The Top Ten Things Every Runner Can Do To Improve Their Running:
- Make sure you have the right gear for the job. Whether that be a good headlamp for confident running at dawn or dusk, the right shoes for your feet, or tools for recovery–spend the time and the money making sure you set yourself up for success. Running in a pair of shoes with 600 miles on them and shorts that chafe are only going to make you truly dislike the running experience.
- Pay attention to what you eat. No, no no, I’m not advocating going on a diet and I’m not advocating one sort of diet over another. I AM advocating paying more attention to what you eat so that you can figure out what your body responds best to and when. Maybe you’re the kind of person who can’t run on an empty stomach. Maybe the residual effects of a few glasses of wine at dinner linger a little longer than they used to. Maybe you feel great after a run if you follow it up with a burger and a milkshake. Whatever formula works for you, try to figure out what that is and fine tune it for best results.
- Train with people better than you. Want to be faster, train with faster people. Taking on a race or an adventure well beyond your comfort zone, train with people who’ve done something similar. Want to know the key of success to run a 100-miler, run with a veteran buckle holder. Want to be stronger, train with people who are focused on strength. It sounds simple, but pushing yourself to try to meet the level of those around you makes you…better. Mentally go into it prepared to be humbled and check your ego at the door.
- Constantly create goals, but not just any goals. First create big ones, ones that might take a while to achieve. Then make a series of smaller goals that would be stepping stones to that larger goal. And finally, create a series of extremely attainable goals that help you get to those stepping stones. An example of this would be my personal goal of wanting to achieve a handstand pushup by next summer. Stepping stone goals would be to hold a freestanding handstand and long intervals of piked handstand pushups. An achievable goal would be doing shoulder mobility exercises three times a week and holding a handstand against wall for one minute. Another achievable goal would be to work on increasing weight for the shoulder press. Be specific in your goal setting and give yourself a reasonable time frame to achieve them. And most importantly, be willing and able to put the work in.
- Recover like an elite. Maybe you aren’t qualifying for the Olympic Trials, or winning any hundred mile trail races, but that doesn’t meant that you aren’t putting out an equivalent effort to get first in your age group, or run a Boston Qualifying marathon time, or even gutting it out in your first ultra. You may think just because you don’t train like an elite you shouldn’t recover like one, but that would be a mistake. Do what you can with the resources you have. Get a post-race massage. Get semi-regular ART or chiropractic work on trouble spots during peak training times. Foam roll, ice, compress, do what you an after a hard training day. Sleep as much as you can during and after high peak training days. For some people, that could just mean the standard 8 hours, just make sure it is quality sleep. Quality means as much as quantity when it comes to both training and recovery. There are other things you can do to if you have the resources available. Getting a shakeout massage a few days before a race can help loosen up muscles that get tight and cranky during taper periods. Places like Recharge Sport exist where you can use motorized compression boots or other gadgets to help you target and accelerate your recovery, and if you’re in the market, you can even purchase these things to have in your home. I recently invested in a Marc Pro Plus electrical muscle stimulation device to help with post-workout fatigue and minor injury maintenance. It was definitely an expensive investment, but with monthly payments, it made it very affordable and I use it on a regular basis. Just because you aren’t an elite doesn’t mean your body did less work than one when you trained for your event. it doesn’t know what your finishing time was, it only knows it worked as hard as it could on race day.
- Track your data. I’ve never been a data-head, I could never stay on top of the stats. But there have been several times when my data has told me a great deal about my training looking back on events and the months leading up to them. Often, we wander through these training blocks and end up with a big event and then get amnesia about how much or how little we worked training up to that event. Often, looking back on training can be revealing as to what you did right and what you did wrong, helping you improve the next time around.
- Do one workout each week that you can look forward to. Maybe you enjoy an easy run out on the trails catching up with friends. Maybe you really love rock climbing. Maybe yoga helps you center your mind for the week. Maybe you have this insane crush on one of the guys on your soccer team and you wouldn’t miss a chance to interact with them for the world. There are often things that don’t fit perfectly into our training schedule. As long as they aren’t deleterious or harmful to your training, take the time to think about what you can look forward to that might be supplemental or tangential to your training and make sure you can fit it in. It keeps you from saying half way through your training block, “training keeps me from things I enjoy” and gets you to actually enjoy the training process itself.
- Be selfish. Training and training seriously can take up a lot of your time and energy. If it’s something that’s important to you, others will understand that you only have so many hours in a day. Just remember to keep perspective and to be there for others in their life when they need to be selfish too.
- Keep the hard days hard and the easy days easy. If it’s a hard day, don’t go “medium-hard”, if it’s an easy day, don’t go “tempo easy”. Make sure you respect your training plan and with that variation creates depth as an athlete.
- Give back. Whether it’s volunteering at a race or offering to drive a friend to track practice, donating your used gear to a local training group or non-profit, or maybe reaching the level where you feel comfortable advising and coaching others, give back. It’s such a rewarding experience to help others reach their goals somehow, and using your own training experience to do that also empowers you to see your own training in a different way. It’s a way to do some good and connect with others in an important way. And if you’re racing, always thank your volunteers…no one paid them to be out there and they’re the most important component to a successful race. Be a part of the community, whether you’re pinning a bib on that day or not.