If you’re a regular runner, you already know that logging miles can have great physical and mental health benefits. But if you’re ready to move beyond easy runs, this guide will give you the tools to take your training to the next level.
Before the Run
Try a dynamic warm-up. To prep your body for the demands of running, try these cardio bodyweight exercises to raise your heartrate and loosen your muscles.
Don’t forget strength training. A strong core will help you power through a long run or towards the finish line of a race; don’t neglect those muscles! Try this forgotten core routine to build strength in your abs, glutes, lats, and thighs.
Be alert for overuse injuries. When it comes to running, more isn’t always better. If you have a nagging ache or pain, a day off now is better than a week (or more) off later. If you’re prone to injury, check in with a physical therapist for exercises and advice on prevention.
During the Run
Wear the right gear. Head to a specialty running store for a gait analysis and expert advice on training shoes. And whenever you start to see wear and tear on the shoe’s tread (or feel aches and pains), consider investing in a new park of sneakers.
Make your easy days truly easy. As tempting as it can be to hammer every run, going hard on all of your runs is a recipe for overtraining, burnout, and injury. Once or twice a week, feel free to push it, but keep the remainder of your runs at a conversational pace (i.e. a pace where it feels relatively easy to chat).
But push your limits once in awhile. Sure, most of your miles should be run at a moderate or easy pace, but to get faster you need to move outside your comfort zone. A runner favorite is the fartlek workout (fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish!). To try it yourself, alternate between running easy and running hard. Choose a landmark up ahead like a mailbox or sign and run hard until you reach it. Run easy for a bit, then choose a new landmark, and repeat.
Drink enough water. Proper hydration can make a huge difference in your running performance. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “During challenging athletic events, it is not uncommon for athletes to lose 6–10% of body weight in sweat loss, thus leading to dehydration if fluids have not been replenished. However, decrements in physical performance in athletes have been observed under much lower levels of dehydration, as little as 2%.” And since even mild dehydration can lead to increased fatigue, increased perception of effort, and a decrease in performance, it’s essential to stay on top of water intake. An easy way to determine how much fluid loss you experience due to sweat is to weigh yourself naked before a 1 hour run. After the run, weigh yourself naked again. If, for example, you lost 2 lbs, you should aim to drink 32 oz of fluid for every hour of running. If you’re a heavy sweater or the weather is unseasonably hot, consider consuming a sports drink to replace electrolytes.
After the Run
Refuel with carbohydrates and protein. After a hard workout, your muscles are primed to soak up glycogen (the storage form of glucose and carbohydrates). And if you refuel properly, you’ll recover more quickly and ultimately build stronger muscles. The rule of thumb is to eat a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing a run.
Examples of good carb and protein combinations are plain greek yogurt with a fruit, a small turkey sandwich, or some chocolate milk. But don’t go crazy; unless it’s time for a full meal, limit your recovery fuel to 200-300 calories. Logging meals in the Argus app can help calculate your calorie and macronutrient intake.
Schedule rest and cross-training days. It seems counterintuitive, but days off are essential for making progress as a runner. Downtime is when your muscles regenerate and ultimately become stronger. Rather than waiting until you feel exhausted, schedule at least one complete rest day per week. And be sure to include some cross-training activities (swimming and cycling are great) to add variety and work different muscles.
From the perfect pre-run routine to the ideal post-workout meal, follow our advice and you’ll be a faster, stronger runner in no time!
Megan is a writer, RRCA certified running coach, and new mom living and training in rural upstate New York. She competed in DIII track and cross-country at Wesleyan University and now focuses on the half-marathon and marathon distance.
Main Photo Credit: lzf/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: AlexMaster/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: nadianb/shutterstock.com