For those of you that have been committed and diligent at following the RunSport Virtual Clinic this year, and if you have spent the last 14 weeks learning, training and setting small daily goals for yourself, I encourage you to think about and plan for the days after you have completed the last training session: what does the rest of your spring and summer look like? We have no idea where the finish line of the pandemic is, but we do know that having small goals to focus on, and regular exercise is helping us stay healthy.
The clinic training has allowed you to plan for training in your life. Over several months, you have committed to a training schedule that has taken you closer to your own individual goals, whether it was consistency, health, greater fitness or simply learning. From taking care of your body with stretching and good meals, to planning the training in your weekly life, you created a forward momentum that has become a constant part of your life.
What I’d like you to be aware of, is that without even knowing it sometimes, athletes have a huge emotional - as well as physical - investment in their goals. The larger the perceived event, the larger the investment and when the event is all over, there is sometimes a feeling of letdown as all that energy dissipates into your last big effort. Without the goal pulling you forward, there is an emotional void and a sense of letdown or post race blues after the adrenaline wears off. This is totally normal behaviour and being prepared for the week after your goal race is as essential part of season planning.
I encourage you to take a week off from structured training sessions. You don’t have to stop moving altogether, but you might want to give yourself a break from structure and performance goals that are inherent in the plan you have been following. This is a mental break as much a chance to rest your body. In this break, you can walk, run, hike, bike, swim, do yoga or strength. Just be gentle and enjoy the break from a structured schedule.
If you do want to take a whole week or two off from training, I strongly advise that you have a re start date and plan – this is really important for people who have trouble motivating themselves to train or to start training. These are people who drag their feet getting out the door, but once they are out there, just love it and are really happy at the end of the session. Know yourself and plan for YOU!
Here are 10 more tips for creating your ‘what’s next’:
Racing is a game for most of us, and it is also a commitment. By the time you arrive at the starting line, you have signed up, you have prepared, you have increased your skill level, and all that’s left to do is to enjoy the scenery, the people and the brilliant feeling of completing what you set out to do. There is something elevated about racing, and you can practice your race day skills easily during a Virtual Event. You won’t have the energy of all those people around you, but if you are using tracking technology and have signed up for a Virtual Event, it’s easy to feel connected through post event sharing.
A great event experience starts the day before, with an intention to rest your legs and fuel your body. The day before the event , try to conserve energy and eat three good meals that are carbohydrate rich in order to top up glycogen in the muscles. Avoid anything that is unusual: this includes novel sport activities or eating food that you would normally never eat. Stick to what you know works for you.
A seamless and stress free morning paves the way for an enjoyable event so before you go to bed the night before, organize for your day, so things run smoothly and you aren’t looking for lost items at the last minute. Plan your breakfast timing and items and most importantly, your morning mindset. The last thing you should tell yourself at night is this:
Tomorrow morning I get to wake up and do the TC 10K Virtual event!
Note how this language is markedly different from “I have to get up and do 10k tomorrow.” (inner groan.)
In the morning, you will be ready. You know what to wear, what to eat and where to go. Your mindset will be one of excitement and anticipation about the great opportunity to train and work on being efficient, smooth, and emotionally strong and positive.
A 10Km distance gives you plenty of time to experience the joy of walking and running well, which includes—if you are pushing yourself—embracing discomfort and staying mentally strong through any rough patches where doubt and negativity like to creep in. Anticipate the fatigue and have some tools on hand to re-focus. Task oriented self-talk is always good at this point. Focus on your arms, your feet, your breath, being relaxed…’can do’ action items that you control.
Great training and racing always focuses on what you can do, not what you ‘hope’ to do. Here is a step by step breakdown of what to expect over the course of a 10k distance. If you are doing a 5k distance, the same steps apply, however the race is easily chunked into three sections: a start, a middle and an end. Your first km is similar to the 1-3k mark in the 10k, the middle is like the 7km, and the end is the end no matter what distance you are doing!
NOTE: Very fit and experienced athletes will be able to absorb the fast start of a 10k as their legs will be strong but for beginners I would advise to pace very conservatively over the first five kilometres of the course so as not to go out too fast with excitement. This will ensure leaving energy for the second half.
Start: It’s easy to get excited with the nature of an event – and in a live race, participants, spectators and atmosphere add inspiration to the morning. Your task is to stay energized and calm. The first kilometer is the place for experienced or more competitive athletes to get out to a fast start, or their goal pace, and for the novice to find space and a comfortable pace of work and breathing.
1-3K Mark: people should be thinking ‘light’ and ‘quick and relaxed’, working on feeling relaxed by using the arms well and breathing deeply. Because it is early in the distance, you want to be at pace but have it feel as effortless as possible. Focus on landmarks ahead and getting to them well. Novice racers will want to make sure they are practicing their own pace. Any hills? Use gravity and try to carry momentum down and up hills focussing on finding quick rhythm over the crest and onto flats.
