Hacking your jog
January 23, 2006 5:46 AM   Subscribe

How do you optimize your jog?

I run about 3.5 miles, 3 or 4 mornings a week, just after waking. I'm not really a newbie; I've been running for a little more than a year. But I haven't yet figured out what variables I can control to produce a consistently excellent run. Sometimes, I breeze through the run speedy and smiling, and sometimes (like this morning), I get stitches, I'm out of breath, my leg hurts, my feet get blisters.

I used to run on pavement with shoes too small to account for the widening of my feet during the jog, and my toes are still trying to recover. The trail I run on now is nice, soft gravel. With the consultation of the fellow at Running Room, I've got a pair of good winter running shoes (Nike Air Max Motos) a full size larger than my normal shoe size.

I can be bad about hydrating sometimes, but this morning I had a full 12 oz. of sparkling water and gave it time to settle before going out. I can also rush through my stretching beforehand.

What stretches, changes in diet, changes in environment or other variables can I alter to make the jog awesome every time? And what are your favorite resources (blogs, books, magazines) for learning more?
posted by grrarrgh00 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
P.S.: There is one variable I know how to control quite well, and for anyone wondering how I'm currently answering this question, my current running mix is:
  • Fire, Fire (M.I.A.)
  • Mushaboom (Feist)
  • Don't Change Your Plans (Harvard Callbacks)
  • Chewing Gum (Annie)
  • The Stops (Elbow)
  • 1 Thing (Amerie)
  • Earthquake Weather (Beck)
  • One (Mary J. Blige & U2)
  • Lazarus (Porcupine Tree)
  • Daughters of the Soho Riots (The National)
  • Chicago (Sufjan Stevens)
  • First Day of My Life (Bright Eyes)
  • Cold Hands, Warm Heart (Brendan Benson)
  • Transatlanticism (Death Cab for Cutie)
  • Blinking Lights (Eels)
  • The Ocean (Richard Hawley)
  • Somebody Told Me (The Killers)
Just in case you wondered.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:55 AM on January 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

Since you mention your music diet for your run, I will mention what has helped me in the past. Create a playlist of metronomic tracks to the tempo of your feet hitting the ground (the simpler the better, think Plastikman). Your mind wanders off and you don't worry so much about the physical aspects of your run; your body just keeps going. I don't know if I'd label that meditative, hypnotic or 'going into a trance' but it sure as hell helped me get through without either noticing or caring about the basic discomforts of running.
posted by kuperman at 6:07 AM on January 23, 2006

I never drink 12oz of water before a jog and think that might be causing your stitch (I'm guessing you already know where those come from). Usually I gargle/spit a few mouthfuls and then take a small swallow (the gargle/spit satisfies the mouth without burdening the stomach). Drink a bit if necessary during, or save it for after the run.
posted by furtive at 6:37 AM on January 23, 2006

In order of importance for having a good run (says the person who used to run:)

1) Be well-rested.
2) Warm up. This means walking or jogging slowly for about 5 minutes. If you're going to rush it, you're probably better off not stretching. Stretching hurriedly, especially in the morning, probably causes more harm than good. Stretch after your run.

For side stitches, the key is to belly-breathe. If it gets bad, raise both arms over your head, grasp two fingers in your other hand and breathe deeply for a little while.

I just re-read your post and noticed you said SPARKLING water. Stick to regular. Sparkling doesn't seem to hydrate as well and it can certainly contribute to stitches.
posted by callmejay at 7:22 AM on January 23, 2006

Regarding stitches: I've found the best way to get them to go away is to pretend they aren't there. I used to get them when I swam and my coach kept telling me it was all in my head. I though he was kind of an asshole for doing that, but I went along with it and I discovered that if I pretend it isn't there when I first notice it, it doesn't become full blown anymore at all. If that doesn't work for you, an alternative is to focus on breathing out on alternating legs or the leg opposite from the one you normally breathe out on.

Also, stretch after. Stretching before is bad for you. If you search AskMe, you can find links to studies that others have posted.
posted by dame at 7:58 AM on January 23, 2006

I stretch a little before and a lot afterwards and sometimes a bit half-way through. I read on MeFi somewhere that stitches were a result of breathing incorrectly or at the wrong point in your stride. No clue if that was bunk. I rarely (almost never) get them.

