I was out for a 15 mile run on Tuesday and somewhere around the 10 mile mark, it dawned on me just how far my running has come since I moved to Dublin. And so today, I want to focus my efforts on those things that have made me a better runner, in hopes that my sharing them with you will also help you to become a better runner for yourself.
1. Off days are OK, but you do have to power through them
You talk yourself up for your run all day; You get changed and lace up; And thirty seconds to a minute and a half into your run you think to yourself, “Oh. My. Gosh. Why am I doing this again?” It’s in stark contrast to those days that just seem effortless and easy, right? Trust me, this happens to everyone. And it’s utterly important that you keep going on those days because you have to teach your body that it can, and it will keep going.
2. Rain, heat, cold, or shine
Weather is a fickle creature, and I know all too well how easy it is to use the weather as an excuse to not go for a run. Strike that mentality. You HAVE to do it, and you know why? Because there is never a race-day weather guarantee.
3. Set goals, and stick to them
For me, it’s easier to keep myself motivated and running when I have an end-game in mind, and a financial commitment. And so, I run for races. If you can set goals for yourself and stick to them, you’ll see the improvements — they don’t always have to require a financial commitment of course.
4. Don’t forget your core!
When I ran my first two half marathons, I relied solely on my lower half to get me through. It wasn’t until late last Autumn when I began a series of upper body & core workouts that I noticed HUGE strides in my running pace and endurance. You use your arms while running as much as your legs. You also rely on your core muscles to carry you along, so do yourself a solid and focus on the whole you, not just the legs.
Yep, that’s me attempting spider push-ups. (I have wrist issues, so to combat that, I use yoga blocks for intense floor work)
5. You have to, and I mean absolutely HAVE to, cross-train your lower half.
As important as core strength is, your legs are what carry you through a race. All too often, runners think they can’t run because of their various problems. “Oh, my knees are bad” or “I get shin splints every time I run”. Did you know that most knee problems are due to weak hip flexors and IT bands? Did you also know that shin splints are generally a product of poor footwear or running form? I have battled through these exact same issues — and I’ve come out ahead because I opted to begin cross-training. (Luckily, the at-home workouts I do for core, also focus on lower half strength.) IT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD and I simply cannot stress that enough.
6. Music matters
Have a play list, and a power song. And make sure your power song is in your playlist a few times (depending on your race length). And train with this play list — so you can tweak and edit before race day. At some point in your race you won’t even be hearing words, just beats, so be picky with your songs and make sure your feet can run to those beats! You’ll be pleasantly surprised when your power song changes over time…I certainly have!
My current favorites?
Eminem – Lose Yourself
Kenny Loggins – Footloose
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony
7. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
I all too often take hydration for granted. I’ve pushed myself a few times and can easily drink a pot of coffee then run 5-6 miles an hour later and be fine — but that’s not always been the case. And I certainly can’t push myself to run 12-15 miles without proper fluids. And even when I think I’ve had enough fluids, I land in bed with a migraine anyway. You need water. You need electrolytes. PERIOD.
8. Run with a friends.
You don’t realize how important running with a group of people is until you look down at your watch and you’ve run 5 miles without batting an eye because you were preoccupied with chatting. The best thing I ever did was find a group of people who pushed my limits, tested my endurance, and all around helped me become a faster runner simply by talking to me while we ran. Some days I didn’t think I’d make it through the runs, but those were the days my group mattered most (and goes hand in hand with #1 above)
9. Don’t fall victim to “carb loading”.
Don’t get me wrong, carbs are über important for runners, but you do not want to eat a heaping plate of pasta for lunch the day before a race and follow it with a large pizza for dinner. The carbs will process into sugar overnight and will leave you feeling sluggish on race day.
Consume your carbs evenly throughout the week of a race, and be sure you are eating the good carbs — sweet potatoes, whole grains, and legumes. I find quinoa is the absolute best before a race, as it is both a whole grain & protein packed. Stay away from processed and bleached carbs if possible.
10. Listen to your body.
I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. Your body knows best, so pay attention to what it is saying! If your ankle hurts, take a day off from running and try some yoga. If you are hungry, EAT. The longer and further you run, the more your metabolism kicks in and needs fuel to continue and repair muscles. You only get one body, so take care of it.
These are all the things I’ve learned about myself as a runner over the last 18 months. You can do anything you put your mind to, and here’s my proof: In September of 2013 I was a 12-13 minute mile distance runner (10K +) and a 10 minute mile short distance runner (+/- 5K). Today, I am a 9 1/2 minute mile distance runner and a 7 1/2 minute mile short distance runner. And now you know my secrets.
Until next time,
XOXO – K