Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Importance of Warming Up

I have heard it said that a dog can teach you many things and over the weekend my 1 year old yellow lab Jack taught me a valuable running lesson on the importance of warming up. Jack is a puppy stuck in an adult dogs body. Since he will turn one on Halloween and it has not been humid and hot I have decided to take him on some short slow runs. These runs normally occur at the beginning of a workout.

This weekend called me to run back to back 3 hour runs.
Saturday Morning: My legs were sore and tired from running hard last weekend in the mountains and the kettlebell workout I did on Friday afternoon. I headed my local state park and started off on the 1.7 mile paved trail up into the park. I started way too fast and before I knew it I was sweating up a storm and had a little touch of blurred vision. I quickly slowed up, but the damage was done. The rest of the run was horrible as I walked for long stretches and ran intermittently. After an 75 minutes of this run some walk a lot pattern I finally pulled together and managed 8 ok miles of running. With my next race only 5 weeks away and the training I have been putting in I was just a little concerned about this run and my confidence took a hit. How could I run so well the previous Sunday and so poorly today? How would I run the second part of this back to back weekend?

Sunday Afternoon: Today was a little warmer than I would have liked and my legs were shot. I had planned on running in the morning before church. When the alarm went off I got up and my legs and body said back to bed. Shortly after lunch I convinced myself it was time to get this run out of the way. Since I was running the roads around my house I leashed Jack up and off we went. Running with Jack is interesting. At first he wants to stop and sniff everything. After a few minutes he gets over this and falls into cadence with me. Since it was warm out we slowed down a lot. After a few miles I took Jack home. I then ran two and a half hours of rock solid effortless running. My legs felt great, my heart rate did not spike and was steady, and my breathing was perfect. At first I was not sure how it could all come together like this on a warm afternoon with very tired legs. As my run went on and on I realized that I had Jack to thank for my successful run. By running slower than normal with him I had inadvertently completed a thorough warm up.

Elite ultra runner and my coach Paul DeWitt has always told me that if you warm up properly your legs will feel good on the second day of a back to back. I just never listened to him. It took a crazy yellow lab to get through to me. I described my findings to Paul in an email after my runs and he replied "I often say that going 15 seconds a mile slower in the first hour can translate to going 2 minutes per mile faster the last few hours". I am now a believer. He also noted that I learned a valuable lesson over the weekend. In hindsight this makes total sense. I can normally perform at a pretty high level during my shorter midweek workouts. I always do a warmup before these runs. After years of running I never would have thought my dog would be able to teach me about running. 

There is a lot of information on how warming up effects endurance sports. Almost everything I have read says warming up has a positive effect. You can check out these articles for more information on the benefits of warming up:  

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