3-4K Mark: You are into the heart of the race distance now, and should be really into a strong rhythm that takes focus to maintain. Your thoughts are on the moment, allow distractions to come and go without giving them too much energy. Be present and enjoy this effort!
5-7K Mark: This is where the race typically starts to feel hard and people should expect discomfort to rise and have prepared some strong positive thoughts here. Strong process cues about being relaxed and good positive self-talk should be practiced now.
7K Mark: There is 3 km to go at this point in the race and you can now start counting down the minutes left until you cross the finish line. Knowing that you have 15 or 18 or 30 minutes left to run or walk is positive information! Start giving yourself positive cues: Fly! Glide! As you start your push for the finish, having some landmarks for 2k to go and 1k to go is a good thing here. If you have pre run the course, find markers for these spots.
8K Mark: You should be drawing on all your resources to finish as strongly as possible. You can remind yourself to relax, to focus on good form, recall all the dedication and training you have done to get here, tell yourself to be tough. There is only 2 km to go!
9K Mark: How you handle yourself in these last few minutes is what you will be most proud of. It is often the effort of the last two kilometres that makes your race: how deep into the well can your source your inner and outer strength? Celebrate your efforts and soak it all up!
If you are prepared, the magic will happen.
Getting ready for the TC10K Virtual event or other events this spring? Here is your eat, sleep, start, pace, and complete event day low down for success, and practice for future in person events!
While a Virtual event is very different from an in person race, with all stimuli that live races deliver, you can take it as seriously as you wish. Virtual Events also give us a lot of opportunity to practice an excellent race day scenario. If you want to test out some race day skills for the future events in your life, here’s your guide to racing, whatever that looks like for you.
The day before the race, eat well. Eat normal, healthy, wholesome meals, the same as you always would. Do not over eat or under eat. A common favourite pre race meal is pasta with grilled chicken and some veggie. Basic. Potatoes, rice and some protein are also good, as is a tuna sandwich. There is no magic food, just simple and good food that you know works for you.
The morning of your event, get up and have your pre event meal at least 2 hours before the event. Don’t drink more coffee than you are used to and don’t drink a massive volume of water. This just makes for inconvenient bathroom stops.
Try to practice your pre race meal at least once before race day, before a morning training session. A favourite pre race meal is a toasted bagel with peanut butter and honey, and a coffee. If you are a smoothie person, throw one on. If you find something that works, don’t veer from this.
If you are going to be on course for more than 90 minutes, you may want to consider a gel or small bar of approximately 100 calories at 45-60 minutes but this is something you want to practice in training as well.
Stay hydrated the day before the event, but it’s not necessary to over hydrate or pre hydrate or take any special hydration formula. Do what normally make you feel good for training and in your daily life. Avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine is a good idea however, as both can interfere with a good sleep and hydration.
If you are going to drink on course, take small sips from your personal flask.
Well before bedtime, the night before, put out your clothing, pin your number (if you want to use it!), and have your favourite lucky socks and underwear ready to go. Plan when you will leave the house and where you will park if you are taking your car. Virtual events allow you to run from your house, but you can also drive somewhere for this.
Go to bed at a normal time and get your normal amount of sleep, but don’t sweat it if your sleep is short or not too great. You’ll still have plenty of energy for race morning. If you are a bit keyed up, then do something to calm yourself. Read, have a cup of herbal tea, or lie in bed and listen to a calming sleep meditation. Or simply lie in bed and relax and breathe. Imagine yourself on race morning, being calm, excited, ready and confident. Tell yourself that all is OK, and then rest.
When you wake up, switch that pre race brain on, the one you prepared the night before. Everything is planned and ready to go so there is no second guessing or thinking about that logistical stuff.
Eat your breakfast and drink your tea/coffee in the peace of your own space and feel happy that it’s finally race morning because it’s going to be a great day!
Pre Plan your warm up. You may want to do an abbreviated version of what you do on clinic night or a light walk or jog about 30 min before the race. Light, slow and easy, just to warm up the body temperature. Do some arm circles and light stretching and simply stay calm and in the moment? Be amazed at yourself for being there, at this super cool event!
Start slower than you think you should. It will still be too fast. Listen to your effort and sense of work rate. Think Zone 2 effort, patience and consistency. Slow down on the up hills while keeping energy constant.
If you feel you need to walk, this is totally ok, but start using your watch and give yourself 2 min walk breaks for every 10 minutes of running, unless you have a pre set walk/run plan.
Sportsmanship: Be Nice and Have Good Manners
While you are doing a Time Trial, you are still sharing the trail or streets with others, and all the courtesy rules and covid guidelines still apply.
Just BE NICE to yourself and others and smile a lot so others can see how much fun it is to be out there moving.
