There is no better feeling than completing a marathon. All your time and commitment has finally paid off. I had this feeling back in 2019 when I completed my first ever marathon. The emotions I felt were something I will never forget. Ever since that day, I have been chasing that feeling of exhausting accomplishment. Over the next year, I have registered for 2 more marathons. One marathon is on April 30th of 2022. I have since been in marathon training. Wanting to improve my time, I have been studying the benefits of long distance runs versus short distance runs while undergoing my training process.
Long distance runs are important for many reasons. You want to improve your endurance and increase your muscle power. During long distance runs, your body recruits fast twitch muscle fibers to help with slow twitch tasks. You want more muscle fibers to get you through the part of the marathon, which is called the “wall”. This is when a runner’s glycogen within the muscles is depleted. So, training your body to get past this point is essential, which is one of the main reasons for completing long distance runs in training. Some of the other physiological and mental benefits of long runs include training the body to use fat as fuel before the carbs are depleted and it improves your mental toughness and builds confidence. The mental benefits are equally as valuable as the physical benefits. Understanding that you can go 18,19, 20 miles is extremely important for physical and mental resiliency, especially when “the wall” is upon you.
Short distance runs are just as important when training for a marathon. Short distance runs are essential for improving your VO2 Max, which is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption during vigorous exercise. Improving this is essential, as it will increase you heart rate overall during the race, making it easier to breathe and increase the amount of energy you have during the race. Other benefits include increasing the response time of the neuromuscular system which increases your time overall.
DON’T SKIP RECOVERY
Recovery is also an extremely important part of marathon training. We spoke in an earlier blog on recovery tips about doing things that you like, versus doing things that like you. Doing things you like would be eating a big greasy sandwich and having a beer after a long run. Doing things that like you are stretching, foam rolling, getting enough sleep and ice baths. LYMBR is happy to be a part of that recovery process for many clients who train during racing season. Limiting injury and increasing mobility, agility, and even overall race time is what we are here to help with. Finding a happy mix between the training and recovery will not only improve your performance and make your runs more enjoyable, but it will also limit injury and help ensure you do not fall victim to over-training from lack of recovery time.
Check out our Runner’s Package to help you stay committed to your recovery and get the most out of your long and short runs. Enjoy your training!
Things are starting to get exciting if you’re a marathoner, iron man competitor, ultra-racer, spartan racer, or distance runner of any kind. This is the time of year where mileage starts to go up and consequently the creaky knees, ankles, feet, and low backs of many running competitors will start to rear their perennial ugly mugs. As any competitive athlete understands, especially runners, is that in order for optimal results on race day, recovery needs to be equally optimal. Whether that recovery comes in the form of ice baths, topical creams, CBD, — other anti-inflammatory products —- mobility and stretching work, saunas or the other myriad of ways to maintain athleticism, prioritizing recovery is the most important thing for performance.
As counter intuitive as it sounds, we actually do not grow during our workouts but in periods of rest and recovery. Muscle tissue, connective tissue, our cardiovascular, nervous, and digestive systems among many other things, actually gets put through the ringer through bouts of intense exercise or extended durations of exercise. We’ve covered this before but it’s worth repeating: relaxation is the main mechanism for recovery in the human body. During periods of rest and relaxation is actually where the body can adapt to the stressors and stimuli placed upon it. Your energy stores get replaced, your muscles and systems heal, your body adapts, and you are ready to hit the road or the weight room yet again.
