Updated: Apr 17, 2022
Gone are the days where I could wake up and jump right onto the treadmill for a 30 minute run. In high school, I could take off no matter what I had to eat before, the stretches I did, or the temperature outside. My body is getting older and I am packing on miles after 10+ years at this sport. Nowadays, it takes more prep work to make sure I don't get injured.
A running ritual is simply that; what you do before your run that will set you up for success. Some people take a quick 5 minute foam roll to their lower body and some people focus more on their pre-run coffee. There are many factors that play into successful running and you might want to consider each of these as you figure out what your running ritual might be. In this blog post, I will give you many factors to consider and how I personally build it into my running ritual.
Please note: these may be catered to running, but you can apply all of these factors to any form of exercise.
Step 1: Time of Day
The time of day is one of the most important factors to consider while creating a ritual. This step looks different for everyone; some are morning guru's and some may have the most energy at mid-day. From my experience, the ones who start their day with movement and exercise tend to be more consistent. The hardest part with becoming a morning person is getting out of bed and getting your clothes on. Once you have done this step, you're halfway out the door. My best advice is to either sleep in your workout clothes, or lay them out in front of you to put on when you wake. Be sure to give yourself enough time; this may require an earlier alarm. The payoff from starting this routine is more beneficial than not.
However, you don't have to be a morning person to be successful. If you prefer to run after work hours, then that's great! I've had many runners who enjoy "blowing off steam" after their hectic day. It gives them an energy boost and in turn a wonderful running experience. One thing to watch out for is an increase in cortisol; if you are entering a run stressed out and apply even more physical stress to your body, you'll release too much cortisol. This hormone in excess can contribute to stubborn belly fat and weight gain.
Whatever time of day you chose to run, remain consistent with this time. It has now become your non-negotiable time. This means with family, friends, and work. If you are going on a run before work, don't check your emails until after your run to avoid distraction and temptation to skip it. If you're going to run after work, leave straight from work for your run. Try not to go home and begin evening rituals with the family until you've had your personal time to run.
Step 2: Nutrition
This is another very important factor that is very individualized and is based on Step 1. Let's consider the morning runner first. If you're getting up in the early hours to go on your run, you may not want a full breakfast to be bouncing around in your stomach. In this case, fasted cardio is a great option. If your run is under 60 minutes, your body has enough glycogen storage to give you fuel for a morning sweat session. However, if you're venturing on a long run that is over 60 minutes, you may want to consider the "half-sies rule". Half a banana, half a bagel, half a protein bar... all of these options can provide you with extra fuel for a longer run. I don't recommend having a large meal because that tends to hinder performance. It's very hard for your body to start the digestion process while its going through an intense endurance push.
Now let's consider the evening runner. This situation is completely different; if you were to fast until your run you would be starving and deprived of energy. So it is important to eat a good breakfast and lunch full of healthy fat and protein. Carbs are not essential, but you can get fibrous carbs from vegetables and fruit. About an hour or two before your evening run, it would be a good idea to consider the "halfsies rule" once more; half a banana would be a quick source of simple carbohydrate. Another great idea is a rice cake with peanut butter as it has simple carbs and fat to keep you satiated.
The most important thing for you to figure out is what works for you. Try different times, meals, and snacks and take notes on how your run went. Were you energized or depleted? Consider what foods give you the most energy and which foods did not. So far, my running ritual is a fasted run in the early morning hours because that works best for me. If I run over 60 minutes, I know having a small bagel before my run gives me quick, simple carbohydrates to keep my energy levels up.
Step 3: The Warm-Up
This step is the easiest one to skip. In fact, I didn't find the value in warming up until I got into my late 20's and running seemed to be getting harder and harder on my body. Without a proper warm-up, your first few miles are typically slower (because that just turned into your warm-up), your body is not primed therefore prone to injury, and your running form will hinder until your body catches up with what you're trying to accomplish.
