You have the best of intentions, I have no doubt.
You are a runner with a goal! And whether that goal is a time or distance personal record, you are bound and determined to reach it. You’re logging your miles dutifully, checking off each training day on the calendar without fail.
But before you think that running is enough on its own, keep in mind that a strong, injury-free, healthy training cycle takes much more than just checking off the mileage. There are a number of things you might be inadvertently doing–or not doing–that could be hurting your training without you even realizing it.
Running Too Fast…or Too Slow?
Specific paces and types of training sessions are typically scheduled into your training plan with a valid purpose. Long, slow runs are designed to help build your endurance, increase your distance, and teach your body how to use fuel efficiently. Speed work days are designed to push your lactic threshold and teach your legs to turn over faster. While still great for health purposes, running too fast on your prescribed long, slow run–or taking it easy on speed work days–can negate the purpose of your specific training plan.
Are you doing it? If you said, “no,” you aren’t alone. Many runners either dread or avoid cross-training because they believe they don’t need it. The obvious thought is that to become a better runner, you must run. That is true to an extent. But the best runners implement cross-training into their training cycle. Strength training will help build stronger muscles, ligaments, and tendons, thus lowering the risk of injury, all while contributing to making you a stronger runner. Varying running with other types of cardiovascular exercise will help build your endurance while giving the muscles you use for running a break…and give your body a little rest from the impact that comes with running.
Taking Rest Days?
Some of us barely get in every run on our training schedule; others secretly (or not-so-secretly) add in “bonus” runs when they shouldn’t. Runners skip rest days for a whole slew of reasons, including but not limited to: wanting to see bigger numbers on the mileage calendar (the “keeping up with the Joneses” of the running world), needing to run off some stress on a scheduled rest day, or simply because they like to run and don’t want to take a day off. But rest days are important. Proper rest and recovery gives your body time to heal and recuperate from all of your workouts and allows time for your body to develop muscular gains. Not taking these rest days can lead to burnout and injury.
Which leads us into our next topic…
Getting Enough Sleep?
Hopefully you are answering “yes,” but of course there are a ton of reasons why you might say “no.” It might be new-parent status, stress, insomnia, or maybe you just like staying up late watching TV. Whatever the reason, not getting enough sleep could hurt your training. As mentioned above, rest days allow your body to recover and develop muscular gains. So does sleep. Every single night.
When you sleep, your body releases human growth hormone (HGH). HGH is produced by the pituitary gland and released into the bloodstream. It is the main hormone responsible for the aforementioned recovery, rebuilding damaged tissue and helping develop stronger bones and muscles. It also helps convert fat to fuel and keeps our bones strong. If you don’t sleep enough, you don’t produce enough HGH. Not only that, but not getting enough sleep may stimulate the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that slows down recovery.
Everyone knows the human body is primarily composed of water. Despite this knowledge, many of us seem to forget to properly rehydrate during and after a workout. Staying properly hydrated helps speed up and aid in post-run recovery. Dehydration, on the other hand, can lead to lethargy or even medical problems in extreme cases. So drink up!
At this point, you’ve probably noticed a recovery theme. And fuel–or food–is no different from the other areas. You need nutrients to help rebuild and replenish your tissues after a workout. Further, you need stored calories to ensure you are able to train at your peak. A lot of new runners enter the sport as a means of weight loss and therefore may be restricting calories. But just like too much of a good thing can be bad, so can not eating enough.
Hitting your training goals is important, but so are the actions you take before and after your run. If you haven’t been making the gains you had hoped in your running, take a look at these aspects of your training–especially those outside of actual running–and see if any of them might be the culprit!