There are many forms and modalities of recovery, as listed above, so much so that there’s an entire subsection of the fitness industry being built around it (LYMBR being well within the confines of that description). Now, for someone new to distance running or competitive racing, it’s very difficult to figure out what the greatest mode of recovery is going to be. Like exercise itself, it’s good to play around with different things and see what you like, and see what likes you. What I mean by that is this: There are going to be things that you enjoy doing that may give great psychological benefit, but very little physiological benefit. Having a beer or a big greasy sandwich after a long run, for example. While these may make you feel incredible immediately, there will be little to zero long term or short term physiological benefit from doing so. Yes, replenishing glycogen stores post heavy cardio is not a bad thing, and research has pointed to heavy carbohydrate sources such as beer and bread in order to do that. There are reasons I would not choose those as glycogen replenishment vehicles over others, but that is for another article, and I am by no means vilifying beer and sandwiches. Furthermore I am not discounting the psychological benefits of unwinding after a tough week of workouts with a Sam Adams and an Italian combo, to that I am no stranger. However, there will be modes of recovery that you will have little interest in doing when you start. These are modalities with high physiological benefits, these include mobility work, ice baths, foam rolling, decreased screen time, and dietary changes. These, at least initially, are going to be somewhat psychologically taxing and are going to be wholly unappealing when you start. These are, unfortunately, the things that are most necessary for long term recovery, sustainability, physiological maintenance and improvement. As I mentioned above, these are the things that like you, possibly even love you. Although these activities are often uncomfortable and usually the last thing you want to do after a long day, consistency transforms these often grueling habits into ones we cannot imagine living without. It just takes time and concerted effort.
I have found through years of training and fixing marathoners, iron man competitors, and ultra-runners that the happiest and most impressive athletes are those that exist astutely in between those two modes of recovery and “relaxation” (I put relaxation in quotations because deep foam rolling and ice baths are in no way relaxing or soothing nor will they ever be. You just become desensitized to self-inflicted masochism over time). They train very hard. Their physiological “like you” activities are dialed in as well as their diet, sleep, and stress management. They don’t shy away from foods or beverages like beer or sandwiches but consume in moderation, usually letting completely loose from the diet for one day a week, commonly known as a cheat meal, “Faturday”, diet break, or whatever nomenclature you wish to assign. In essence, they train very hard, but they recover with the same if not greater fortitude and aplomb. I encourage you to follow in the footsteps of these individuals. Training is very hard, as it should be, but it should also be extremely fun and rewarding. Unless you’re a David Goggins style figure who enjoys and subscribes to the military ideology of “embrace the suck”, you need to let your foot off the gas and enjoy the times between the struggle. There is nothing wrong with going balls to the wall and approaching training, diet, and recovery with a very rigid and militaristic approach. However, most individuals that do that experience high levels of burnout that usually come in the form of injury, illness, or loss of interest altogether. Adherence is the most important factor when it comes to diet and exercise. Oftentimes I’ll be asked by friends or family “what’s the best diet” or more commonly “what’s the best form of exercise for me?”. While I have my prejudices about certain kinds of exercise/diets, and believe almost all people should do some form of weightlifting, my answer is almost always “the one you’re going to stick to and enjoy.” Life’s too short to eat kale and back squat if you hate both of those things.
I hope this helps outline the importance of recovery and to further highlight the direct correlation between an optimal recovery routine and optimizing performance. This is especially true for competitive runners and athletes breaking through a higher respiratory threshold. For those who want to start prioritizing their recovery but don’t have access to things like foam rollers, ice baths, saunas, or what have you, I will leave you with these little cheats to assist you in starting your recovery journey.
Sleep is your best friend: It doesn’t matter if you have the best diet, training, and recovery tools at your disposal. If your sleep is suboptimal, performance will follow. Sleep does a lot, all of which I will cover in a later blog, but for now just understand that quality and quantity of sleep are just as important as diet and exercise in regards to sports performance.
Diet is your other best friend: You’ve probably heard the saying “You can’t outrun a terrible diet.” As much as I hate very general platitudes, this one is 100% true. Some people cite Usain Bolt eating chicken McNuggets and french fries after his races and wonder if diet is really as important as we think. First of all, most of us should not be comparing ourselves to Usain Bolt. Second of all, yes, diet is extremely. In the most distilled and simplistic explanation, food is fuel and fuel is what makes you go. Furthermore, there’s probably a reason we saw him eating that stuff after his races and not before. Remember the beer and sandwich example.
