A few weeks ago, I posted some tips and thoughts for new runners. I hope it was helpful. Here’s the next entry in the series. (here’s Part 1)
Reminder – I’m not an expert, coach, trainer, elite or anything like that which would make me “qualified” to give advice. What you see below is things I’ve read or heard, learned personally over the years I’ve run, and some opinions.
Your cardiovascular system will improve and progress faster than your musculoskeletal system. This means running will feel easier from a heart rate & breathing standpoint sooner than it really is for your muscles (and especially joints and tendons). It’s easy to push your body harder than it’s really ready for, and you might pay a price for it in terms of soreness or injury. Gradual, measured increases (time/miles and pace) with periodic “cut back” or “step back” segments can help you avoid this very common situation – which is always something of a risk.
Adaptation (which often equals improvement) doesn’t happen during your runs. It’s easy to think it does, because you’re running faster or longer. But that’s because your body adapted from the last times you ran. Stress (running) is a stimulus. The body responds and adapts during the rest and recovery periods (sleep, rest or cross-training days). Stress + rest = adaptation. If you don’t get the rest, it’s just stress. If your body doesn’t have a chance to make the physiological changes you want (you’re not getting enough sleep, not taking days off from running), you won’t improve, you probably won’t enjoy your running as much, and you’re more likely to get hurt.
Recovery is important. There are many aspects to recovery – including sleep, nutrition and hydration – and there are many approaches you can take to improve your recovery. You’ll find lots of articles on the web as well as pieces in running magazines. One of my favorite authors/coaches, Sage Rountree, has written a very useful book The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery, in which she discusses fatigue, rest, recovery tools, etc., looking at their effectiveness, scientific proof, and cost aspects.
Sleep and hydration matter. If you’re skimping on those, it will – at some point – affect your running.
The best “diet” for a runner is generally a healthy diet overall. Again, this will get more important as you get older and/or run more. Increasing the amount of whole foods (things you recognize as food, like fruits and veggies) and reducing processed/packaged foods and added sugar is a good place to start. There are plenty of articles in Runner’s World to help you with this, and Matt Fitzgerald has a some good books – Racing Weight, the accompanying cookbook, and The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition – that cover these topics, and discuss in more detail the concept of “diet quality” rather than following a “diet” overall. He also has some articles online in the Nutrition section of Competitor’s site.
Running is only part of the equation of being a healthy, lifelong runner. Stretching/flexibility work, strength and core work, drills and other running-specific exercises and cross-training are all important components of enjoyable and successful running – however you define success. They get more important as you get older and if you have any injury problems.
Don’t be afraid to take a rest day or get a potential injury checked out or cut back on your mileage during a run or in a week. Think long-term health and consistency. Running more right now may be very tempting, whether to see a new number in your running log or to prove to yourself you can even if something hurts or for whatever reason. But if doing that today means you can’t run for a week? That’s not a good strategy.
Should you run if you’re sick? Individual choice, but I go by the rule of “If the symptoms are limited to above the shoulders (congestion, sneezing, sore throat, stuffy head) give it a try, as you might feel better after. If the symptoms aren’t limited – like stomach flu, food poisoning or running a fever – better to take a rest day.” (Note – I recently broke this rule on Boston Marathon Monday – I just couldn’t not run – but I’ll tell you, running while queasy/dizzy, even on a treadmill, is an unpleasant experience at best and dangerous/stupid at worst.) This is another decision where it helps to think long-term. You could probably run an unpleasant short run with an upset stomach or a fever, but why? To what end? If you knew it would sideline you for 3 days afterward, would you still do it? Your body is trying to heal, running is just going to add stress and delay the process of getting you back to normal, which will delay your return to pleasant running.
Speaking of pleasant running – running is not always fun. Running can be hard, and running farther or faster WILL be hard. (“It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster” – unknown) But you will have good and great runs and you may enjoy the feelings during a run or after a run – physical, mental, psychological/emotional. You may love the sense of accomplishment from a pre-work run, or pride in going a little bit farther. Whatever gives you pleasure and joy about running, embrace it. If you’re not getting any pleasure from running (before, during, after) or from the health benefits it can confer (sleep improvements, reductions in weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate) – consider whether it’s right for you. It may not be, and that’s ok.
The rest of your life will affect your running, even though you won’t want it to and even if you may not think it does. The amount of stress, in particular, that you have in the rest of your life (job, family, health, money) has an impact. You/your body are a system, and running doesn’t happen in isolation from the rest of your life even though it might be a little slice of time you carve out away from those other parts of it. If you’re under a lot of deadlines at work, moving, have a sick child and are worried about making ends meet….your running performance will take a hit. Consider running in the context of your whole life and make adjustments as needed. Don’t make it one more stress or demand on yourself in a stressful time, and don’t push yourself to injury by overloading yourself.
Find whatever about running gives you joy or lights you up and go with it! Whether it’s solo running, running with a friend or in a group, trail runs, track work, treadmill runs (ahem)…running morning, noon or night….racing, from foam/color runs to marathons and beyond…DO IT. Because life is short and unpredictable, and what makes you happy doesn’t have to be the same as what makes another person happy – it doesn’t make sense to anyone but you (or even to you, sometimes).
If you have questions or topics you’d like to see addressed in future posts, please get in touch via comments, twitter, email (M@readeatwriterun.com) or the contact form on the site. Thanks for reading!