As a novice runner I would religiously stretch before a run and it was not long until I began being plagued with pulled calf and groin muscles mid run. A little reading and I decided I needed to warm up for 5-10 minutes before stretching, unfortunately the results were the same. I thought briefly about giving up running which would not have been hard since I had only been running a couple of months and was barely up to 3-4 slow miles. In the end I just quit doing any stretching and quit having pulled muscles.
Fast forward a couple of years and a lot of miles later, all pretty much injury free.
During my first 100 miler my stride became shorter and shorter, everything was tightening up. It served as my wake up call. I knew I had to change my routine and add stretching back into it if I was going to continue running ultras and have fun doing them. Two days later my first massage helped relieve the soreness and stiffness that had set in. After any long hard run I can recommend getting a massage. They help remove toxins from the muscles and aid in the repair and recovery of the damaged tissue. Even if it is only a short massage at the race, it helps.
A month later I began Yoga classes. OUCH! I had not realized how much flexibility had been lost. While there are many videos and books you can use my preference is the group class for several reasons: fun meeting others, an instructor to keep the routines fresh and ensure you are using proper form, and a commitment to show up and do it. There are many forms of Yoga and for runners I recommend one that focuses primarily on stretching and flexibility. As runners we tend to focus on our legs but flexibility for our core and upper body is just as important for us to be able to maintain good form over time and Yoga addresses all of these areas nicely. It helps to balance out any training we do and aids in building stronger, more supple tissue.
One of the best quick fixes I have found I was introduced to in Yoga class, the foam roller. Not the small stick type, the kind you lay on and roll. They almost mimic a deep tissue massage and provide myofascial release. I have one and use it regularly. They come in different colors which are varying densities, or hardness. Black is always the hardest. Before investing in one try it out on the floor in the store if you can to find the one that works best for you. IT band problems? Foam roller. Shin splints? Foam roller. Sore thighs, pain behind the kneecap, sore back, stiff neck? A foam roller will treat all of these and so much more. For a quick overview of some of the things you can do click here http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/flexibilityandstretching/ss/FoamRoller.htm
Since taking up Yoga over a year ago I have been completely injury free and am running much faster times than before. Do not neglect your flexibility whether you stretch pre run, mid run, post run or do something like I do an hour or so each week focusing strictly on stretching. Your body and your times will benefit greatly.
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