I find that the humidity of the air and the general temperature really affect my run. Extremes of either can generally cause me some troubles.

Also, the time between runs can make a run better or worse. Too many days off between a run can cause problems as can not enough of a break. YMMV. (I used to run 6 days a week, but now I'm in more of a 2 days on 1 day off pattern which seems to work for me.)

I did HIIT for a while and that made some runs better than others. It will also cause problems of varying degrees. I still employee aspects of HIIT from time to time to varying success.

I don't listen to music when I run. I find it distracting. Try focussing on your breathing/stride, but not too much such that you become self-conscious and you'll sort of zone out sans music. People I know that run to music tend to let the music dictate their stride/pace which probably isn't ideal, particularly if your body doesn't agree with the BPM.

I also never take more than a sip of water 30 minutes before a run (plently more than 30 minutes before is a good idea). And drink a lot afterwards, of course. Sparkling is probably a bad idea in conjunction with any physical activity. Also, recovery shakes and or nuts (almonds) tend to help make sure that tomorrows run goes well. Stretching a lot afterwards also ensures that the next run is good.

Blisters are from either your socks or your shoes. I wear New Balance because they are wider and though my foot isn't wide, they have also kept my feet in good condition. Nike and others gave me blisters because they were too narrow. Also, the cold tends to make your feet shrink a bit, I think, so a full size larger than your true size is probably a bit overkill and might be the reason you're getting blisters. I dunno. I don't wear different shoes in the winter.

As to making the run awesome everytime, I don't know if there is a secret. I've been running at least 4 times a week for 8 years and some times my run sucks and other times I am on top of the world and don't want it to end. One thing I have learned is to not push things too much, but don't become lazy either. Listen to your body. Challenge it, but take good care of it. Run when you can and when you feel like it and sometimes even if you don't feel like it, but if your foot hurts or you can't run for whatever reason, don't push yourself to run and don't beat yourself up about not running that day.
posted by shoepal at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2006

Now you may vary more than me. shoepal has some great advice. Listen to your body, sometimes it's just enough to run. Sometimes you have to push. Running is the closest I get to mystical, but I don't think enough people are conscious of their bodies, my body talks to me if I listen.

Having said that, some runs just suck. I run 6 times a week anywhere from 3 to 20 miles, and I know that 1-4 of those runs will suck. They will be hard, my legs will feel heavy. Somedays though, I can't run enough, I feel fluid, fast, powerful.

I don't think there is a secret, I know that I can't eat or drink for an hour or two before my run, or I'll feel logy. Typically I'll feel better if I run later in the day, but most days I only have time to run early in the morning. I typically don't stretch before or after.

As for shoes, find a shoe, I wear Nike size 12, I never get blisters. Once you find a shoe, stick with it. And don't always trust running stores, trust your feet. Run in what feels good. If cheaper shoes fit you better than go with those. Running stores are profit-based, nothing wrong with that, but I prefer my cheap shoes that last 300 miles. In addition, keep several pairs of shoes, I have 4-5 pairs of running shoes that I rotate. Once my shoes get too worn, they get converted to trail shoes.

And I completely agree with the no music. I got an iPod shuffle specifically to run with, and I found that it dictated my stride, I wasn't listening to how my body wanted it to run.

The best resource for running information (and motivation) are road races and local running clubs.
posted by patrickje at 10:26 AM on January 23, 2006

I think shoepal's last sentence is pretty good. I go to the gym and for awhile really pushed myself to go 5 days a week but now I do 4. For me, 5 was just too much. I also vary it with bike rides if the weather is nice. And in Denver this winter we've had a lot of nice days.

I do get the occasional stitch so the advice on breathing caught my eye.
posted by 6550 at 10:29 AM on January 23, 2006

Sign up for a race and find a training schedule which will equip you to run it. Progressing towards a specific goal is the only way I can keep myself motivated and really enjoy running - you'll notice yourself getting progressively faster/able to run further, depending on your aims, which is very satisfying. It doesn't make every run fantastic, but it gives you a longer term upward trajectory so that the bad runs don't matter so much.

