So you’re a runner. You run several days a week, do local races, and maybe over time even get a bit faster or stronger at your favorite event. In your mind, to be really competitive and fast you’d have to practice meticulous dedication and plan life around your running. The idea seems appealing. Then reality sets in, and well, you have a full time job, a spouse, a dog, and maybe a kid or two that makes it difficult to fit running into your every day life. Don’t lose hope! There are some very simple things you can add or change about your routine that could enhance your performance, prevent injury, and increase recovery without taking away too much more time from your day.
Planning for Consistency
Seems like a no-brainer. But if you plan your running around your life, how do you stay consistent with your running schedule? I suggest taking a little bit of time on the weekend to look at your “ideal” running schedule alongside your life calendar. If you schedule your running appointments at the start of the week, you’ll be less likely to miss them and more likely to be prepared for key workouts which can help you improve your race times. Time: 15-30 minutes.
Tip: If Johnny has an hour-long swim practice, volunteer to take him and you just fit your workout in during that hour. #Winning.
A lot of us run to “check out” for a little bit and decompress. But at least once a week, check in on your run. For a couple of minutes, pay attention to how you are running. Are you over-striding? A shorter quicker stride will help you move more efficiently and prevent injury. Are your arms swinging across the centerline of your body? If your arms are, then your feet likely are crossing that centerline as well, which can set you up for injury. Are you actually remembering to swing your arms? If your arm swing is minimal or non-existent, you are running slower and less efficient than you could be. Are there any small nagging pains that need to be addressed? By making a point to pay attention to your body you might be able to prevent or catch an issue before it balloons into an injury.
Tip: Spend a few minutes researching proper running form from your smart phone while waiting in line for coffee during the week so you know what to look for.
Build Core Strength
You’ll notice that nearly all elite runners have some SERIOUS abs. Those don’t show up from just logging miles, they are earned. A strong core helps propel the body more efficiently and prevent injury. Think about it, your core absorbs a lot of shock with each step. So strengthen it up! Plank, side-plank, glute bridge with marching, and dead-bugs are great options if you hate crunches like me! Tip: Fit these in after your run, before you shower, or as soon as you wake up. I keep a yoga mat rolled out in the bedroom as a reminder.
Foam Roll. Just a few minutes a day, and one longer session a week can help work out all sorts of junk from your legs, back, and glutes. Foam rolling is also a convenient and affordable solution for those of us without a personal masseuse.
Tip: If you park your foam roller next to your coffee table you can reduce the time cost by foam rolling during the news or your favorite show.
The old adage “You are what you eat” is very true for runners. Highly processed, fatty, convenient foods are not the best way to recover from a long run when you are training to get a BQ. While this one initially takes a little planning – you need to actually have the food on hand – it takes very little extra prep time to make something healthy versus heating up a frozen pizza or burrito. Attack this one a little bit at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Start small by first making adjustments to post run meals, and then breakfast. Once those are mastered, you’ll find yourself wanting to incorporate healthier, nutrient rich foods into your lunch and dinner.
Tip: Fill up your grocery cart by walking around the outside of the store first. Finding good veggies and meats can help inspire different meals, and will focus your attention on real foods instead of the processed foods found in the interior aisles. Bonus Tip: 7 Breakfast recipes for busy runners
A good night’s rest is the best way to help your body recover from all that you do. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours while you are training, perhaps more during high mileage weeks. If you are having trouble getting there, try to get yourself on a schedule. Being on a routine will help the body be ready for sleep when it is time for bed. Another trick is to get your work out in first thing in the morning. Studies have shown that people who work out in the morning sleep better at night. Studies have also shown that it takes at least an hour to return to your pre-workout metabolic rate, so if you run right before bed you might end up laying there awake and counting sheep for a bit.
Tip: Log off your electronics a few hours before bed, as blue light suppresses melatonin production.
Cut the Alcohol
File this one under the first way to eat better. Drinking will easily add a lot of empty calories to your diet that could be better spent on nutrient rich foods. It also impairs sleep and hydration, which will directly affect your performance. If you are going after a PR, try limiting your intake until it’s time to celebrate a job well done. As an ultra distance runner, I have an 8-mile rule when training for my “A” race – I only have a drink if I ran at least 8 miles that day and do not have a key workout or long run the next day. Creating a simple guideline is an easy way to cut back.
Tip: During the warm summer months, enjoy sipping on fresh-squeezed made lemonade or iced tea instead.
Know when you need a day off
Here’s a tip that will really save you time. Pay attention to your body and take an extra day off as needed. Logging miles when you are sick or trying to do key workouts when you are not recovered will NOT make you a faster runner. If you are fighting your body to get a run in, stop! Take the day off, catch up on good fuel and rest, and then nail your run the next day. Along with this, realize that you cannot make up missed days. If you miss a workout, it is not a big deal. Trying to squeeze it in the next day, thus putting your key workouts closer together, means that you are not allowing the body time to recover properly in between the two. This isn’t to say that you can’t be flexible. If your schedule changes during the week and you need to shift your runs around, that’s different. Try to keep the same number of days between key runs; they are spaced a few days apart for a reason!
Tip: Pick up a portable pulse oximeter to track your blood oxygen saturation and pulse each morning. If the blood oxygen content is less than 95%, or your resting heart rate seems high, you probably need a rest day. #ItsScience