Being a coach for over ten years now, I've worked with many people focusing on many different types of goals; running a half marathon, swimming faster, lifting heavier, toning up, losing weight for a wedding and general better nutrition to name a few.
The one thing that always makes me nervous is when a client says they're going to start training for a long race (long being over 6 miles). People think races are a quick fix to getting in shape. However, to run a good race and to feel great while doing it, requires a systematic approach, not a random attempt at pushing yourself to new limits without a proper fitness plan to back it. Most people I see just kind of decide to sign up for a race and then go without much planning, and that’s where things can get scary. Here are some easy modifications you can make to your running routine to keep a healthy, injury-free training schedule:
- Incorporate 1-2 days of cross training, weight training, & hill incline walks. Most people just use running to train for races; This is a real easy way to get hurt. To prevent this, remember to back up your running with 1-2 of the following activities each week:
- Cross Training. Cross training (CT) focuses on agility, speed drills, quickness + (core) strength; all things that create a unified muscular system, that help you to get from point A to point B efficiently. If you don’t include CT days in your plan, you’re putting yourself at a very high risk for injury which is very real. Up to 79% of runners get sidelined with an injury at least once per year. This can set you back for a really long time. Rest days are equally as important which could range from stretching to light yoga. One example of cross training I particularly enjoy are sprint drills. Sprinting on any machine or outside has been proven time and again to cut belly fat and sky-rocket your metabolism. Think about trying 10 rounds of 10 all out sprints at a challenging pace. The only thing you’ll see are results.
- Hill Incline Walks. Fire up those hill incline walks. I’m obsessed. I use a treadmill and set the incline to 3.5-4.0% and the speed to 3.5-4.0 and power walk the heck out of a 30-45 minute session. My abs are flatter, my booty is lifted and my legs are toned. This is real and I feel fabulous after every workout. I’m sure to pump my arms to get in that upper body toning, lift and pull back strong with my strides to really target and tone my backside and engage my core to maximize my efforts in creating that waistline I love. No treadmill? Find some terrain that has rolling hills, stairs or bleachers to get in a similar workout.
- Weight training. Weight (or strength) training is lifeblood. When done properly the benefits include a balanced muscular system, decreased back pain, lower body fat, toned mid section, increased energy, increase disease prevention and better mood. I lift weight from 5-25lbs 3-4x a week and it pays off when I fit better into my clothes!
Keep Your Nutrition in Check. What do your pre, mid and post run snacks + meals look like? What’s your hydration strategy? I highly highly recommend working with a coach 1-1 about this. There are many options depending on your distance, body type + goals.
Customizing your training nutrition is essential in avoiding weight gain, which happens far too often because of the shock factor calorie burn, post run. There are ways to avoid this! You’d easily burn 400-700 calories on a longer run but that’s not a pass to drink beers + eat pizza. Hydration before, after and during is a key element to prevent cravings for foods like that. Though make sure to refuel with drinks high in beneficial nutrients + minerals, not ones with a ton of sugar like the ones you’ll often find in the running section of sports stores. My favorite hydration option is coconut water. According to Chhandashri Bhattacharya, Ph.D, coconut water “has five times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade. Whenever you get cramps in your muscles, potassium will help you to get rid of the cramps. It's a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout." The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 16-20 ounces at least 4 hours before exercise and 3-8 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise.
Remember to stretch and rest. Taking 2 days off a week is essential to any progressive training routine. Your body needs time to relax, unwind and recover from strenuous activity. When it comes to running, lots of clients come to me with tight hamstrings or IT bands (the muscle that runs down the side of your leg) and glutes. It goes without question that you have to stretch these paint points DAILY in order to avoid strain.
Foam rolling, using a tennis or lacrosse ball for trigger point therapy and muscle release can prove to be super helpful. Practicing a lesser challenging flow like yoga offers another great way to recover through breathing and meditation. Active stretching like slow and low impact aerobics or mat work can help to open your hips, keep your core strong and your body from tightening up. Listen to your body and answer with what you feel like with help you become a more functional athlete, rather than the faster runner out there.
Overall, my personal experiences with running have ranged from great to decent to bad. Running when I was 21 was pure fun. I flew through those finish lines. Running when I was 28 was more challenging and harsh on my body post race. Running long distances now at 32 is not always enjoyable and hurts my shoulder from an old injury that I never fully recovered from. Though throughout my experiences, I’ve felt my best during the times I’ve incorporated the essentials I mentioned above into my training routine. I hope you’ll learn from my mistakes and progress!