I have been running for about 10 years and during that time, I have discovered certain things that I find essential to my training and helping my runs go much more smoothly. There are obvious things all of us runners require for training: our training shoes (or Vibrams, for those who live by the minimalist lifestyle), favorite running clothes, etc, but below are some things (most of which help aid in my recovery or injury prevention) that have become unique to my training over the last few months and years:
#1: Foam Roller:
I absolutely swear by this! It is a cylinder of heaven I experienced problems with my illiotibial band in 2008 during my senior year of cross-country and this really helped with rehabilitation and recovery. I continue to use it everyday for maintenance for various muscles. It works similar to a deep-tissue massage, but it is much cheaper (and I’m always looking for ways to bargain and save money!!!) Even though I do recommend a deep-tissue or sports massage, the foam roller is a great resource because you can work on those muscles every single day. The foam roller is an awesome tool for stretching and relieving a lot of tension and tightness that you incur from all those miles of running. It also allows for myofascial release because you can build up scar tissue in many of your muscles and tendons (hamstrings, quads, IT bands, calves, etc.) sometimes from injury and sometimes from not devoting enough time to a stretching routine. A lot of times I am wincing in pain because the foam roller is really getting at some of the tightness in my legs and it will probably hurt a bit for you if you are just beginning to use it. However, the more frequently I roll, the better my legs feel. The foam rollers are actually pretty easy to find at most sporting goods stores (Academy Sports, Dick’s, Sports Authority) and running stores (Louisiana Running), come in a variety of sizes (18 inch- easy to fit in a suitcase!, 24 inch, 36 inch), and are about $15-$35. One of the first foam rollers I bought even came with a snazzy CD of someone demonstrating all the different uses and stretches for the foam roller, but you can also go on Youtube and find videos of that too. This is definitely a wise investment for all runners and especially those who are injury-prone or have a hard time squeezing in quality stretch sessions.
#2: “The Stick:”
The official name of the product I have is the Pro-Tec Roller Massager. It’s a long stick with foam around the middle and then softer ends for trigger point release. It’s use and benefits are similar to the foam roller, but the nice thing with the stick is that it is much easier to transport in a gym bag or in a bag on your back if you’re biking or cycling. You can buy one online at http://www.injurybegone.com/and Louisiana Running Company also sells them. The stick costs $25-$30.
#3: Epsom Salts:
Recommended to me by my massage therapist, epsom salt baths have helped alleviate some of my muscle soreness and aches, especially after races, long runs, and hard workouts. I typically take an epsom salt bath a day or two after the hard run and add about 2 cups to warm bath water. Usually 10-20 minutes is enough time to soak and let the benefits of the epsom salts take effect. The epsom salts have magnesium sulfate in them and these help release toxins from the body and decrease inflammation. There is a lot of debate out there about whether epsom salt baths really work, but if anything, they provide you with an opportunity to take a bath and relax, which is still useful for your training! You can find Epsom salts or P-Epsom salts (more geared to athletes) at most grocery stores (Rouse’s, Winn-Dixie, etc.) and pharmacy stores (Walgreen’s, CVS) for less than $5.
Another great recommendation by massage therapist, BioFreeze is similar to other sports creams out there like Bengay, but BioFreeze doesn’t have the strong smell that most of those other creams have. It’s also a natural product and offers a cooling sensation when applied (cryotherapy- cold therapy). I use it as a supplement to icing after runs. Sometimes I put the BioFreeze on before runs, but I usually apply it after if there is any ongoing soreness in a particular area. I buy my BioFreeze from my massage therapist, Katy Trumble, but I know most massage places and health clinics or stores sell BioFreeze and you can order various different bottles from their website: http://www.biofreeze.com/ Many races usually have a sample packet in their race bags too!!!