I think the biggest thing to remember is that while a lot of blood flow is heading to your heart and lungs, your brain is still working. Use you head and stay calm and positive. Give yourself credit for being out there, participating, even under these strange circumstances. Remind yourself often while you are out there, that it is your choice to be in the event, that it is a wonderful gift to be able to do this. No matter what happens out there, you put in a lot of effort and training to get to the start line - be proud of what you've done!
Run For Joy
Whether you are going for a run through your neighbourhood trail, or negotiating rugged single track in one of our wilder places, trail running is distinctly different from running the roads, treadmill or track. Trail running is perhaps one of the most pure ways you can run, the way humans ran before concrete and health clubs. Being in the natural world away from cars and city noise is a stress free way to spend your workout and trail running offers great benefits apart from the soul lifting environment. Running in the trails is a great way to take a break from watching your watch, speed or pace as well. Your pace will vary much more than when you run in the city or on a straight path, naturally following the rhythm of the terrain, including obstacles and elevation. In trails, there may be times when you are walking, or scrambling up rocky bits, or over fallen logs, using your arms as well as your legs. The focus is on good movement, and not on pace. This change of pace as you climb, or scramble, can give you great practice into tuning into your own heartbeat and breathing rate and aiming for a consistent effort. For people attached to their wearable technology, I often prescribe trail running as a means to get in touch with internal effort, rhythm and joy of movement. Other benefits of trail running include:
Long uninterrupted runs. For a long base or endurance run, nothing beats a piece of trail. No traffic lights, no intersections and just long stretches of trail create a continuous aerobic session. Without the distractions of road running, you can really get into a groove in the woods, paying attention to your body, your breath and how efficient you are running.
Softer surfaces are easier on the body. Training as much as you can on softer surfaces lessens the impact of forces caused by running and can help prevent injuries and set up faster recovery for your next workout.
Natural fartlek. Going for a hilly trail run will create variations in heart rate which will be much greater than a flat run. This natural fartlek is a nice mental break from structured intervals, but also builds your threshold and mental strength, not to mention your prowess as an uphill bunny.
Agility and focus on movement. Running in the trails requires focus and concentration especially in single track and over uneven terrain. Paying attention to the way your body moves and works makes you a stronger runner and the added bonus is that successful rock hopping makes you feel younger!
Strengthening the stabilizing muscles. There is more lateral motion involved in trail running, with the body having to use the stabilizer muscles and tendons of the ankles, lower legs and core for balance. When added to your overall training program, this type of running gives you a well rounded functional strength.
Before you head into the wild. Urban trails and parks are a great place to start: these trails are generally more even and well maintained. Start with one or two shorter base runs a week to get used to the feeling of running on uneven ground: like any new activity, a little conservatism at first goes a long way to preventing injury. While some trails are marked with distance so you can keep track of your mileage, doing a timed out and back loop will ensure you don’t end up on an epic two hour adventure run on your first time out. A GPS comes in handy in the woods, as you can keep track of where you are when there are no markers to follow for reference. As you increase the range of your workouts in the trails, a GPS allows you to plan more adventurous runs. Taking a photo of the main trail map with your phone is always helpful as well.
Safety. For your personal safety in the trails, you may want to run with a buddy, a bell (for bears), and be up to date on self-protection. See self protection expert Kris Greffard’s FaceBook posts on West Coast Women’s Safety for lots of great tips:
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009538537195 or at
Do you need trail running shoes? A trail running shoe provides more traction, protection from rocks and roots and waterproofing than a regular runner, all of which reduce fatigue over the course of a long run. If you are going to commit to longer or more extreme trail runs a good trail runner will provide more comfort and function than your regular trainer.
So, go find a park and add trail running to your repertoire of training skills. Watch those stumps and roots and feel your body getting stronger!
Run For Joy!
A time trial or TT is any event where you test yourself for a distance. Many athletes use time trials to simulate race day stress, nutrition, skills, fitness and even their outfit! It’s kind of like a controlled experiment, where you set up race day conditions, without the race.
Think of it as a dry run, a good practice for runners and walkers and a chance to experience what a distance feels like. This includes practicing starting the day before with your nutrition, a good sleep, and breakfast, what to wear, when to show up, using the bathrooms, as well as how to pace yourself for the distance. While many events are virtual this year, you can use TT’s and Virtual Events as a way to prepare for success at future in person events.
For a first time participant there are a lot of factors to take care of, so please be sure to preview everything. Getting a chance to practice all this stuff before race day is HUGE in both physical and mental preparation.
If you want to perform your own personal Time Trial, here are some tips:
Do the TT as a key session in your week. Choose your distance and do it on a day that you think you will probably do a virtual event on. If in doubt, Sundays are good days to choose because most events fall on a Sunday morning. And we hope to be doing these in person events in the future!
The TT should be considered the week’s biggest effort. Your other sessions will be easy efforts.
You are doing the TT as a way to practice for other events, either virtual or in person. Remember that a TT is simulation of an event type effort, without the nerves!
