, steadfastly, closer to the beginning of our respective running practices. Many of those tendencies, we realized, disappeared over the years as we have grown into a much more frequent running practice. For example, we are both much more comfortable heading into a half marathon without fueling in the middle, whereas I can remember a time that I felt obligated to swallow some type of energy goop every hour on the hour. Our bodies are the machines we know most intimately, like a car that one owns for several years… we begin to gain confidence in discerning the creaks, the rattles, the warning lights, and all of the quirks that accompany our daily commute.

This conversation got me thinking about the flip-side, the rituals related to running that I have adopted over the last year. Here are a few things I do now that I was not doing when I started my distance running journey:

Coffee. When I was a kid at summer camp, we used to sing a round about coffee (“C-O-F-F-E-E, coffee is not for me! It’s a drink some people wake up with, that it makes one nervous is no myth…”). Sorry camper of the past, but coffee is a drink I not only wake up with, it’s a drink I unabashedly consume before my morning runs. Caffeine is a common choice among runners, and consumed a variety of ways (for example, you can purchase fuel gels with caffeine added to them), but I prefer a cup of the good warm stuff. I also find that a cup of coffee before an early morning run (especially in fall and winter) keeps my core warm in cold weather.

Recovery walks. We’ve all felt the temptation to take up permanent residence on the couch after a long run, especially one that leaves muscles stiff and achy. I have learned, however, that heading for a sedentary recovery means enduring more days of soreness (the exception here is resting because of an injury… if you are injured, please rest, ice, elevate). I am a big fan of walking as a supportive exercise for running. I try to walk intentionally nearly every day, but on days when I do a particularly strenuous run, it is especially important to keep the blood circulating oxygen to tissue. A brisk walk for 1-3 miles really helps me to stave off stiffness after a run, and it is preferable to taking even one dose of NSAIDs, which can aggravate stomach issues.

Simple and nourishing food. Running uses up calories and hydration. One of two things typically happens after a run… I am either without any appetite, or I am ravenous. I tend to lose my appetite after a really hard and fast run, no matter the distance. I believe this is, in part, because of the fight or flight response. Ever get that precursor-to-diarrhea stomach cramp feeling after a run? It is all part of the same nervous system response. I have learned that it is really important to make a good effort to both eat a nourishing snack and replenish water after any run, even if I don’t feel like eating. A few things that tend to go down easy for me include hard-boiled eggs, banana with peanut butter, and Greek yogurt. I will often leave myself at least 16 ounces of water, either in the car or by the front door, to drink down immediately following my run. Of course there are exceptions to this, and they usually occur on a race day when there’s a trough full of Costco muffins or a doughnut stop with friends on the way home… but I try to stick to my nourishing foods as part of my regular routine.

Layers. I really like to feel warm when I run. I used to wear minimal gear and clothing, but now I will wear a running backpack to store gloves or a top layer on cold days. The extra gear is worth it to me. Personally, if I don’t have to spend the first ten or fifteen minutes of my run cursing how terrible the cold air feels against me, I get into the groove a lot faster. Two years ago, I rarely wore hats, vests, or gloves. Now I keep them ready to go and consider them to be essential fall and winter (and sometimes spring) running accessories.

New rituals, old rituals, some based in common sense, some in superstition. We all have them! The important thing is that you are equipping yourself to be successful and enjoy a long and flourishing running practice. I am looking forward to running for enough years that I end up contradicting my own advice several times over.

Happy trails!

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