#5: Peanut Butter:
Although it might not be in the same category as the rest of the items on this list, I still consider it as something that is indirectly related to recovery and injury prevention. Peanut butter (and anything peanut-butter flavored) is my favorite food and everyone on my cross-country and track teams in college knew it! I find peanut butter a very versatile item for snacks, meals, and desserts. It’s filling, a good source of protein, and is a healthier source of fat. Plus, it so yummy, especially with a glass of skim milk This article classifies peanut butter as a “super sports food:” http://www.beginnertriathlete.com/cms/article-detail.asp?articleid=332
#6: Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves:
These sleeves help aid with circulation and oxygen flow of the lower legs during running and after. They are made to help the entire lower leg: both the front and back (shin and calf). I don’t really wear them much when I’m running, but I know they are great for keeping out moisture, sweat, and bacteria. I always put them on after long runs, hard work-outs, or races. I also have worn them during airplane flights and when I sleep at night. Based on observations from my massage therapist, my calf muscles are usually really tight (even though I don’t feel it much when running), so I try to use these, along with calf stretches, to alleviate the soreness and tightness in the calf muscles. I bought my yellow pair at Louisiana Running Company, but you can order them online if you want a particular size or color: http://www.zensah.com/women.html
#7: Hand-held water bottle:
This has probably been the most recent addition to my arsenal of running tools and resources. I mainly invested in one because I am training for my first marathon this fall (Philadelphia on November 20th). I’m obviously training in the heat and humidity of New Orleans, so hydration is key! Even if I do a good job of hydrating the day before and the day of a run, I still find that it helps to have the nifty hand-held water bottle during runs of various distances- even shorter runs. A few summers ago, I lived in Washington, D.C. while doing an internship and I invested in a belt made by Northface with a water bottle and zippered wallet. I only ran with it a few times because it was very constricting and felt too cumbersome around my waist. These small water bottles, however, a vast improvement. The 10 oz. bottle conforms to the shape of your palm and it is the perfect size- not too bulky, easy to drink from while running, and it provides enough fluid. I can also fill it up at water stations as needed during the run. The water bottle is helping me practice the idea of constantly hydrating during the run which is what I will need to be doing during the actual marathon at the water stations. You can find these water bottles at many running stores and sports merchandise stores. I got mine for about $15 or $20.
#8: Resistance Bands:
As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of IT band problems back in 2008. I ended up doing physical therapy for 2 months and part of the physical therapy exercises I did used Thera-Band exercise bands. Last summer, I noticed my IT band/knee feeling tight again and I ended up buying some resistance bands so I could get back on top of the strengthening exercises and stretches I used to do during physical therapy. The resistance bands are generally effective for various types of stretches and helps keep you flexible, while also building strength in those weak/trouble spots. I bought the Bally’s set of resistance bands from Sports Authority, but you can also find all sorts of them online.
I didn’t get my first IPOD until 2009, so I pretty much learned to run without music for the first 8 years or so. However, I have found that music has gotten me through some tough treadmill runs, hard workouts, long runs, and even recovery runs. I don’t run with music everyday, but I feel that it is nice to have the option to run with music on the days that I’m training alone. It definitely makes the time pass more quickly and helps motivate me on those days where getting out of the door to run is a challenge. I have a mix of fast and slow songs on my IPOD so I can program it to particular playlists based on the workout.
#10: Run Groups:
For over a year, I have been attending run group at Louisiana Running Company located at 4153 Canal St. in Mid-City, New Orleans. There is run group Mondays and Wednesdays at 6:30pm. After training primarily by myself for the first year that I lived in New Orleans, it was a blessing to find the store and run group (especially because it was so close by to my home). I have been fortunate to meet a lot of great people through going to run groups. I truly believe that you improve as a runner by training with other runners and I have seen a lot of improvements in my abilities as a runner and my knowledge about running by going to run groups and being around other people who love the sport as much as I do You should all check out the store and their run group if you are ever in the New Orleans area!!! http://www.louisianarunning.com/louisianarunning/Store.html
#11: Massage Therapist, Katy Trumble: http://kt-massagetherapy.com/
Last July, I was home in NY and my mom recommended getting a massage, so I tried it for the first time. When I returned to New Orleans later in the summer, I was mainly training for the Jazz half-marathon at the end of October. In September, I won a gift certificate at the Louisiana Gold Mile race (which is a great race and is being held on August 5th this year) to a local massage therapist in New Orleans. I visited her after running the half-marathon in October and I have been going to her monthly since then. I know most people can’t afford to see a massage therapist all the time, but if you are training for a really important race (especially if it is long and/or you have had a history of injuries), I highly recommend and encourage a massage in the middle of training or a couple of days after your big seasonal race. By putting your body through all that hard training, you definitely deserve a reward.
#12: Tide Plus Febreeze Freshness Sport
This is a great laundry detergent for anyone who is active (and obviously that includes runners!!!) It gets stains and odors out of your favorite running clothing and leaves them smelling nice and ready for you to wear again out on the roads and trails!!! It costs $10-$15 depending on sales and which stores you can find it at. It’s a definite must for those summer-sweating runs.
I’m interested in the running items that you can’t live without. What things are essential for your day-to-day training and racing??? Please share!!!