Pacing –Depending on how long you have been training, those with GPS/Garmins will know their paces as well. For people unsure of their ability to pace, the TT is a perfect way to learn.
Start out very conservatively for the first half. After halfway, you will either be able to stay at the same level of exertion or pick up the pace (if you have started very conservatively). See if you can time the first half and the second the half of your distance. These are called ‘splits’.
If you ‘even split’ (get the same time for both halves) you have paced yourself well and will have a pretty good idea of your pace for event day. If you were significantly faster over the second half (faster by 1-2 minutes or more), this is called a ‘negative split’, and your second half pace, might be more of a realistic pace for you. If you are significantly slower (over 2 minutes), this is called a ‘positive split’ and then your pace is likely what your pace was at the middle point just before you started to slow significantly.
After you complete your TT, take a cool down period of another 10 minutes of easy jogging or walking, and then replenish your energy with some nourishing food and more water. Later that day stretch some more and get some good recovery. Give yourself at least 48 hours before you train again, although some easy walking, cycling or swimming will be good recovery.
I encourage you to approach a TT seriously but also lightheartedly. Put some serious thought into preparing, and show up calm and optimistic about it. Approach a TT with a logical and practical sense of it being a ‘dress rehearsal’. You are going to practice everything you want to happen on race day, including nutrition, hydration, mental preparation and physically practicing walking and running a distance. The more you can prepare before the event, the more likely your event will be successful, and also, stress free.
Racing is a game but it is also a commitment. By the time you arrive at the starting line, you have signed up, you have prepared, you have increased your skill level, and all that’s left to do is to enjoy the scenery, the people and the brilliant feeling of completing what you set out to do.
Run For Joy!
With the current restrictions on travel, there is a good chance that very few people are going anywhere on March Break this year, and for those of you with small children and teenagers, you may have to plan ahead and be a bit creative with training in the days ahead.
Holidays and school holidays can be a much needed break for most people, and time to spend alone, with friends or with family. They can also present athletes with restricted training times and an interruption in an otherwise predictable routine. Good to be prepared for this!
Here are a few tips about how to train while over March break (or on a future vacation), with some advice about time management, but also some suggestions on how you can train your brain to relax as well, and set your expectations to be realistic, so it works for you.
How to train away from home or during holidays. Note: some of this applies to the type of travel we can’t do now, but can also be used for ‘staycations’. I've left the travel tips in with a sense of optimism for the future.
Take Active Recovery
Vacations are an obvious time to take a week or two of active rest, or to take an easy recovery week. If you can, plan to have a down week for the week that you travel, and preferably the first week on a multi-week vacation. That way, the jet lag, and acclimation comes during your easy week. Plan your training ahead as much as possible taking into account that you will have to be flexible. Even if you can do little else, it is realistic to plan a week of only run or walk training. Cross training activities like cycling and swimming may be restricted.
Gather support by Communicating
Let everybody know that you will be training a few times, and will try to work around family and group activities.
Get it in before the day starts, as later in the day it is more likely you will be tired from activities that centre more on the whole family. Before the household wakes up is a perfect time. More than likely, everybody will still be sleeping when you return, so you haven’t missed anything and you’ve gained a calm start to your day. Another good time can be before dinner, when everybody is having their downtime after the day. This assumes of course, that either someone else is cooking or you have pre planned dinner.
For travelling: Do advance research on the location you will be visiting. Is there a gym for strength or treadmill options? What are the trails like? Even if you can’t get in your usual sessions, 20 minutes easy training and doing drills and maintaining feel is better than none.
Or read this article in Runner’s World about why you should run while travelling.
Including this awesome tip I hadn’t thought of. “Look up Races to Steal Their Routes”.
For staycation: Plan your training for the week around your family or kid’s activities. If you are dropping them at a park or camp for an activity, or the allowed playdates, you can get a short training session in – even switching off with the other parent if an adult needs to be around.
Take advantage of free ME time!
If you are a parent of young ones who relies on childminding or pre-schools for time to fit in your training, holiday training can be a challenge, but again, gather support and plan. Also be prepared to head out the door at the last minute, when plans change and a 30 minutes window of time opens up for you.
Be flexible and adventurous - it builds resilience
You might have to get up earlier, train at odd hours, or drop a training session. Chances are, if you are an active parent, you have already mastered the skills of “creative time management, training and childcare”; here’s the chance to test out what you have learned. Drop your expectations of the perfect training - just enjoy wherever you are and whatever you can do.
Have Snacks at the Ready Always and Especially If you are Travelling
Bring or buy snacks to keep on hand at home or in a hotel room. Some energy bars for calories in a pinch are always a good idea. I generally hit a store right away when I travel, and get a few days’ worth of food snacks: almonds, trail mix, bananas, apples, salty snacks like pretzels and bagels. (I also buy a good bar of chocolate, and bring those Starbucks instant coffee packets so I am not hunting for a coffee shop on my first morning).
