All right Sisters, it’s time for another edition of Mailbag Monday with Coach Joe. The questions were a little light these last two weeks, but two of them came in just in time to make this edition. If you have a question, throw it over to us to get into the next edition. This week we look for a quick solution to stretching and we take a look at how to carry food and fuel with you when running long.
Question 1 comes from Lisa:
“Quick, I only have a few minutes to stretch before my run and a few minutes after my run. What are your favorite 3-5 stretches for those times when time is lacking.”
First Lisa, it is nice to hear that when you’re pressed for time you’re still trying to work some stretching in. Most runners, quite honestly, don’t stretch at all. There is a lot of debate over the need to stretch and what it really does for you, but let’s just assume for the sake of this answer that some stretching is a good thing. For those of you that need a basic refresher on how to stretch, start by reading a short article on the basics of stretching which includes a link to a video at the end.
Picking out a couple of stretches for runners that are in a hurry depends a bit on who you are as a runner and your body type. For beginning runners, the most important stretches are the ones that focus on the shins, calves, lower legs and feet. Beginners need to stretch these areas to avoid getting shin splints, because inflexibility in the calf muscle in particular tends to lead to shin splints. Stretching the feet is also important for beginners to avoid a condition called plantars fasciitis, which is an inflammation in the bottom of the feet.
For more advanced runners, the stretches that would be most important would include the 1) calf muscle, 2) soleius muscle (the lower part of the calf), 3) the hamstrings (the muscles in the back of the leg) and 4) the quadriceps muscle (the muscles in the front of the leg).
All women runners should really stretch their illiotibial band area as well. The stretch actually targets muscles in the side of the hip, but the benefit is found in loosening up a band that runs across the side of the knee that gives many women runners problems.
Here is a link to a short stretching guide in Runner’s World that has pictures of the various stretches.
I might suggest for those really pressed for time to stretch any muscle groups that need attention first and get them well stretched. So in other words, if any area is feeling tight then spend the time stretching those muscles first and then move on to the other important muscle groups, especially the calf muscles. Also, instead of stretching for a few minutes at the start and a few minutes at the end, you may want to skip the stretch at the start, when your muscles are cold, and take the time to do more stretching at the end of the run when your muscles are warmed up and will be more open to a good stretch.
Question 2 comes from Teresa:
I just started training for my first half-marathon, and I need to work out how I’m going to get my carbs during the runs. . .What I’ve been doing is just putting a scoop of the recovery drink I already have at home in a bottle of water, which is about 20 g of carbs and about 5g of protein, and that works just dandy. The problem is, that only takes care of the first [hour]. What about [the second hour]? My supply belt only has room for one bottle, but I want to supply my own bottle to avoid BPA, and all the belts with more than one bottle seem to take custom size plastic bottles. I guess I could bring another bottle in my hand, but that seems a little annoying. I’ve been thinking about gels, but thought I’d ask for some opinions on what’s practical?
There are a number of issues raised in this question, but the two that I’d like to focus on are 1) what should runners carry for fuel when running? and 2) how should they carry those fuels?
Teresa has the concept right: it takes fuel to keep running for long distances. Her current approach is to use a powdered energy drink mix, putting that in her water bottle as her energy source. However, runners also need to hydrate and replace electrolytes, so by putting all her eggs in that basket so to speak, I think she runs the risk of not having a good hydration strategy. So I’ll suggest an alternative plan for her.
The first thing that I would suggest is to get a product called Nuun Active Hydration. These are tablets that runners drop into plain water, turning the water into a complete hydration solution. The nice thing about this method is that you can continue to carry your single bottle of water along with a tube of Nuun to add to water after you finish drinking your first bottle. If you’re running for more than an hour, you’ll likely need to refill that bottle at least once or twice during your run. Planning routes that occasionally pass by a water source is something that you can do. Whether that means running a loop course that passes by your car or a course that goes by a drinking fountain (or even a hose), plain water is pretty easy to find. Just drop a Nuun in the bottle and you’re back on the way. If you’re really out in the middle of nowhere, then you might need to consider a CamelBack or another water carrier that carries more fluid.
If you want more tips on dealing with fluids, here’s an article called Carrying Fluids that might have some more ideas for you.
Now, let’s look at the other part of your question, which is what should you be using for energy? As you allude to in your question, energy gels are the number one choice for runners, because they are portable and you can carry a lot of them easily. In a small pouch, you can tuck five or six gels packets, which is enough for a fairly long run. The recommendation is usually one gel every 30-45 minutes. There are many different brands of gels out there, so try a few to find one that works for you. Everyone is a little different in terms of dealing with the flavors, textures and sugars found in energy gels, so you may want to try out a few.
My favorite gel is the Gu Roctane Blend, but these are a little more expensive and harder to find. The standard Gu product is great as well and found on many marathon courses today. The most common gel found in stores (even Target and some other large chains) are the PowerGel brand made by the people that make the PowerBar. I’ve used a ton of both of these brands and they are great solutions. You’ll also find that there are tons of tricky ways to carry gels, including one tucked into each glove when running in the cold or one or two in the front of your bra. Gels are very handy and they can keep the energy coming in for a long time.
Good luck Sisters!
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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