Getting the cool-down right

Several years ago I wrote about getting the warm-up right, and I still believe that many runners neglect the warm-up to their own detriment. But after you work out, what about the cooldown (or, less commonly these days, a “warm-down”)? How long, how far, and how fast should a cooldown be? Getting to a place where we can answer these questions is going to require getting a framework in place where we understand why you should cool down in the first place.

Understanding the reasons for doing a cool-down after a workout

Like much of the accumulated lore of running, the common rationales for doing a cool-down at all contain a healthy mix of physiology, bro science, folk wisdom, and true coaching wisdom. Allegedly, the cooldown is supposed to gradually reduce your heart rate, pump “lactic acid” out of your muscles, and condition your legs to running while tired. Failing to cool down is again allegedly supposed to make you feel more sore the next day, and harm your recovery capabilities. Needless to say, each of these rationales has a hefty amount of myth alongside perhaps a kernel of truth.

Instead of trying to consider and analyze each of these claims in turn, I think it’s better to break the question of “why do a cooldown” into smaller parts: who is doing the cooldown, what workout does it follow, and what training goals are we trying to accomplish, both in this workout and in the longer-term training plan.

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Cadence lock: Why GPS watches have a hard time measuring heart rate during running

Does your GPS watch report bizarre, dramatic spikes in heart rate in the middle of your run? I received a text message from a friend recently with this screenshot of his heart rate and elevation data from an easy run:

This was from a typical run on pretty mild to moderate hills. At first glance, you might think that running uphill triggered an abrupt increase in heart rate, but unless this coincided with an abrupt surge in speed, such a big spike in heart rate seems very strange.

Looking at this plot, it seems like one of two things is happening: either (a) my friend’s watch is seriously mistaken about his heart rate, or (b) my friend should see a cardiologist.

Even though companies like Garmin or Apple or Fitbit keep their data processing algorithms pretty close to the chest, my PhD research involves a lot of work with wearable technology, so I have a pretty solid understanding of what’s going on under the hood when a GPS watch is estimating things like running speed or heart rate. What could be going wrong here?

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Blog update and podcast/media roundup

Well, it’s been a while! As you may have noticed, Running Writings hasn’t seen an update in quite a while. Perhaps for good reason—I’ve been working on my PhD in biomechanics at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, which, as I’ve discovered, leaves very little time to spare.

Every time I think up an idea for a blog post (and I have had dozens!) I realize there’s one more dataset to analyze, one more paper to revise, one more grant to apply for, one more skill to learn. So, though RW hasn’t seen any updates, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, and I’ve been learning an incredible amount of new things about the science of running performance and running injuries. But all of that work keeps me very busy, and unfortunately I haven’t had much of a chance to share what I’ve been up to with the people who follow Running Writings.

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A long overdue update on Running Writings!

Hello to all readers! You’ve no doubt noticed an embarrassing lack of content on Running Writings in the last year or so, so I’m here to provide a brief update.  I’ve been surprised and pleased by the fact that despite this, RunningWritings continues to be quite popular in search results, and I’m still contacted rather ... Read more

Connect Run Club podcast on the science of running

I'm the featured guest on a new podcast episode from the Connect Run Club! We talk about the science of distance running, including VO2 max, more effective training strategies, and injury prevention.  Check it out! Thanks to the folks at Connect Run Club for having me on—check out their website here. Hope you all enjoy ... Read more

What does it mean to be a talented runner? Considering types of talent

Perhaps because of the popularity of David Epstein's talent-centric book The Sports Gene, much of the modern conversation about high-level distance running has turned to talent: where it comes from, how to spot it, and how to develop it. One piece often missing from the conversation is what it actually means to be talented. We ... Read more

Did you know I have a book? Check it out here!