For as long as I’ve been a runner, I have been preached to time and time again about “the little things,” the intangibles that play into a runner’s performance yet are too often overlooked. With this in mind, I wanted to give the runners of the Region some insight on small training practices that make a big difference in the long run. From my running brain to yours, here are ten “little things” to take your training to the next level.
This seems like a simple thing, but getting the proper amount of water intake can be a challenge. This is especially true during the cold months, where you may not feel the urge to drink as often compared to scorching summer days. Make sure to start and end each day with a tall glass of H2O, and keep a portable water bottle handy throughout the day. An easy way to manage hydration levels is to monitor the color of urine. Ideally, you want to see a light tinge of yellow, not completely clear but almost. If you’re getting more of an apple juice or honey vibe, drink up, my friends!
- Dynamic stretching
Most people view stretching as a basic part of every workout, but don’t always implement the right types of stretching at the right times. Dynamic stretching, a form of active stretching that focuses on particular movements rather than holding position, should be done pre-workout to get the body loose with a lessened risk of pulling a muscle by leaning too quickly into a deep static stretch. Examples of dynamic stretching include walking lunges, A-skips, and leg swings.
- Static stretching
After a workout comes static stretching, holding certain positions to elongate muscles and prevent tightness from setting in too much. Unlike its dynamic counterpart, static stretches are held for short periods of time without movement. Some of my go-to static stretches include downward dog and pigeon. They also double as yoga poses—bonus!
These stretchy strips of elastic are perfect for both building strength during your workout and recovery afterword. Wrap a band around your ankles and move into a squat position, take small steps sideways, forwards, and backward to really test those leg and glute muscles. Stand straight up and drive one knee upward with the band around your thighs or ankles to work on getting down that perfect running form. Lie on the floor with the band wrapped around the sole of your foot, pull your leg up, to the side, and across your torso for some easy static stretching. Don’t have a “proper” stretch band? Never fear, a long scarf or rolled-up towel works just as well in a pinch!
When I started shifting my diet to accommodate the demands of a collegiate track training schedule, I didn’t want to sacrifice flavor for nutritional balance. Luckily, a cookbook by one of my favorite professional distance runners showed me I didn’t have to. “Run Fast, Eat Slow” by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky is full of lovely recipes that prove eating well doesn’t have to mean eating bland. From morning muffins to delectable desserts—yes, desserts—this book has everything you need to find the perfect meals to complement your training goals.
- Ice baths
As off-putting as the name might sound, ice baths are an amazing recovery tool that can be used anywhere if you have access to a tub. Simply fill your tub with cold water, making sure the water’s temperature sits between 55-60 degrees. This may require the addition of a few extra ice cubes, but I’ve found that the coldest setting on a typical bath faucet works just fine. Pro tip: It is far better to submerge yourself completely right away rather than inch your way in. Your legs will adjust to the temperature quicker than you expect, and they will thank you later.
This is a biggie. Particularly important is the sleep cycle 48 hours before an important race or workout. The night before competition is often a restless one, and it is usually much easier to gain good sleep two nights before race day. Take advantage of this 48 hour rest period by staying off your feet, resting the legs, and hitting the sack early, as your body will draw from rest acquired here on the morning you toe the starting line.
- Keeping a logbook
Keeping tabs on your training is a must when you’re training for a specific goal, and for me the best way to do that has always been through my logbooks. A logbook is a way to write down observations about your training. This can be done by hand in any notebook of your choice, or via online platforms such as Running2Win.com. Logbooks typically include details such as what workout was performed, how you felt, strength training and recovery implemented, or even what the weather was like. I like to view them as a runner’s diary. Over time, you will be able to see patterns arise in your training as you look back to see what worked and what didn’t.
Since I was introduced to the concept of meditation over two years ago, the way I approach my training as a runner has changed drastically for the better. Learning the art of calming the mind and centering my thoughts before daily workouts helped me to better prepare myself to face the inevitable challenges that come with training. By implementing a short 5 to 10-minute meditation before your run, you can open your mind, release any anxious thoughts connected to the workout. Thoughts like, “what if I can’t hit my times?” or, “my body isn’t ready for this today” are replaced with ones like, “I am present and I will give my best” and “my mind is ready and my body will follow.” Five minutes of meditation can set the tone for a great workout and an even greater day to follow.
Every runner is different, and every body adapts differently to training. Contrary to popular belief, there is no one body type required to be a runner. It’s important to let your body train in a way that feels natural, and loving the skin you’re in every step of the way. Never compare your running journey to others’—your running is your own, and no one does it quite like you.