Stretching + running: what you had to say

Plus 10 Japan & Chile half marathons for the traveling runner

“We don’t, after all, have to be athletes to want to know how best to move. We need only to listen to the voice bred deep into our blood and bones that says, ‘Hey, let’s go for a walk. The antelope herds are moving.’ ... The body wants to move. Go with it.” — Gretchen Reynolds

Like a pair of students whispering in the corner prompts a teacher to exhort them to share their secret with the whole class, last week’s essay prompted some really great discussion in my inbox and some of the comments were so good that I wanted to share them with the whole group.

In case the topic seems like ancient history now — and doesn’t everything that happened more than a day or two ago feel like that now? — we talked about stretching before a run, and how so many of us have been conditioned since childhood to do it without ever stopping to consider whether it helps us or not.

A reader named Laura, however, had this great question:

“I’m curious — is being a yogi bad for running, then? Yogis are both flexible and strong.”

She’s absolutely right, and I’m not sure I was clear enough on this point: warming up as well as a kind of stretching known as dynamic stretching actually can provide real benefits for runners and really anyone who exercises.

It’s static stretching — the kind of stretching in which you lean over, touch your toes and stretch out your hamstring for 30 seconds or so — that’s been called into question by scientists in recent years, and which New York Times health writer Gretchen Reynolds has written about in her book, “The First Twenty Minutes.”

That’s the kind of stretching that I heard a lot about from you guys, and almost universally your experience was bad.

(For the curious, here’s an explanation of dynamic stretching from the Arthritis Foundation, and a pair of great articles — here and here — that explain it much better than I can.)

Here’s what Nelda, who at age 52 recently completed her third half marathon even though she lives with rheumatoid arthritis, wrote in to say:

“I wanted to put my 2 cents worth in on stretching. I do no type of stretching or warming up prior to running. I typically walk about a city block and take off. I have tried stretching — as my husband, who was a jock in high school, said I should — and I had one of my worst runs. I went back to ‘my way’ and did much better.”

Anyone with the condition should of course consult their doctor, Nelda says, adding that she feels all the exercise she’s been able to do has relieved the aches in her joints: “It's different for everyone, but this is what works for me.”

For Doug, a 55-year-old Ohioan who coaches kids’ soccer as well as high-school cross country and track, a 5- to 10-minute stretching routine was something he did before every run. “I often stretched in the middle of the day or evening as well, as I thought I would get extra benefits from that,” he told me in an email.

That was until he picked up a marathon training book by the Hanson brothers nearly two years ago. Since then, he’s scrapped his old stretching routine in favor of a dynamic warm-up, and it’s worked wonder for him:

“I do feel the added power now in my runs and have been having great success, running:

  • 3:22 at the Boston Marathon, in absolutely horrendous conditions, only 45 seconds off my PR. 

  • Three weeks later, I ran the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon in 1:30, setting another PR. 

  • A trail series set of races over the summer and placed 6th overall, the only 50+ athlete in the top 25.

  • The Marshall University Half Marathon earlier this month, busting my PR in 1:27:40, finishing 13th overall and 1st again in my age group.

  • The Cincinnati Thanksgiving Day race (over 10,000 participants) and once again won my age group in 39:35, my fastest 10k in 10 years. 

It’s hard to argue with results like those.

As Doug adds in his email, “at 55, I’m still keeping up with the young kids 😊 The Hansons program has certainly been a big reason, but the non-static stretching has also been a big part of it, I firmly believe. Nice to see more people going this route and trying to change the age old wisdom of how to properly get ready for a workout.”

I love that, to be honest — that even with all we (think we) know about the body and exercise, there is still vast, unexplored terrain and many things we have yet to learn.

Also possible is that we’ve all been overthinking this stretching thing all along. That’s what a reader named Joan was getting at when she wrote me this:

“I totally agree that stretching is over-rated. I believe new research on the matter supports that belief.

I have a friend who often says, ‘if you don't stretch your dog before taking him for a walk or run, why do you think you need to stretch before a run?’”

I’m not sure I have anything more to add to that!

Hope you guys have all had a great week and you’re staying warm, especially if you’ve been experiencing some of the cold snap that’s been blowing across much of the country.

I’ve been rediscovering the charms of the treadmill (yay!) but it sure beats not running. Keep in touch and let me know what’s new with you, especially any bucket list races you’re planning on/dreaming about running in the new year.

Your friend,

— Terrell

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Let’s Go Run There

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Run among the gorgeous mountains and rolling backcountry roads of Montana’s Helena Valley at this race, which runs through a region whose history began in the gold rush of 1864, and where a mining camp early settlers named “Last Chance Gulch” is one of the city’s main streets today.

Runs Saturday, June 8, 2019 — Sign up here

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Runs Sunday, May 19, 2019 — Sign up here

Charlie Horse Trail Half Marathon

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Runs Sunday, May 25, 2019 — Sign up here

Marin County Half Marathon

Run along a course that’s both breathtakingly beautiful and filled with challenging uphill and downhill stretches, the Marin County Half Marathon takes runners on both a journey through the hills and among the mountains overlooking California’s San Pablo Bay and San Rafael.

Runs Sunday, April 28, 2019 — Sign up here

Publix Savannah Half Marathon

Runners will get the chance to navigate the flat, scenic streets of Georgia’s oldest city here, as the half starts in the heart of Savannah’s historic district and takes you all the way to the finish line in front of one of its most recognizable landmarks, the Forsyth Park fountain.

Runs Saturday, April 6, 2019 — Sign up here

In the past few weeks, paid subscribers received a wealth of exclusive race discounts. And we took a deep dive into how to build confidence as a runner with the help of Kara Goucher’s latest book “Strong.”

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