Running consists of many different pieces – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Here you’ll learn what all you need to consider to be a good runner.
Success in running is a combination of various pieces – it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. There are many pieces that you have to put into the mix, and your own personal “recipe” will be unique to you. It’s the combination of how you put those pieces together that will influence how successful you’ll be, and surprisingly “training” is in fact only a small part of the puzzle. Here are six aspects that you need to consider to improve your performance.
Appropriate fitness diet can truly be make or break for your running. You normal training diet should consist of 50% carbs, 30% protein and 20% fat. Most of us eat too much carbs, so try harder to include good sources of protein in your diet (chicken, tuna, beans, nuts, and so on) and drip feed small amounts during the day at every meal or snack.
Recovery nutrition is also a vital part of the jigsaw puzzle; neglected by many runners, it can make an enormous difference to your ability to recover and train again the following day. You have a “golden window” 30-60 minutes after workout where your body is most receptive to re-fuelling. Aim for a snack or meal containing 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein to help restock your glycogen and improve recovery.
Try using an app such as My Fitness Pal (myfitnesspal. com) to help analyse the balance of carbs and protein in your diet. To hit that post-exercise golden window, drink a suitable recovery drink, which has the right balance of carbs to protein, or simply drink 500ml of chocolate milkshake. Post-exercise nutrition is particularly important after a long run, circuit, race or speed session.
Everyone knows that getting enough sleep is crucial; resting time is when your body has the chance to repair and recover, and it’s vital for life. Whether or not you get that recommended eight hours is very personal – some people need more and some need less.
You may discover that the more you train, the more sleep you need. It’s your body’s way of ensuring that you balance the stress of training. So don’t forget – if you don’t sleep enough, your body may break down or you’ll get ill.
MASSAGE AND FOAM ROLLING
Foam rolling is one of the best methods to keep niggles at bay, relax tight muscles and get your body moving more freely. It’s a form of self-massage and combined with regular treatments from a massage therapist, it can keep you on the road and prevent a whole range of injuries.
Foam rolling is only as effective as your technique, and a lot of runners don’t get the most out of their roller. Common mistakes include rolling too fast or hard, or having the body in the wrong position. Check out YouTube for some great tutorial videos. Slow down and work up towards the body from the ankle or the knee. Roll up two inches and down one inch, and repeat slowly working up the muscle. Most runners have to concentrate on quads, calves and working a ball through the glutes. Avoid the ITB and spend about 20 minutes a day working through those muscles groups. The more you run, the more you should foam roll!
Being dehydrated can make you feel fatigued and sluggish, which will affect your training and also increase your risk of damage. About 75% of people is dehydrated, and the majority of us don’t drink enough fluid throughout the day – and you probably don’t even realize it. If your urine is dark in color then this signals that you’re dehydrated. Pale straw color (not entirely clear) is a sign of good hydration.
Nevertheless, avoid over-drinking throughout a race or long run, because hyponatremia – a rare but fatal condition where you flush out your body salts by consuming too much liquid – is becoming more of a concern.
Aim to increase your fluid consumption by sipping small amounts more often during the day. When it comes to training, choose a drink containing electrolytes (but without additional sugar) and aim for about 200-600 ml per hour, then re-hydrate well afterwards.
On a daily basis, try using a hydration app to analyze your fluid needs and consumption. During training or races, decide for a drink containing the right combination of glucose and electrolytes, and avoid sugary sports drinks.
STRENGTH TRAINING AND CONDITIONING
The majority of runners don’t do enough strength and conditioning work, but this is probably a crucial piece of the jigsaw when it comes to injury prevention. We all know that strong, resilient joints and muscles will help withstand the forces from running and decrease risk of injury, so why don’t we do enough of it? Most runners are not sure what to do or find it boring. But it’s worth making the effort, because strength and conditioning sessions will have a significant impact on your injury risk as well as your performance.
To do this, you don’t have to go to the gym. Invest in a couple of simple pieces to use at home – a kettle ball, TRX suspension trainer, a fit ball, a few dumbbells and a bosu. All you need to do is 15-20 minutes of basic strength work 2-3 times a week and you’ll soon notice that you have more power in your running and fewer injuries too.
Finally don’t forget basic rehab workouts; the majority of runners are weak through their glutes, particularly glute medius. Some simple clams, clams and side leg lifts every other day will make a huge difference. Ask for advice somebody who knows about rehab and corrective exercise.
SITTING OR STANDING AT WORK
Sitting at a desk all day significantly affects your running. Hip flexors tighten up, glutes switch off and your thoracic spine becomes stiff. Equally, standing all day (in a store, for example) may affect your posture and feet – particularly if you wear high heels. And if you have a very active manual job, then you definitely might be prone to overuse injuries sawing wood, carrying bricks, or painting walls, and so on.
While you can’t change your job, you should focus on your posture, shoes and how you move or carry things. Little changes such as wearing supportive shoes instead of high heels, using an appropriate rucksack instead of a handbag, and being aware of your lifting and carrying strategy are all things you should consider.
Desk workers should remember to get up every 30 minutes, have a stretch and a walk around and look at changing your chair or consider having a ‘sit-stand’ desk.
Everyone of us has different needs and different pieces of the puzzle to put in place. The pieces will also vary depending on your age, running goals, fitness level and health. Some runners will have to take more time to sleep if they have a young family. Older runners might need more massage and foam rolling, and office workers might need to spend more time doing strength work. And as your training volume increases, you’ll probably need to give more thought to all of your puzzle pieces.
Training alone is only a small part of the big picture and running isn’t an activity in isolation. Everything you do, drink, eat and wear will have an effect on how you run, recover, perform and achieve. Give as much attention to the peripheral details as you do to running, and you’ll find you’ll be able to train more and recover faster.