Going for a run? Great—all you need is a pair of running shoes and the open road, right? Well, not quite. Based on my experiences, I’ve compiled a list of my top-10 training tips, in no specific order, all of which are entirely within my locus of control!
Push you to incredible paces and places. For me, running groups offer a perfect way to meet new people. In fact, as my husband, Matt, and I have moved to new cities, this is the primary way that I’ve made new friends. In the past, I have taken running groups to the extreme. When we first moved to Chicago, I found a different running group for every night of the week. I learned the hard way that running with a group should align with your training plan. It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of a group and push yourself too hard, or run too slowly to encourage another runner. Despite this one caveat, I cannot speak highly enough about running groups, which are offered by most local running stores.
Listen to your body. A quick Google search of “marathon training plans” will provide you with a seemingly endless list of programs, like the ones on Women’s Running. You can likely find a plan that meets your needs online, or instead you can consult with a coach, running store or fellow running friends. I’ve found that while it is great to follow the plan, it’s also important to listen to your body. I like to use my training plan as a general guide for what I should do each week and adjust my plan if I’m feeling particularly tired or worn down.
Give your body time to recover. This is perhaps one of the hardest things for me to do while training. If left to my own devices, I would run every day of the week, going until I literally ran myself into the ground. I have learned the importance of dedicating a day (every so often) just to rest. If there are days when I’m exhausted and sore from the previous day’s workout, I’ve found that it’s more beneficial to take a day off. It’s much better to rest at the first sign of a potential injury, since an injury could force you to take weeks off for recovery!
Fuel your powerhouse. On my blog, I discuss how Matt and I have altered our pre- and post-run nutrition to enhance our training. However, nutrition also includes proper fueling on our runs. As a sophomore in college, I completed my first marathon with absolutely no nutrition, aside from a few sips of water at aid stations. I remember being shocked when my body, completely depleted, hit the “wall” at mile 20 of that race. I’ve since discovered that it is vital to replenish my energy stores while running. For me, if I’m completing anything longer than 15 miles, I make sure to bring my own water and some Honey Stinger energy chews, my on-the-run nutrition of choice!
Keep ALL self-talk positive. Running is just as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. I know that when I keep my self-talk positive (even when I am feeling my worst), I’m already miles ahead. I’ve found that it works for me to repeat a positive phrase or mantra; something as simple as “You got this Steph!” usually does the trick. I also keep in mind that not every run will be great. Some runs are going to stink, and that’s okay. Those horrible runs make the great runs that much better.
Not every run can (or should) be a fast one. When I first started focusing on speed work, I assumed that the more fast runs I could complete, the better! Slow runs seemed like a waste of time, an indication that I was getting slower. Matt has helped me understand that slow, “junk runs” are just as important as pace-specific runs. I now focus on a target pace for three key workouts: speed, tempo, and long runs. I treat all other runs as “junk mileage,” enabling my body to absorb all of the fitness I am building during my key workouts. Determining your goal pace for key workouts can be a bit tricky. Luckily, there are plenty of free online tools that can help you calculate your ideal pace.
Incorporate as a form of active recovery. I have trouble taking days completely “off” from any form of physical activity. If I don’t work out, I am bouncing off the walls, with excessive amounts of pent-up energy. Therefore, I’ve found that cross-training, as a form of rest and recovery, works best for me. When training for triathlons, it’s easy for me to naturally build this sort of cross-training into my training schedule. If I’m not triathlon training, I make a concerted effort to dedicate one day a week to cross-training. I typically swim the day after my weekly long runs. If paired correctly with your racing and training needs, cross-training can propel your fitness even further.
Pre- And Post-Run
Warming up, stretching and strength training are essential. This is an element of running that many people overlook. Personally, I ran for years without doing anything before or after my runs. I completed my daily runs, satisfied that I had done all I needed to meet my training and racing goals. My “running only” training plans worked well—or so I thought. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that completing these somewhat tedious tasks pre- and post-run is necessary to stave off potential injuries.
Use gear that works for your specific running needs. I have learned that it is far more important to ensure that the gear I’m wearing supports and enhances my runs instead of obsessing over how I look wearing it. This requires experimenting with different clothing in different running conditions as well. For instance, my go-to sports bra is PERFECT for winter running, but in hot, humid weather, the straps can cause chafing. Figure out what gear works for you, no matter the brand or style, and stick with it. Even though you might not be the trendiest runner on the block, you’ll be much more comfortable, and you’ll be able to actually enjoy your runs!
Choose races that excite and inspire you. Whenever I find myself in a running funk, unmotivated for daily runs and feeling apathetic towards running, it’s generally because I don’t have an upcoming race on the calendar. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, my enthusiasm for running usually returns simply after registering for a race. And I’m not alone in this feeling. I’ve spoken to many of my running friends who experience this same phenomenon. Matt and I have found that we are even more motivated when we have a destination race to look forward to. The anticipation of traveling to a new city and running on a new course adds even more excitement to our training!