Every year, around this time either before or right after the marathon, it is not uncommon for people to come into the store looking for new gear – shoes, apparel, all the fun stuff. And so at this time of year I often think of the basic information, the fundamentals, that serve everyone, from the true beginner to the most seasoned marathoner. Some of them are running specific, and some of them are more broadly applied to the other 23 hours a day you aren’t running.
And because we’re a culture trending towards lists or bullet points – in 140 characters or fewer if possible – he’s to thinking…
Run on soft surfaces. Town Lake. Greenbelt. Zilker. Whatever. Go off road. Your body will thank you. Probably at least 50% of the time. You’ll reduce the chance for injury. I don’t really like the idea of having to pile in the car and drive somewhere just to get on soft surfaces, but I do if I need it. There is a grass median in my neighborhood, a 2K out and back, that I’ll run back and forth on for an hour when I need to run really easy. It sounds a little obsessive, and it is, but it’s really quite nice because I can focus on being really relaxed and I won’t get lost.
Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you’re ready for more, or not. Note that your mind will often play tricks on you, telling you that you’re tired, when you really could keep going. That’s different, and you’re better off knowing the difference. You will know the difference when you learn to listen to the signals your body gives you.
Run more, train less. Really, only about 20% of your average weekly volume will be at efforts faster than easy. And if you’re relatively new to running, probably less than that. Doing much more than that for long periods of time will lead you down the path to injury or burn out, neither of which is what you’re shooting for.
Eat food. Not food products, but stuff that grows from the ground or was hunted or fished. You’ll be healthier so you can run more. But most importantly, you’ll be healthier.
Be strong. Strength training. Yoga. Pilates. Yard work. Something! Make your body functionally stronger so you can run more and live more. Minimum 10 minutes a day is where you begin.
Run more. In a life long practice, frequency trumps volume and intensity. Ok, so maybe you can’t run 13 times a week like Gebreselassie, but you if you’re running 3 times per week, you can run four. Or five. Or six. When it becomes a practice, you’re doing it right. And when you get your frequency down, “more” then becomes volume. And when you’ve got your volume down, “more” is intensity.
Run in progression. Every run, no matter what the workout, will benefit you more in the long run if your first mile is the slowest and the last mile is the fastest. Directly related to listening to your body and relaxing. You benefit infinitely more by starting even recovery runs superduper glacially easy and speeding up only when your body allows you to. If you’re doing a tempo or repetitions, the same principle applies.
Sleep more. Your body recovers and heals best when you are asleep. Did you see the recent study that showed that people who sleep 8 or more hours a night are less likely to be injured? Turn off the tv, the computer, put down the phone. Get some shut eye.
Relax. The single most important rule. You know, hakuna mata and all that. Missed a run, so what? You can’t make it up, so don’t worry about it. Didn’t hit your splits? You’ll get them next time. Stress is the number one cause of stress. So relax when you run, when you’re not running, or when you’re thinking about running. Added bonus: When you run relaxed, you’ll run faster.
Rotate your shoes. It’s not just for the racers. If you run more than every other day, rotating your shoes—different types, weight, flexibility—can help to prevent injury. Ok, so it might be more expensive that way, but you know what I’m gonna say next: It’s less expensive than a trip to the doctor and certainly not worth the cost of the stress you incur when you can’t run.