By any measure I’ve had a successful running year in 2017. My blogging here… not so much. Whilst I have the motivation to write and share my thoughts, it always seems like I’m wading in molasses or quicksand when trying to write a blog post. Correspondingly, I felt the same way with my running. One of my 2017 goals was to start and do a body transformation program. I started this in November and this was also something that kept me busy from running and blogging. As 2018 rolls around, I contemplated a few goals around running and the following are my five ways or how-to’s for me to achieve my goals. These could be useful for you too.
This is a good time to evaluate plans which should include a Run Training Plan and a Meal Plan. You will find numerous blogs, coaches and apps providing various running plans (6-week, 8-week, marathon, etc). Be brave, find a couple of good run training plans and commit to do those planned runs. It helps with motivating you to run and sometimes the days that you don’t feel like running are the days that you need it most. So get cracking and find a plan to follow. Just start a plan and stop procrastinating over when to do your running.
To support running and training, it’s also best to start a meal plan. It doesn’t need to be complicated; the simpler the better. You want a simple, healthy diet that you can easily prepare. Having planned for and prepared what you are eating beforehand saves you time – which you can use for running. I have a meal plan that supports my body transformation and running. I opted for a low carb, high protein and plenty of greens. I can recommend plans where you have a combination of, 1) vegetables, preferably green (including green beans, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, kale, zucchini, cauliflower); 2) proteins (chicken, turkey, white fish, prawns, sometimes lean beef steak); and, 3) some carbs (such as basmati rice, sweet potatoes, some pasta) in each meal.
In between meals, I snack on fruits such as a banana, apple, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, including 1-2 teaspoons of natural peanut butter, almond butter or raw almonds. I have plenty of ‘cheat’ meals and don’t feel guilty. However, you should generally stop consuming foods that are highly processed so as to avoid unnecessary preservatives, oils, fats, sugars, salt and other additives. I choose to cook with a small amount of olive oil. I use plenty of herbs and spices in my food so I don’t have bland food and vary the type of herb and spice flavours to avoid getting bored of the same flavours. Some low fat and low calorie dressing can be used on the vegetables but sparingly.
Start drinking plenty of water – at least 2 litres a day and up to 4 litres on workout/running days. I still drink coffee and tea but opt out of sugar or replace with honey. Use a sugar-free sweetener like Stevia if you prefer.
Get plenty of rest for recovery and maintenance of your physical health. Most people will require at least 6 hours each night for sleep. Continue doing this. The training plan I follow provides for rest days. These are important for recovery and repair after running and workouts.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
2. Lock in Events Early
I usually register for my favourite events early to take advantage of the early bird registration fees. Despite getting a savings over the full registration fee, this does mean that I’ve got the early outlays and could be a bit of a hit on the credit card if done at the beginning of the year (esp. with all that Christmas holiday spending). However, some events could be very popular and you may miss out if the cut-offs numbers are reached, particularly if you prefer to go in a specific start group. I keep an eye out for the early bird cut-off dates as I can register for events as the year rolls on. I use a spreadsheet to track this. My spreadsheet contains the event names that I may want to do, the event date, the early bird fee date, registration cut-off date, website URL, cost of registration, notes on how to get to the event (location of event), start time of event, event distance and others miscellaneous information.
If you’re just starting out, search online for a few events in the distance you wish to do. You may even know people or friends that have done the events. Ask them about it and find out if it suits you. Explore and investigate the event by finding out the run route, start/finish lines, transportation and other logistical items. You may even want to find out if there are reviews of the event by other runners. Once you’ve found one or two, go ahead and register. Nothing helps your run training plan along like having events locked in. You’ve become committed and should work towards it.
3. Strength Training and Conditioning
Whilst I have had a gym membership over the last couple of years (with almost a year break before I signed up again), I have limited experience with strength training and conditioning that supports my running. I had participated in classes that trained the glutes, abs/core, etc and I admit they have helped. I remember one morning where I felt very strong and the run was easier and I was running faster, all because I had done glutes training earlier that week. There is ample evidence that strength training helps running. I will continue to pursue strength training and conditioning. It also supports my body transformation. I like to imagine myself as a lean mean running machine.
Determine your running goals and see if you need some help. Investigate your options for training plans or gym membership. If you are unsure about needing a personal trainer, speak to one and find out more. It’s only when you align what and how you do things for your goals that you will achieve them.
4. Running Technique
I admit that I have procrastinated over this for some time. After all, I have been running almost three years now and don’t have any lingering injuries (touch wood! Though my toenails beg to differ). As I get more experienced with running, I come to realise and have observed that the way we run can help or hinder our performance. How does Usain Bolt run so fast? He’s got a technique and he trains and he gets fast.
I attended a workshop last year that showed and convinced participants that the way we land on our feet and our cadence affect our running and help minimise injuries. The basic premise is to increase the running cadence i.e. your steps per minute and this will enable you to naturally land on your mid to forefoot and less on your heels. By minimising running and landing on your heels (heel striking), you are essentially enabling your feet and legs to act as springs to help you bound along. Coupled with increased cadence, this will enable improvement in pace with the same or reduced effort. In a nutshell, run like the Roadrunner (beep-beep!) and not like the Wile E. Coyote. It has worked for me and I could see improvements in my pace and level of exhaustion. This technique also shows up in my shoes. My older runners have the heel treads worn down, whilst my later runners have the mid-foot treads more worn down.
I think there comes a time if one is to take running really seriously, then an analysis of run technique (including gait, pace, ground strike) should be done via a professional.
5. Evaluate Investments in Running Gear
A marathoner friend told me that he gets through at least two pairs of running shoes annually. In my early days I was skeptical of his comments. It’s in my second year of running that I realise I do need to have new shoes, perhaps not two pairs but generally one. This is primarily due to the fact that the materials used in the running shoes deteriorate over time and with use. The shock absorbency of the gel and rubber materials will degrade. Older and worn running shoes provide less support and with the running impact, one is more likely to get run injuries.
As well as getting your running technique evaluated, you may consider having running shoes fitted via feet analysis. Note that podiatrists are not always the best professionals to approach as they may not have experience with runners’ feet. They tend to increase the stiffness and recommend more ‘shoes’ to wrap your feet in to absorb impact on your runs. You could end up with so much support in your running shoes that your feet cannot behave as nature designed it. Look at the wet imprint of your feet on the bath mat. The shape is not more pointy towards your toes, it is the opposite. If you need more convincing, look at babies and toddlers’ feet. The feet is shaped broader at the toe end and narrow at the heel end. However many shoes, not just running shoes, are shaped oblong with pointed front end, thus squeezing your toes together. This does not help with running. Due to fashion, where pointier shoes look elegant and nice, almost all shoe manufacturers have continued with this trend. Broader front foot running shoes are recommended. This school of thought has spurned many companies that sell shoes like ‘feet gloves’ or ‘toe shoes’ to encourage and support proper physiological running techniques. Other companies have made running shoes with different width in the forefoot towards the toe box, so toes are not squeezed together.
There you have it. I hope the five ways above will help you with your running this year too. It helps when how you do things is thought out and planned. I want to make it easier for me and you to choose to go out for our next run and to enjoy events. With a plan of attack, obstacles seem lessened and should support our motivation to get out there.
Tie up the shoelaces. Happy running!