Most of all just be prepared to be flexible and easy going, possibly missing training for the chance to go for a great hike along the beach with your kids.
Stay in the moment; your regular training can resume at any time, and don’t spend time fretting about missed miles. Remember, you always have the power to breathe.
With some advance planning and creative time management, it is possible to have a fit holiday!
Run for Joy (wherever you find yourself!)
If you have been training for a virtual event over the past few months you have likely learned one of the greatest lessons in sport:
You can’t wait to feel motivated. Motivation happens as a result of good planning and great habits. You like something so you want to keep on going. You are motivated to keep something good going, especially when it has a positive effect on your mental and physical health.
It only takes a brief scroll through Instagram to notice that the world is full of inspiring words and photos, however, one of the most important things people learn through this process of following a training schedule, is that habit and action create far more meaningful results, than does reading about motivation or inspiration.
Right now, with 8 weeks of training under your belt, and another season of uncertainty around events, I would like to plant the seed that will help you continue your motivation to train.
Now that you have some good habits formed, and now that training is no longer new and scary, I encourage you to approach the rest of the clinic mindfully - that is, do your training, as you have been doing it, with good habits and practices (sleep, rest, nutrition etc.) - and TRUST that you will have done the best you can with your training until now.
Your fitness may be to the point where you can work well in discomfort by now, during your faster intervals, but resist the urge to go beyond that, to constantly test and strive for more, in the hope that you can boost your fitness even more right now.
Resist the urge to test yourself too much because you are curious. Save that curiosity and challenge for virtual event day, or you risk leaving your best efforts in a training session. The training over the next few weeks is to prepare you for your best effort, not BE the best effort.
With weeks of training under your belt, your body is fitter and stronger, but also is carrying fatigue and you have to be particularly careful not to overdo it right now – which is easily to do with your excitement and enthusiasm! Injury prevention is still our goal.
Maintain patience for the process, and trust that you don’t need to do anything extra or find extra magic out there. The magic is in the process and the mental preparation for things to go well.
It isn’t over at the finish of the clinic: are you ready for May and the rest of the year?
As we get caught up in the momentum of our training, planning and preparing for sessions meticulously (or even winging it) we sometimes can’t see that we are giving an energy and passion to something that is unmatched elsewhere in our lives. You have a training plan mapped over several months and every couple of days is a session that brings you closer to your goal. From taking care of your time management to tinkering with your nutrition and gear, you create a forward momentum to the end of the clinic that becomes a constant part of your life. You are committed to eating well, sleeping well, and making positive choices on a daily basis to support your clinic night and goal race. You even have a vision of what that finish is going to look like and how you feel crossing it. This is awesome and a fantastic part of sport, but do you have a picture of the day after?
Without even knowing it sometimes, athletes have a huge emotional - as well as physical - investment in their goals. The more important the event, the larger the investment and when the event is all over, there is sometimes a feeling of letdown as all that energy dissipates across the finish line. Without the goal pulling you forward, there is an emotional void and a sense of letdown or post-race blues after the adrenaline wears off. This is totally normal behaviour and being prepared for the week after your clinic ends or your goal race is an essential part of season planning.
A Zen approach would suggest that all events are neither good nor bad, they just are. While sport is full of highs and lows, weathering everything with a sense of the satisfaction and wonder of 'being', creates a peaceful relationship with your journey. Here are some other general tips for preparing for the ‘other’ side of the finish line.
1. Have a plan for what’s next. Whether it is a two week break, planning to just re do the training plan, signing up for another clinic, start to think and plan your post-race training well in advance. If you are planning on a break, then make sure you know how you are going to fill your time. Knowing what to do and what you want to do after the clinic goes a long way to filling the void.
2. Put that energy to good use. Plan on a few projects or goals that don’t revolve around your training. Keep training lightly, switching gears and getting some other things done provides a nice balance to the single minded focus of big goal. Choose some alternate sports for a while, and ones that you can enjoy with your friends, partner, kids etc.…
3. Plan to reflect on your training and review your process. Reflecting is a great process for appreciating your accomplishments and finding a sense of purpose and happiness including things you love about your activity. If journaling isn’t a smooth process then simple lists will do. Make sure you include things that you did well and things that need improvement when looking at your past 14 weeks. List 5 goals you accomplished during the season and 5 workouts you loved. Note 5 things you want to learn or improve upon.
5. Live in the moment AND think ahead. While most people think only of their next race or in one year season cycles, great training encompasses development in 2-4 year spans. When you know that your last training clinic is only a part of a bigger picture, you get a good sense of perspective that allows you to fully appreciate all the moments that a season offers.
More on post-race planning and action coming soon! Meanwhile, keep loving your walking and running program and feel proud of where you ARE RIGHT NOW!
How Strong Are You?
As an endurance coach, I encourage athletes to take strength seriously. A good strength program will help build endurance and resiliency for your activity, keeping you injury free and help your performance. The goal for endurance athletes is to improve performance on the road and in the trails, and so, strength training done effectively, mitigates internal muscle breakdown which is critical to the endurance athlete. It will improve endurance, performance, mobility, and recovery.
