If you’re gearing up for the fall running season (and maybe even have a marathon on your bucket list!) you might be focused on pace, form, and distance (and understandably so). But it’s the pre-run rituals that often get forgotten that will help you run smarter, avoid injury, improve form, and transform your entire running experience.
Regardless of whether you’re preparing for a 5K fun run, a half marathon, or you’ve got your eyes set on the NYC or Chicago marathons—build these into your training plans and keep your all-important preparations on track.
1. Tune Into Your Body
Before you hit the trail, take a moment to pause and tune into your body. Which muscles feel tight, does anything feel out of balance or uncomfortable? It’s crucial to listen closely to your body—this can go a long way in preventing minor annoyances turning into something more serious and sidelining yourself.
2. Stretch Dynamically
Running is a full-body, dynamic workout and your pre-run stretch routine should reflect that. Dynamic stretches (as opposed to static stretches like a hamstring stretch) prepare your joints and muscles by mimicking the activity you’re about to do. They work to increase blood flow to the muscles, alleviate tension, and improve your flexibility. Prime your body for action with stretches like side lunges, single-leg deadlifts, straight-leg lateral swings, knee hugs, hamstring sweeps, calf raises, and ankle circles.
3. Hydrate (Way) Beforehand
Similar to the way that last-minute cramming for a test rarely helps you pass, guzzling down water the morning before a long run won’t hydrate your body to its optimum extent (and result in more bathroom breaks). Instead of binge-drinking—aim to keep a water bottle handy all week long and drink eight 8-ounce (64 oz. total) glasses of water each day. The exact amount of water you need to drink directly before your run depends on the elements (temperature and humidity) as well as the distance you’re taking on.
4. Schedule Your Rest Days
Including rest days in your training schedule is a crucial part of allowing your body adequate time to recover and adapt to a running workout. Put simply: you can train harder when you rest up (even if that looks like going for a relaxing walk or taking a restorative yoga class) and decrease the likelihood of overextending your body.
5. Incorporate Strength Training
When you run, there’s a long list of muscles that get worked: quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, your core, back, abdominals, glutes, and calf muscles (to name a few!). Supplementing running with strength training exercises will not only help you avoid injury, but it will also make you a stronger, faster, and more efficient runner. Strengthen your muscles and joints, improve mobility and even stride efficiency with exercises like planks, squats, overhead press, lunges, and alternating rows.
6. Remember to Breath
Getting your body race ready is key, but mentally preparing and taking time to get your mind on board too is sometimes half the battle! Place your hand on your belly, close your eyes, remind yourself why you’re doing this, and take five slow, deep breaths. This will also help you to set out at a comfortable pace (rather than starting too hard), helping you last the full distance.