Talking with U of M

Talking distance running with U of M

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As runners begin preparations for races across the state in the coming months, Christopher Lundstrom, a lecturer in the School of Kinesiology, shares his expertise on how to train for upcoming races. 

Q: What tips do you have for runners getting started on training?
One of the great things about running is the simplicity of it. I recommend being fitted for a good pair of running shoes, as that will likely make running more comfortable and reduce your risk of injury. For new runners, begin by adding a few steps of running on your walks, and gradually increase how far you run on each walk. For more experienced runners starting to prepare for a race, it’s helpful to think about how much time you have before that race and determine where you are in terms of your running fitness. Then you can start to plot a course between where you are currently and where you want to be when race day arrives. This allows you to train moving between the two points gradually, adding a bit of distance or intensity to the workouts over weeks and months. Rather than jumping in too fast, this gradual trajectory prepares you to meet your goals on race day while also keeping you healthy and feeling good.

Q: How important are warmups and cooldowns?
Starting a run nice and easy is important to allow the body to gradually warm up. It takes a few minutes of activity for our metabolism and blood flow to respond to the demands of exercise, so it’s best to start slow. When preparing for a faster workout, doing some range of motion, mobility or dynamic stretching exercises can also help prepare our muscles for the demands of the workout.

Cooling down can look different depending on the intensity and duration of the workout. The basic goal is to smoothly transition from exercise to recovery, and a period of lighter activity such as a slower jog or walk can ease that transition. However, if the run itself wasn’t particularly hard, there’s no need for a cooldown. I encourage runners to take a few nice deep breaths when they finish, and think about the positive benefits of the run that they just completed. 

Q: Are training plans one-size-fits-all?
No — everyone has a unique combination of experience, lifestyle, fitness, physiology, goals and any number of other factors that should shape their training plan. Training program templates can be a helpful starting point, but they should be adapted and individualized to meet the needs of the specific runner using them. 

Q: How should runners prepare during the final week before race-day?
Give yourself the best chance to feel good on race-day through some small shifts to your approach, but don’t make any dramatic changes. This is definitely not the time to try anything new! Maintaining relatively normal patterns of running, sleeping, eating and hydration is generally a good practice. Subtle shifts work best — aim  to run the same number of days per week as usual, but a little shorter; get slightly more rest and sleep; consume normal amounts of foods that you are accustomed to and know that you can digest easily; and make sure to be well-hydrated without overdoing it. 

Lastly, spend some time in the days leading up to the race getting mentally prepared. Using mental imagery — mentally rehearsing race-day in advance — is a great practice that can reduce anxiety, improve performance and improve the chances of a positive race-day experience. 

Q: Can you share any UMN projects or research that might be useful to runners? 
As a researcher and a coach, I love data and tracking the numbers that we see in training. In general, runners love seeing their distances, paces and split times in a workout or run. However, it’s important to keep in mind that no single metric tells the whole story of how you are responding to your training. I recommend people pay attention to their heart rate during training, as well as resting heart rate and heart rate variability.

Also, keep a training log to track how they are feeling from day to day. Heart rate variability, for instance, is something we have published on in our lab. It seems to track pretty closely with how one is adapting to training. However, that’s just one tool. If you start to see patterns and consistency across multiple measures, then you can be fairly confident that what you are seeing in the data is real. 

Christopher Lundstrom is a lecturer in the School of Kinesiology. His research interests center on endurance exercise training and performance. Specifically, he is interested in running economy, aerobic capacity, metabolic substrate utilization, and heart rate variability. He has been teaching courses in the areas of sports science, training theory, coaching, and physical education at the University of Minnesota since 2006.


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