Mountain Mama: Why bother warming-up? Here’s why

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Warming up does more than prevent torn tendons and tweaked muscles. Revving up your body can help win the battle of the running doldrums.

Dear Mountain Mama,

I’m a time-crunched runner training for the Charleston Marathon. My goal is to finish – I’m not looking to break any records of set a PR. My training plan involves logging the miles at a moderate to slow pace.

I keep hearing how important warming-up is, but does that apply to a runner like me? When time is at a premium, why bother with a warm-up?

Yours,
Time-Crunched

Dear Time-Crunched,

I get the time-is-so-scarce-I-barely-manage-to-squeeze-in-a-run mind frame, an apt description of my own head space most of the time. But skipping a warm-up does more than ensure you won’t hit your peak performance. Running first thing in the morning or after being sedentary for long stretches increases the risk of pulling a muscle or tweaking a tendon or joint. “A proper warmup increases heart rate, breathing rate, and blood flow to the muscles,” says Ann Alyanak, a University of Dayton coach who placed seventh at the 2008 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials. “It prepares the body for increasingly vigorous activity, allows it to work more efficiently, and reduces injury risk by loosening you up.”

Warming up also helps runners err on the side of starting out more like a tortoise than a hare. Beginning a run at an unsustainable pace results in an inevitable slow-down, leaving runners feeling discouraged and daunted at the thought of their next run.

Even for everyday runs, at a minimum warm-up by walking for 3 – 5 minutes to loosen up joints and muscles. Then begin running at a deliberately slow pace for the first half mile or more, starting easy and gradually adding speed.

Oh but there will be days. Day when real life conspires against you. Last week I’d calendared every hour of my work days, lunch presentations that required preparing after my toddler went to sleep. By Thursday, I dreaded my training run, even thought it was an easy 3-miler. It started raining thirty minutes before my babysitter was scheduled to arrive.

Rain was just the excuse I needed to bail on my run, only my babysitter wouldn’t let me. When I texted her I wanted to cancel, she replied, “You positive? You can always run in a rain jacket! Or just get soaked!”

So reluctantly I replied that I’d run, mostly out of guilt. But when I got home washing the dishes and folding the heap of laundry on my couch seemed more appealing. I spent close to an hour putting away dishes and clothes and sweeping. After a day behind my desk, even that activity revved up my energy level so when my babysitter set a time limit that I must leave the house to actually run, since that’s why I’d asked her to babysit. By then running, while still not completely exciting, at least seemed doable.

Warming up, even if it’s cleaning your house, helps on those days when you just don’t feel in the mood to lace up your shoes. Telling yourself that you’ll start slowly will help to get into the right mindset before tackling long distances. Warming up ensures you’ll be mentally pumped up for your next workout.

Happy Trails!

Mountain Mama

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