Intelligent strength training doesn’t mean spending hours on machines at the gym. Intelligent strength training supports your endurance training, can be performed in 2- 3 short sessions each week, and makes you feel awesome. Not only do you run and walk better, but you are stronger for all your daily activities: lugging groceries, lifting your kids, or putting your dog in the back of the car. As you age, strength training should start to take up a larger percentage of your weekly training minutes.
Strength training for runners has two purposes: it can focus on the specific needs of an athlete with biomechanical imbalances to help overcome or prevent injuries, which promotes more consistent training and hence, improvement.
And, strength training done as a compound, multi- joint movement, like deadlifts, single leg deadlifts or kettlebell swings (not your standard gym machine stuff, where you are just sitting down and isolating one muscle group) will promote a balanced and strong body for improved performance. Performed correctly, barbells and kettlebells used for lifts and pushes or ballistic training, requires you to brace the core strongly and this results in a strong posterior chain - your back, glutes and hamstrings, which is a huge benefit for runners.
The barbell or kettlebell deadlift, teaches us how to hinge at the hips correctly, use the hamstrings effectively, and increases strength for the action of running. Matt Pearce talks about the benefits of deadlifting for runners here in this Training Peaks article. Like the plank, deadlifting will also make you bulletproof for lifting boxes on moving day.
I encourage runners and walkers to find a good gym, and a certified strength and conditioning expert when starting a strength program. Someone who is knowledgeable of the Functional Movement Screen testing (FMS), which is the observation and testing of 7 basic movements in order to assess strengths and weakness, and who can help you find a simple but effective routine that works for you. You don’t need a personal trainer, but 2-4 sessions with an instructor to teach you proper form and movement and to set you up with a program is a great start.
A good strength program can be fit into a 30 minute window 2-3 times a week, and the payoff with a strong posterior chain and great mobility will be noticeable. Not to be confused with Olympic lifting, or weightlifting, proper strength training for runners will not cause you to gain weight, or compromise your cardio training. Your muscles will become stronger and denser, your mobility will improve, and your posture and stamina will create a strong platform for your endurance training. Other anecdotal positive side effects of strength training are better sleep quality, greater confidence, and helping with metabolism.
A popular form of gym training suggests the only way to develop strength is for athletes to reach intense degrees of fatigue – this would be the flood of lactic acid and burn intrinsic with high intensity interval workouts (also known as ‘bang for your buck workouts). Technically this training should be used sparingly, in peaking situations for example. High acid baths incurred frequently result in a decrease in work capacity and force athletes to ‘put up’ with the unpleasant sensations of fatigue. In a nutshell this training disrupts many physiological processes that support improved aerobic endurance performance.
One of the best way to find a gym or an instructor to work with, is simply good old fashioned word of mouth. Ask around, read reviews of gyms and set aside some time to learn to be strong!
Nutrition is the process of taking food into the body and absorbing the
nutrients in those foods. (Collins Dictionary).
Nutrition, food, and diet have all become much more complicated than they need to be. What should I eat before a workout? When should I eat before a workout? Should I drink during workouts? Will eating Vegan make me leaner, faster or feel better? Do I need to change my diet before starting my first race? Is beer bad for you? What is Paleo eating? AAAH.
The world of nutrition and particularly sports nutrition has exploded over the last twenty years as more and people have taken their health seriously and become involved in physical activity for fitness and the internet has been able to deliver information that was previously reserved for elite athletes, or only found in the dusty science journals and on microfiche at the college library. Information that the top athletes in the world have used to improve and maintain strength, fitness and health is now available to anyone with an internet search engine.
With our present concerns about our health and longevity there has also been an increase in the numbers and types of special diets out there, diets that are meant to increase our energy, personal power, stamina and lean mass. Here then are some common sense nutrition basics - bearing in mind that special diets, food intolerances and allergies are beyond the scope of this post.
Eating to Feel Well
Still the oldest and most common sense idea in the book is the idea of looking at your body as if it is a fine tuned machine similar to a sports car. The type of gas you use has a direct correlation to how well the engine runs. Looking at food as fuel, the concept is that you want to choose foods that nourish and support your body and the training you desire to do. You can also train to eat, which is also a driving force for many people: they enjoy food, fine dining and sweets, and training is one way to manage their weight and health.
For performance I prefer the eating to train version, as it puts the power with you, the individual, to make healthy, informed choices about what you are putting into your body without being obsessive. Over time, the emphasis on good choices leads to overall feelings of wellbeing in training and out, and the habits stick for good, merely because you feel better and your engine runs better. And having fries and a burger one night while out with friends at the pub, isn’t going to kill you because you consistently take care of yourself.