I have a formula for creating the perfect warm-up. Again, this warm up has been perfect for me but you may need extra emphasis on a different muscle group or joint. Always consider areas that cause you pain or discomfort and prioritize priming those muscles first. My ritual takes less than ten minutes which is important. You don't want your warm-up to take a long time as majority of your time should be spent running!
There are three parts to my warm-up drills: (1) myofascial release, (2) mobility, and (3) dynamic. Each part is extremely important to avoid injuries from running. Below, you will see a breakdown of each section and videos demonstrating my favorite exercises currently.
(1) Myofascial Release
This is a practice that releases stiffness and pain by telling contracted muscles to relax, sends blood to the site and improves circulation (which helps with recovery) and stimulates stretch reflexes in those muscles. This is typically used with a foam roller. For runners, it is important to foam roll the muscles that surround your three major joints at play: hips, knees and ankles. This means foam rolling your glutes, quads, and calves will be prioritized. Below are three videos demonstrating this.
Foam rolling calves
Foam rolling glutes
Foam rolling quads
Mobility refers to how well your muscles can move around a joint. We lose mobility as we age and lack of practicing. For runners, mobility is the most important step out of the three parts to practice daily. The three main joints that are affected (but not limited to) for runners are your hips, ankles and knees. As a standard rule, if you have pain in one joint, it is normally due to the joint above or below it lacking mobility. For example; if you experience knee pain, I would coach you to do 90/90 with your hips and strengthen your hips with banded clam shells. By strengthening your hips, your knees will generally feel better. This isn't always the case but in my experience coaching it is normally the problem at hand. Below are my top three mobility drills right now that target hips and strengthens knees/ankles.
90/90: Hip Mobility
Seated Figure 4: Hip Mobility + Knee Relief (IT band stretch)
Standing Clam Shells: Hip Mobility + Ankle Strength
(3) Dynamic Warm Up
Dynamic exercises are used to get the body "warm". It involves moving the muscles at the pace reflecting your goal. You might see basketball players warm up their "slam dunk" with vertical jumps. You might see baseball players warm their swing up with some spinal twists and arm circles. For runners, it's important to warm up your ankles and hips to reflect the movement they'll be making. Below are some dynamic stretches I've been loving recently. These stretches involve movement; therefore they are not static. Static stretches are best after your run as part of your cool down.
Dynamic Warm Up: Ankle Circles and Hip Flexor Stretch
Dynamic Warm Up: Quad Stretch and Foot Stretch
Dynamic Warm Up: Hamstring Stretch and Calf Stretch
This may seem like a lot of prep work before you run. I encourage you to practice these stretches and drills consistently. The more often you do these exercises, the quicker it will go. Eventually, you'll fine tune the stretches and warm-ups that really work for you. Another thing to note is that every body is different. This means you may need different warm-ups than I do. For example, my good friend who is also a runner finds no value in foam rolling until after his run. I am the opposite; I see a tremendous benefit with my running form when I apply pressure to tight muscles before the workout. There is no right or wrong way to generally warm-up; but there is only one right way for you.
Step 4: Set The Tone with Your Mantra
This step is what I like to call, icing on the cake! So far you have your run scheduled, nutrition planned out, and have a great 5 minute warm-up. Now, its time to run! But before hitting the pavement, chose 2-5 words that are reflect your motivation and your resiliency. These words will be what you turn to when the road gets hilly. These words will get you through difficult training days. These words will be what you sing at the end of your run with rejoice! Here are some ideas to help get you started:
"I am strong"
"I am unstoppable"
"Today, I define myself"
"Light it up"
"One step at a a time"
Maybe some of these mantras speak to you; use them! My mantra that always helps me finish the job is "I can do hard things". I think it speaks to me because I reflect on hardships I've dealt with in the past. If I can get through those difficult times, I can do whatever is thrown at me. That mantra gets me through my longest runs and my heaviest lifts. Find what speaks to you and repeat it over and over again until the words come to life.
Congrats on creating your running ritual! Consistency is key; keep your ritual sacred. Allow these practices to become like second nature. This will ensure you to have the best, most safe and enjoyable running experience.