Cold showers, the lazy/ economical ice baths: If you don’t have access to an ice bath, or you’re like me and live in an apartment without a colossal freezer chest then turning your water temperature down for the last few minutes during your shower is a great way to start introducing cold therapy as a means of recovery. Again, without going into too much detail, Ice baths are fantastic for metabolic waste removal and generally make people feel much better once they’re out.
Active, repetition based stretching is just as good if not better than foam rolling at releasing and improving tissue function: This is not to discount foam rolling as a means of recovery. However, those without foam rollers can still active repetition based stretching to assist with release, waste removal, blood flow, tissue restoration, and unlike foam rolling has innumerable central and autonomic nervous system benefits.
It’s the height of summer and we’re running more miles, playing more sets, and getting in as many rounds of golf as we can. Are you preparing your body for the demands you’re placing on your muscles and joints?
Every activity involves demands on your lower leg. Below the knee, we have multiple muscles that allow us to push off, jump, change direction and make explosive movements. The calf muscles below the knee include the gastrocnemius, which is the large, two headed muscle that’s primary function is running, jumping and pushing off, while it also helps flex the knee joint, hence its size. The gastrocnemius is a type I muscle fiber, meaning it is responsible for explosive movements. The other muscle that comprises the calf is the soleus. It aids the gastrocnemius yet is utilized more in walking and less explosive movements as it is comprised of type II muscle fibers. Since it is a smaller muscle, it only acts at the ankle joint. The gastrocnemius and soleus muscles come together towards the ankle joint and create a band known as the Achilles tendon. It is crucial to understand that these muscles are very susceptible to injury if exposed to sudden movements and contractions.
Since the lower leg is such a sensitive area, injuries due to quick and explosive movements can take a long time to recover from, depending on the severity. We have all heard of the dreaded Achilles tendon tear, one of the most painful and hardest injuries to fully recover from, however a calf strain or tear can also be very painful. When an injury like this occurs, people describe the feeling of a pop or even the sensation of being kicked or shot in the leg.
One of the ways to help prevent this from happening is a to make time for a thorough warm up and cool down. The stretches laid out below show how to stretch each part of the calf with these gastrocnemius and soleus stretches, which will help protect the muscles and surrounding tendons. It will also greatly reduce the risk of ankle injuries. Note: when performing these stretches, each time do one set with the foot pointing straight forward, one with the foot turned in while keeping the knee tracking forward and one with the foot turned out and keeping the knee tracking forward. This will also stretch the medial and lateral aspects of the muscle.
Distal gastrocnemius – With the band double wrapped around the top of your foot, start with your toes relaxed. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent next to you. From here, aim your toes towards your shin and use your arms to pull the band for an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo. Tip: lying flat is imperative to the specificity of the stretch. If you are sitting upright, it will not target the correct area of the muscle.
Proximal gastrocnemius – With the relaxed leg out straight, double wrap the band around your stretching foot, getting as close to your toes as possible without the band slipping. Lie flat on the ground with your head supported by a pillow and your non-stretching leg bent. With your leg out straight, point your toes towards your shin and pull the band to get an additional stretch. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. The more flexible you are, the higher your leg can remain straight. Do not concern yourself with how high your leg is, focus on keeping it straight. If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo.
Soleus – sitting on a chair with one foot up and one foot relaxed, take both hands and grab around the middle of your foot. Point you toes straight up and use your hands to help pull upward. Have your leg bent to a comfortable angle, not all the way and keep your heel on the chair. Gently keep moving through the stretch for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do 3-5 reps on one side and repeat on the other side. Perform 1-3 sets on each side. Again, If you are doing the stretch before your activity, use a slightly quicker tempo and if you are stretching after, use a longer tempo.
The next time you plan your run, match or round, be sure to add time before and after to stretch so your body can see you through and perform at the level you expect.