The other aspect to nutrition is portion control: something that North American society has lost almost completely. The rise of fast food, discount shopping in bulk, and mass consumption turned bigger into better for everything, including food. Most people eat too large portions for the amount of energy they expend each day, even active people. Because of the emphasis on eating more, and eating quickly, people have forgotten how to understand when they are full and to stop eating before that point.
Simply put, you only need to eat as many calories as you burn in one day. Eat more than what you use and you gain weight over time: eat less and you gradually lose weight, especially lean muscle. You don’t even have to count calories. A healthy person can listen to their body, know when they are hungry, and can eat accordingly, stopping when they are full. However, to reset our bodies from over-eating to moderate eating for health, might require a good Nutritionist and diet plan at first, in order to create new habits.
Doing exercise is a great way to learn how to eat better. After training, you will often feel hungry, since you might not have eaten for a while and your body is looking for energy to replace the energy it just spent. Making good choices, and fuelling your body slowly and with good quality food, will teach you to listen to your hunger signals and to take care of yourself well.
Good choices: There are many resources out there for nutrition and food choice, but Nutritionists recommend choosing whole foods as much as you can. Fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain rice and pastas and bread, eggs, lean unprocessed meat like steak, chicken breast, pork and turkey. Food that is as close to its natural state as possible is the rule to follow. The less packaging, and the fewer ingredients, the better. Think a grilled fresh chicken breast, with fresh steamed broccoli and brown rice over a highly processed Pizza Pop. A bagel with peanut butter and banana is a better choice than a packaged cookie, muffin or granola bar.
The basics to eating for energy are to have a general diet that is nutritious, whole, and in line with the energy that you expend each day. I like to add that for most people, sustainability and pleasure should also be considered. Don’t obsess over the perfect diet. Eating a strict diet that restricts foods you love (unless you have a real food allergy that makes you sick) isn’t a whole lot of fun, and takes a lot of energy to plan. I like this article that looks at our relationship with food.
Fuelling to Train
For general training, there are 3 key aspects to sports nutrition: 1. eating and hydrating before workouts, 2. eating and hydrating during workouts, and 3. eating and hydrating after workouts. If you have limited time to train, you want to make the most of each session. Being nutritionally ready to perform is very important. For the scope of most training under 2 hours and for events of under 90 minutes hydration and nutrition are not as crucial to success as they are in longer endurance events like ultras and Ironman where athletes will run into depletion during the course of the event, therefore what follows is general good advice that will be a starting point for the beginner.
Eat before your workouts: You want to start workouts with energy to complete the session, but you don’t want to feel full or have stomach upset from something that you ate. Aim to consume 60-100 grams of carbohydrates between 1 and 3 hours before your workout. (I.e. one energy bar and a piece of fruit or a bagel with jam and a piece of fruit.) Keep the foods high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. Your goal over time is find the right foods and timing that work for you as you will replicate this nutrition on race day.
Workout timing has to be taken into consideration. Early morning workouts require only an early breakfast taken prior to training, while evening workouts means paying attention to nutrition and timing throughout the day. If you train after work (but before supper) you may need to have a pre-training snack (fuel) about an hour before training, especially if lunch was over 4 hrs prior. Timing your lunch to fall 3 hrs before your afternoon training session is a good practice. You want to avoid skipping breakfast and lunch if you are doing afternoon training sessions. The caloric shortfall to missed meals will leave you depleted and weak in your training. During busy days at work, count backward 1-2 hours from the estimated time you will get to your after work session, and have a snack ready: banana, small sandwich with peanut butter and honey. Over time you will find what works best for you and stick with that.
Hydrate before workouts: it is proven than being dehydrated negatively affects performance. Even a 1% loss in body weight due to dehydration will slow you down, so become friends with your water bottle! Sipping on water will keep your hydration levels up, but sports drink, and even juice, contains electrolytes that are more effective at hydrating your body. 1-2 hours before a training session, ensure that you have drunk about 500ml of fluid. Drinking too much too close to a workout doesn’t give your body time enough to absorb the fluid. Fluid will either slosh around in your stomach and create cramps and a full feeling, or will hamper you with bathroom breaks.
Fuelling and hydration during workouts: For sessions over 90 min or in really hot climates people will need to consume about 200-300 calories per hour for optimal energy to complete the session successfully. A sport gel has an easy to use pack of 110 calories and a blend of Carbohydrates and electrolytes that are scientifically formulated for endurance sports. One gel every 30 minutes of exercise, taken with 8-12 oz of water is recommended and proven to be beneficial to sport performance. There are many gels on the market now, in a variety of flavours. Take the time to find the one that works for you and that you like. Drink 8 oz water or an electrolyte drink every 15 minutes for the duration of the session.
Every person has a different rate at which they sweat, and there are 2 basic methods of seeing if you are getting enough fluids.
1. The urine test: if your urine is barely yellow, you are well hydrated. If it is dark yellow, you are not hydrated enough.