Most schedules build much more variety into your run - one long run a week, one short fast run, the use of 'fartlek' (Swedish term meaning speed play - doing short, random burst of speed), hill runs etc. - varying your runs keeps you interested and stops you trying to compare every single run with the previous one quite so directly.

Runners World has some training schedules, but there are lots of good books out there too (The Complete Book of Running For Women is my personal bible, FWIW).
posted by penguin pie at 10:30 AM on January 23, 2006

"In addition, keep several pairs of shoes"

Patrickje makes a really good point that I unfortunately learned far too late in the game.
posted by shoepal at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2006

Regarding stitches, I've found that I tend to get them when I breathe too shallowly and that I can often stave them off by inhaling as deeply as possible (ie, my rib cage is completely expanded), and then exhaling COMPLETELY (ie, after the normal exhale is over, I push the residual air out of my lungs).

I definitely need to slow my pace when I do this, and it's not exactly fun because it requires a lot of concentration and will power (because of course I FEEL like I ought to be breathing faster). But it does often work to prevent an incipient side stitch from striking and allows me to finish my run.

Regarding hydration, have you considered getting one of those water-bottle belts that let you carry several small water bottles with you? I am a gym rat and run on a treadmill, and I always have a water bottle handy and drink a small swallow or two every half-mile or so (or more frequently if I'm sweating a lot). I find that this practice does wonders for my well being during a run and can't imagine a run longer than 2-3 miles without it.
posted by tentacle at 12:09 PM on January 23, 2006

I'm going to agree with others who have posted that there's no such thing as being able to have an "awesome" jog every time out (think of how boring the runner's high would become if it lost all novelty!).

To stack the deck in your favor though, I'd concentrate on lifestyle issues such as getting enough regular sleep and staying hydrated throughout each day rather than short term fixes. It's an endurance sport, after all. Carbonated beverages of any sort before a run (even *hours* before a run) are not going to help increase your odds of having a great time out on the road. If you're running 3-4 miles, carrying water isn't necessary (unless you're running in extreme heat) and the shlepping will drag you down.

When you do get a stitch (we all do eventually) try raising your arm up over your head on the same side you have the stitch on. Training partners swear by that method, I've found it looks less silly and is more effective if I try to breath out sharply on each footstrike on the effected side until the pain subsides.

One thing that will make most of your runs feel better is to start increasing the distance you run on a day or two, and putting some short pick-ups or faster strides into your runs on the other days. One good session would be to jog slowly for a mile or two and then alternate between 2-3 minutes of harder running and 2-3 minutes of a slow recovery jog. This will help make your stride smoother, your form more efficient, and your running muscles stronger. What's not to like about that?

Also, make sure the first 5 minutes of every run starts at a leisurely pace. Your body needs that time to warm up its tight muscles and start using oxygen efficiently. Starting a run too quickly usually results in a slight oxygen debt (which you might never recover from fully in the next few miles and is very uncomfortable) and tight, sore legs. I find the older I get, the longer it takes me to warm up and settle into my usual training pace. These days the first 20 minutes are at least a minute per mile slower than the next hour's miles.

You might try looking at the Runners World web site for more help, although I'd take any training advice found there (for example, the cult of walking breaks and penguinism) with your critical thinking filter on:
Runners World Training Page

I have found that Running Times is generally a more respectable source of information, they seem to have an archive of training questions here.
posted by stagewhisper at 1:53 PM on January 23, 2006

Here's one I got from the "Running for Women" book mentioned earlier — studies show you hit the ground hardest during the first step you take while exhaling. That book recommends inhaling for three steps then exhaling for two to alternate the foot that hits the ground when you first exhale (this is why many people have repeated injuries on only one side of their body).

I ran like that for a few weeks and felt as though I was still struggling a little, until I realized it that fully EXHALING helped alleviate my stitches. Now I breath the opposite: exhale for three steps and inhale for two, which still alternates my steps but works much better for me than the other way.
posted by Brittanie at 4:29 PM on January 23, 2006

Secondly, I know what you mean — I can run the same route three times a week and have totally different experiences each time. Mostly, I think it's all mental.
posted by Brittanie at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2006

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