How to Be a Balanced Runner
Although I started running about a year and a half ago, it wasn't until the end of 2015 that I decided my New Year's resolution would be to take running to the next level. I wanted to dive in and learn everything that I could. I joined a local non-profit running club that meets weekly for track practices. I signed up for my first trail race (10k) to step out of my comfort zone, followed by other races, and my first half marathon! Now trust me, I am nowhere close to where I'd like to be. I believe we can always improve ourselves, push ourselves, and learn new things. Here is a list of five tips that can assist you in becoming a balanced runner!
1. Strength Training: Set aside one day per week to focus solely on strengthening your muscles and joints. Major benefits include a decreased risk of being injured, improved overall body composition, and faster running times. As a runner, focus on your lower body and developing a stronger core. A strong core really helps when you’re pushing up a tough incline or bombing down a steep trail. Fitness coach JasonFitzgerald states, “Strengthening the hips and glutes is one of the best injury prevention measures a runner can take. Whether you simply want to run pain-free or you want to shave some time off your favorite distance, strength training will help.”
2. Build Endurance: Once a week, venture out on your long run. Make sure you are prepared with proper water and food/fuel depending on the distance. Try to aim for consistency by scheduling your long run on the same day each week, giving you a workout to look forward to and proper recovery afterwards. Don’t worry about running at a specific pace, your intention is to build up your distance and muscular endurance. Focus on your breathing, form, and how your body feels. Endurance training helps build self-confidence as well as mental strength. Long runs can be an internal roller coaster of excitement, doubt, accomplishment, and pain. Choosing an affirmation or mantra can help stable your mind when you get lost in your thoughts. My personal favorite is, “I am going to make it.”
3. Speed Work: Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned marathoner, incorporating speed work will help you become a well-rounded runner. Again, it’s helpful to dedicate one day specifically to this training. Running faster at shorter distances will actually make your usual running pace seem easier and more relaxed. Let’s get down to the science behind it. Your body is made up of different muscle fibers commonly known as “slow-twitch” and “fast-twitch”. According to the American Council on Exercise, “…slow-twitch fibers can sustain force for an extended period of time, but they are not able to generate a significant amount of force.” Longer distances and endurance exercises are mainly powered by your slow-twitch fibers, but when you want that explosive start of the race or strength to pass fellow racers, you need to activate those fast-twitch fibers! ACE also writes, “Fast-twitch fibers can generate more force, but are quicker to fatigue…strength and power training can increase the number of fast-twitch muscle fibers recruited for a specific movement.”
4. Set Goals: Both long-term and short-term goals are necessary for a focused athlete. It helps to keep a log or journal of your goals, miles, workouts, etc. so you can stay organized and reference back to what you’ve accomplished. Do you have a race in a few months? Is there a certain distance you’re hoping to run by the end of the year? I personally am a very goal-driven person (both athlete and mother). Without goals, I feel somewhat lost. I’ll hop on the treadmill with my brain lost in space, debating if I want to run a fast three miles or hold it out for a slower eight miles. When my knee gets achy or my lungs start to burn, it’s easy to want to stop without a specific destination or goal I’m trying to reach. Instead, when I start my workout with a specific purpose, I am focused. I know exactly how far to push my body and when I’ll be finished, since I have a tangible goal to reach! Another type of goal is having a weekly base mileage, which you can adjust according to your personal running abilities. My minimum weekly distance is 20 miles.
5. Be Patient: “Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength.”– Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton. I believe patience is the most importance aspect of being a balanced runner. When you don’t reach the speed or distance you’re striving for, don’t give up! It may seem easier to quit if you’re not seeing results, but keep putting in the effort. Sit down and look over your exercise journal to remind yourself of everything you’ve accomplished. Look at all of the work you’ve done! Give yourself a pat on the back because you have made the decision to take control of your health and your life!
Fitzgerald, J. (n.d.). Why Runners Need Strength Training (And How to Get Started). Retrieved May 18, 2016, from http://breakingmuscle.com/running/why-runners-need-strength-training-and-how-to-get-started
McCall, P. (2015, October 30). Slow-twitch vs. Fast-twitch Muscle Fibers. Retrieved May 18, 2016, from https://www.acefitness.org/blog/5714/slow-twitch-vs-fast-twitch-muscle-fibers