2. Weigh yourself before and after exercise. The amount of weight lost is equal to the amount of water lost. For each pound of weight lost, you need to replace with 20oz of water.
How to Carry Liquids and Gels
Walking and running present their own problems as carrying a water bottle in your hands is cumbersome and throws you off your natural balance. There are excellent bottle carrying belts on the market now, ones with comfortable wide waist bands that hold several smaller bottles. For long runs over 90 minutes I recommend taking water with you as it will increase your enjoyment and performance of the session.
A lot of running shorts and tights have small pockets built right into them, perfect for carrying along one or two gels.
Eating Post Workout
Plan for and aim to eat within 15 minutes of completing your workout or race. The food you eat should contain some protein, be high in carbohydrates and 150-300 calories. High carbohydrate foods will replace the glycogen your muscles need in order to repair and recover from the stress they were under during your training session. Refuelling right after a session helps your body recover faster from the session so you are stronger and more ready for the next day. When you are able to train better you will improve faster and will be setting yourself up for success at your race. A common strategy is to have 200-300 calories ready to consume at the end of the session: a smoothie, banana, or small sandwich.
There are a number of things you can do outside of your sport specific training - of running and walking - that will help decrease your chances of injury and increase your chance of improving. Starting a stretching program is one of these practices. For athletes, stretching refers to the elongation of tissue, which can either be muscle, fascia, or nerve tissues. Stretching either helps us maintain our flexibility or improves it, and can be done in a number of ways.
Like all things training - stretching is a subject with many opinions and views, from how to stretch, to how much to stretch, to whether you need to stretch at all. Stretching is beneficial to athletes, both as a pre training warm up, and as a way to aid recovery.
Sports science has shown us that muscles work by stretching – it is the essential action for our muscle to perform. The stretch, and the range of motion (ROM) of each muscle around the bone to which is attached (the joint) dictates our flexibility. So our flexibility refers basically to how much our muscles can stretch and the range of motion that each joint has.
Flexibility varies immensely from one individual to the next, and some of it is just the body we were born with. Even when you were a kid you probably noticed that some of your friends could do the splits, or do back bends, and some couldn’t, and everybody notices that flexibility decreases with age and when they have done intense training. Increasing your flexibility is a way of keeping your body young and supple, and of allowing it to perform better and more pain free.
Each individual has an optimal flexibility and range of motion that promotes a healthy pain free body. Issues with inflexibility are generally a feeling of tightness in the muscles and joints, pain and injury. Tight muscles do not function to their full range, and will affect the range of motion in a joint, which means that speed and power are compromised, as will be the natural efficiency for movement. Working on maintaining your body’s unique flexibility will allow you to perform better, recover faster from workouts, and may reduce the risk of injury.
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How to Stretch
Stretching will improve muscle flexibility and performance but it is very important not to overstretch, and not to stretch overly tight or cold muscles. Overstretching is counterproductive in athletes, and causes little micro tears in your muscle tissue that can lead to more soreness and injury.
Some people prefer to stretch before and after workouts, or some: only before, or only after. Generally it is easier to stretch muscles when they are warmed up a little, after about 10 minutes of light exercise.
There are two types of stretching we will consider for this post: dynamic and static.
Dynamic stretching, or stretches that are actively engaging training movements, are usually done before training. Arm swings and leg swings are examples of dynamic stretches. Walking lunges are also dynamic stretches for the hip flexors.
Static stretches are those that are held for several seconds in order to help muscles return to their normal state, and are usually done after training. You can do these stretches right after a training session, but also at the end of the day. When my children were little, I would stretch while playing Lego or other games on the floor. University athletes can often be found stretching on the floor with an open textbook in front of them.
The main muscles groups in running and walking that need to be stretched properly are:
Quadriceps and Hip Flexors: these are the large muscles in your thighs and at your hips, responsible of the dynamic movement of running and walking.
Glutes, Hamstrings and Piriformis: the muscles in your buttocks, hips and the back of your thighs react to the movement of your front of leg muscles contracting. Working on improved flexibility in these areas can help prevent the lower back pain associated with running and walking.
For some great photos of post training stretches for these muscle groups, this Runner’s World article nails it.
Soleus/Gastrocs (calf): the muscles on your lower legs affect the function of your knees, feet and ankles, which is important to the impact of running and walking. Stretching these muscles before and after running can go a long way to keeping your legs stable.
Pecs and Deltoids: muscles in the upper body and torso, and shoulders. While upper body isn’t as crucial, you want to avoid tension through the neck and shoulders so arm swings and shoulder stretches can help you stay relaxed, which helps posture and breathing.
When and how much to stretch is going to be something that you learn through experience. The recommendation is to start gently and be conservative, stretching a little before and after workouts. Often, busy people neglect to stretch at all, but rush away from a workout to get back to work or home for dinner. Taking a few extra moments to stretch your muscles post workout will, like post recovery nutrition, enable your body to recover faster and better from the session, and set you up to improve.
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