Ask the Coach – Long Run, Stiff Legs
Lauren writes: After my long run my legs staged a protest! I didn’t want them to stiffen up so I decided to run errands and they decided not to move. This concerns me for future longer distances…
First some background on Lauren’s training. She’s training for a marathon and did a 20 mile run, as she’s getting close to her race. This will be Lauren’s first marathon after about three years, and it was her longest run since then. Let’s look into some reasons why her legs might have stiffened up as much as they did and ways to prevent this in the future.
1) Was she well rested, hydrated, and well-fueled before the workout? Since a long run like this is a “key workout” to build endurance for the marathon, it is important to make sure your body is ready to go. The day before a long run will often be a rest day or an easy workout day to help make sure your body is ready. You also need to pay attention to what you eat and drink, and the amount of rest you get before a long run.
2) Did she ease into the run with a good warm-up and then maintain a sustainable pace? Starting the run even slower, even with a walk, to let your muscles and joints warm up is very important. Warm-ups such as neuromuscular and dynamic warm-ups to help get the muscles firing properly are also a good idea. For the recreational athlete, long runs like this are typically at a slower, endurance (conversational) pace. More experienced marathon runners often throw in race-pace or faster efforts to prepare the body for the race, but beginner marathoners who are just out there to go the distance, just need to train their body to go the distance first. Pushing beyond what your body can take can result in increased soreness and even injury. But remember every body will be able to take a different amount of this “punishment.”
3) Did she fuel and hydrate properly during the run? Twenty miles (which is usually 3 hours or longer for the recreational athlete) is a long time to be pounding the pavement and one can easily get behind in hydration, electrolyte and fuel consumption. Ask the body to work in a depleted state and it might indeed stage a protest.
4) Did she cool down and stretch after the run? Easing into a slow jog then walk for about 10 minutes at the end of the run will help let your legs know they can slow down and your body adapt to the change in pace. Remember they’ve been running for about 3 hours, so suddenly stopping is a shock to your system. The repeated running movement also causes shortening of muscles so stretching after the cool down can help with the recovery. Additionally, an ice bath could have helped her with recovery after a muscle-pounding run like a 20 miler, as well as compression socks or tights as a recovery tool. Also make sure to hydrate post-workout and have a good meal to get the glycogen stores replenished and help with the other recovery processes your body undergoes.
There are some other questions that I could ask Lauren, like how long after the run did she decide to run errands, and what did she do between the run and the errands. I also could ask her what her longest run was prior to this 20 miler and when that run was. If it was a similar mileage and/or very recent, it could be she wasn’t recovered enough. If it was significantly less mileage and/or more than a couple week gap between long runs, it could be that her body was essentially too recovered and the distance was too much. As long as Lauren is following a proper training plan and isn’t injured, if she has the topics addressed above covered then she should not be concerned for future long runs.
Please share your marathon/long run recovery experiences in the comment section. If you have other questions that you would like to see answered in the ‘Ask the Coach’ column you can post them there as well. You can also contact Coach Nicole on facebook, twitter or via email at email@example.com.
Coach Nicole is the founder and head coach for NEO Endurance Sports & Fitness, a Colorado-based endurance sport coaching company. She is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and also coaches triathlon for Team In Training. Learn more at http://neoendurancesports.com/.