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Trail Tips

Feel Fresher, Run Healthier

A few simple tips can strip years of miles away, making you feel younger every day, stay healthier and run faster.

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Every morning when I got out of bed, I used to walk to the kitchen hunched over like Gollum. I would whisper “my precious” to a cup of coffee, and the one true cup of dark roast would make me feel all-powerful again. But even the caffeine didn’t always help—sometimes, I would go through the entire day feeling like a centuries-old, hunched-over hobbit.

Coaching trail runners has showed me that the Gollum shuffle is a pretty universal problem. My athletes’ training logs are dotted with lines like “Major old man/woman status,” especially after hard training. Running can make you feel invincible, but it can also make you feel infinitely vincible.

A few simple tips can strip years of miles away, making you feel younger every day. That newfound pep in your step will help you stay healthier and run faster.

1. Make a Date With the Foam Roller

If you don’t foam roll (or don’t know what that means), stop reading right now and buy the hardest foam roller you can. I think they should teach foam rolling in schools to hook people when they are young. Rollers are the one essential tool most runners need to stay healthy.

When I started running, I had terrible issues with my IT band, my knees, and just about every other spot on my lower body. I almost concluded running was not for me. Then, a fellow runner told me about the foam roller. When she heard I didn’t roll, she looked at me with total befuddlement, like I was one of those UFO truthers on the History Channel. After a few days of rolling, all of my problems went away and never came back.

Here is how much you should roll: a lot. My guideline is to make a 10-minute date with the foam roller every evening. Start your watch, then roll every part of your legs you can, focusing on the quads, hips, shins and calves.

It might hurt a bit at first, but that will go away in a week or two as everything loosens up. For the rest of your life, prioritize foam rolling over all other running-related activities. Also, pets and children love having you down on the floor with them, so it can double as playtime!

2. Take Days Off

Take rest days when you are healthy, or you will be taking rest days when you are injured. A certain component of staying healthy is genetic, and some athletes can run every day, but most probably shouldn’t. The problem isn’t fatigue, it’s constant pounding. A rest day can heal muscle micro-tears and budding bone-stress reactions before you even feel them.

Most athletes should take one rest day a week—I like Mondays in order to catch up on work. Newer runners might need two rest days—Monday and Friday work well. Advanced runners and pros might only need a rest day every couple weeks. But, no matter what, don’t let your ego prioritize the minor fitness gains of a couple slow miles over the major long-term gains of staying healthy.

3. Hydrate Before and After Runs, and Before Bed

Chronic dehydration is a major problem for many runners. A body without water feels heavy and slow, with extra fatigue and slower recovery. Don’t let yourself be one of those raisin runners.

Instead, fully hydrate before and after every run. You can gulp water or sports drink before, and even a protein shake afterward, just make sure you are drinking. People that do sweat tests are usually shocked by how much weight they lose in fluids—so start replacing those fluids as a first priority after runs. I will sometimes drink 16 ounces in the 45 minutes before a run and 32 to 48 ounces in the 30 minutes after a long run. Find what works for you.

Then, be sure to go to bed hydrated. Life can make you parched—unless you are a pro, you probably don’t finish your run and lounge around all day. Drink a big glass of water in the hour before you go to sleep, and add another if you drank alcohol that day. Committing to hydration can help your body feel fresher and more ready to tackle the trails (or just walk upright to the kitchen in the morning).

With running, the little things often end up being the big things. Small commitments to foam rolling, days off and hydration can lead to big changes in how you feel. And running is a lot more fun when you feel more like Legolas than Gollum.

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.