4 Little Things you Can do Today to Become a Better Runner
Running a successful marathon involves more than just putting miles on your feet. Miles matter. A lot. But if you want to set yourself up to be the most successful you can be, pay attention to the non-running things too.
If I sound like a broken record, I am. There are two similar posts on the site about this. A few years ago, I wrote the 5 things you may have forgotten to include in your marathon training. Last spring, I shared 5 things to become a stronger runner. (Guess I liked the number five.)
They were pretty general, and mostly said, “these things are important so don’t forget…” To be honest, it is easy for me to write about these things, but difficult to make them consistent, repeatable patterns of behavior. I don’t take the time to sit down and make a quick little plan to figure out how I am going to accomplish them.
As today begins our 16 week training cycle for Grandma’s Marathon, I thought I would revise this list, and tell you exactly how I am going to make these little things a priority.
I encourage you to find ways to make adjustments in your life to do these 4 super easy things today to become a better runner. Start with one.
About the Running
Before I go on, I want to be crystal clear about something… you need to put miles on your feet. If there has been one thing that has dramatically improved my running experience, it has been running more miles.
You need to be smart about this, and your volume will vary. There is no shortcut to a happy marathon, but the following things will augment an already great plan, and make it that much easier to achieve your goals.
1. Get More Sleep
I need to go to bed earlier. Research has shown that endurance athletes need nine hours of sleep per night for optimal performance.
For most of us, this isn’t realistic. I’m lucky to get 6. Part of this is self imposed, part of it is life imposed. If you want to get everything done in a day, sleep is often the first to go.
Then House of Cards season 3 comes out… so, here is my new strategy. 7.5 hours is also really good, and more realistic. With that in mind, I have reverse engineered my bedtime.
- Most days I need to get up around 5:30. Aiming for 7.5 hrs of sleep, I need to be in bed at 10.
- It is good to have 60 minutes to wind down before bed. No screens, and some sort of relaxing activity (herbal tea, reading, whatever).
- By 9 pm, I need to have everything from the day wrapped up. That’s going to be a challenge, but if training for marathon was easy, wouldn’t everyone do it?
Do This Today: Take your wake up time and work back 8.5 hours (7.5 for sleep, 1 for winding down). Find your “bed time” and stick to it as best you can for the next 3 nights. Re-evaluate, then do 4 nights, etc. See how you feel.
2. Get Better Nutrition
When I’m training for a marathon, it feels like I am constantly eating. When I’m hungry, I loose the ability to think like an intelligent human being. I eat the the first thing I can find. Be that Oreo’s from the back of the pantry, McDonalds or Taco Bell drive through.
However, if I have healthy options around me, I will eat those first. If the house is stocked with healthy snacks and whole food that can be made into a meal, I always feel better about myself.
So, here’s my plan.
Every Sunday night, I am going to plan meals for the week. My wife and I came up with a list of our favorites. They are fairly simple, and creating the shopping list is quick.
Assuming we go out to eat once, and have leftovers for another meal, that’s only 5 dinners to plan.
For example, here’s what the coming week is going to look like.
- Monday – Stir Fry similar to this one (but with chicken).
- Tuesday – A preservative free frozen pizza (I think that makes it healthier…), topped with fresh veggies and arugula once it comes out of the oven.
- Wednesday – These amazing burritos.
- Thursday & Friday – plans with friends (TBD).
I am also working on a lunch/snack list, so watch for that in an upcoming post. Having things mapped out for the week will ensure health food options when that hunger monster arrives.
Do This Today: If you didn’t already, spend 20 minutes planning your meals for the week. It will save time later, and you won’t have to think about it at 5 pm when you are famished. Checkout our recipes if you need ideas.
3. Stay Hydrated
Everyone knows how important hydration is. Right? It has become even more important to me as I am trying to nix this Achilles issues that’s been bothering me. My PT reminded me that hydration can help with a variety of issues.
So, practically, here’s what I’m going.
At night, I put a full glass of water beside the bed, and drink it first thing in the morning (I’ve done this part for years). I have another glass when I come back in from my run, and another after stretching/core.
I am going to try discontinuing coffee after lunch and switch to water, caffeine free tea, Nuun or another calorie neutral beverage (less caffeine will help with sleep too). I’m also using a water bottle and keeping track on a post-it of how many I drink throughout the day.
If this seems overly simplistic… it is. However, if I don’t have a system, it’s easy for a whole day to go by and I’ve barely had any water, way too much coffee and wondering why I have a headache.
Do This Today: Monitor your Urine. No, seriously, pee is a good indicator of hydration. Crystal clear means you’re drinking too much. If it looks like Midnight Ryder… stop reading this and call and ambulance.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says,
straw or lemonade colored urine is a sign of appropriate hydration. Dark colored urine, the color of apple juice, indicates dehydration.
4. Regular Strength Training
Strength training is one of those things that I always have such high hopes for, yet can’t seem to make stick as a regular part of my life.
Last summer I wrote about using the Strength Training for Runners program from Runners Connect. I was fairly consistent until after TCM. I stopped and didn’t do anything again until about a month ago. In just four weeks, I feel better and am starting to get some of that strength back.
Today, the start of another 16 week training cycle, seems appropriate to start the marathon specific strength plan as well.
I like it because I don’t have to think. It lays out a three-to-four days a week program, broken up into four phases. It only takes about 15 minutes, tacked on at the end my run.
Do This Today: Find a strength/core plan that works for you. Map out what you need and how you are going to consistently incorporate it into your training. You can find some ideas here, or just buy this from Runner’s Connect.
What are some of the little things that you are going to start doing during your training? Whether you’re running a marathon or not, you probably have suggestions to make your training cycle more effective. Share them in the comments.