Once a year, my running club hold a talk about marathons early in the year, where advice and information is offered for free to any member willing to listen. It’s actually more of an endurance running talk, which we have been told can be from 3km and further, so it is suitable for all, really. There are usually 3 people who talk about various aspects of training, and it’s always very informative, and pretty fresh. There were some really interesting points that arose from it, and I scribbled down some that I thought affected me the most last week, in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get near my computer for a few days to write about it. I’m not claiming I know everything about running, and certainly not marathons, but I have a few tricks I will throw in the mix while I’m there.
One of the highlighted points at the start was about sleep. It’s so important to get enough of it, and for it to be good quality. Having been sleep deprived for 3-4 weeks recently, I could completely relate to this. I was feeling several effects it was having on my body, including training. Although that particular month in my life was a bit of an anomaly (no boiler meaning it was freezing cold, being literally woken by cats and dogs, the burglar alarm, and the steps to the loft being opened in the middle of the night…), there are some things that I find helpful to get to sleep a bit easier. For example, I know that cleaning my teeth wakes me up a little (might just be me – I think it’s the mouthwash), so I will try to do this in advance of going to bed, so I feel drowsier when I want to get to sleep. Also, I find that although I don’t really drink many caffeinated drinks, there is definitely a time of day where you need to stop drinking them, so that they don’t have an adverse effect on your sleep. I love a herbal tea, and these are great as a warm alternative.
If you have a busy mind like I do, then I actually find it hard to nod off sometimes if there’s too many things whizzing around in my brain. I combat this by keeping a journal and/or notebook next to my bed. This helps me to empty my brain before I sleep. It doesn’t matter if you never read the journal again, it’s just somewhere to pour out all the rubbish and emotions that are floating around in your head. If it’s something I need to remember, then I will pop it in a notebook either in the form of a memo or a to-do list. You may find if you’re forgetful, that it makes you anxious you won’t remember to pick something up or do something in the morning, so this is perfect. Even if it’s just something you’re worried about getting done in the day. Alternatives are noticeboards, posters (for motivational purposes), or whiteboards. Now, I know what you’re thinking – but I have this great mobile phone or tablet that I can write these things on! Well, there has been a lot of research into the ‘blue light’ that is emitted from our electronic devices that keeps you awake for longer and stops you getting a good quality sleep, so I think it’s best to steer away from it and stick to good old pen and paper. I also enjoy reading a paperback book before bed – it really makes my eyes sleepy.
Recovery is extremely important. This obviously includes sleep, but many other things too. I wonder whether doing an active job where I am on my feet all day effects this in any way. After suffering with my foot after a long run at the weekend, I found the next morning at work very difficult, because I don’t have a job where I can literally put my feet up; I just had to power on through it. I will briefly touch on some of my favourite recovery things below.
- I swear by a cold bath before a hot one. It’s great after a long run, but can be a little testing of your steeliness getting into it. I recommend 5-6 minutes in a purely cold water bath up to your waist, so it covers your legs and just sit really still – you soon won’t notice it. Sometimes in the dead of winter, I wear a woolly hat and have a brew in there with me, but shh… don’t tell anyone! Set a timer on your phone or stopwatch, and then leave it until it beeps – remember, a watched pot never boils! Once your time is up, add hot water to your bath and enjoy a good soak.
- Throw some Epsom salts in your warm bath too. They’re great for you after a long run, and you can get them reasonably priced online on sites such as Amazon in bulk.
- Wear compression tights either under your clothes if you’re out, or to bed when you sleep.
- After a race, or a hard run, especially if you are away from home, i.e. you have travelled to a race, you still need to get some recovery food or fluid in you. I like to keep a serving of protein powder in a sports bottle, and a separate bottle of water in my bag. I pour the water in the protein powder bottle when I am done running, and try and get it down me in that precious recovery window of 20-30 minutes. I find it difficult to eat immediately after a long run, so drinking my protein works best for me. I actually dilute mine a little more than the recommendation, but that’s just a personal preference.
- Electrolyte tablets are brilliant – I recommend them during and/or after your run – it can really help keep you hydrated, especially in warmer climates. They are also great for keeping you hydrated when giving blood, so you can get a PB for filling the bag…!
- FOAM ROLLING. Enough said really. Great for your muscles, and it only hurts a little bit…. promise!
- Stretch lightly after a run. You always have time – stretching should only take you 2-3 minutes after your run, and if you had time to go out for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer, then you have 2 minutes spare to stretch. Hold each one for only 12-14 seconds for maximum benefit – longer can cause more muscle tears than it will do good.
- Eat well on rest days too. It is just as important to aid in recovery. I try to have at least one day a week where I try to rest as much as possible. This means no busying about at home and NO cross-training!
- Roll a golf ball under your foot when you’re sat down to ease out any sore spots or tension. Or as I learned today, one of those nobbly reaction balls works great too!
- I get a massage from a wonderful lady once every 3-4 weeks. This helps keep my body ticking over, and I can definitely feel a difference between going regularly and coping with elbows down hamstrings, compared to going irregularly and clinging to the bench screaming, whilst a thumb tickles my hamstrings! I realise it’s not financially viable for everyone, but if you can afford it, it is completely worth it!
Nutrition is also extremely important. In fact, I must admit that I am not always the best at it. If you fuel your body right, then it will carry you better throughout training and racing. There is so much out there on nutrition, so I would say if you want to get super serious about it, speak to a nutritionist. But essentially, look after yourself with what you eat, and try to make everything from scratch. Pre-prepared foods are full of hidden things. Also, remember to train with whatever you are going to use on race day, whether that will be gels, baby food, dried fruit e.g. apricots, shot bloks, etc.
There was a good model used for training in fact. Imagine a three-legged stool, where each leg represents either training, recovery, or nutrition. If any of those legs either lengthens or shortens, then the stool will become unstable and potentially fall over. It is about keeping a good balance between all three aspects, so that your stool stays upright.
Another thing to think about is how absorbed we can become in our training, that we become blindsided to our own situation. It is a good idea to have someone around you who can be your eyes when you cannot see. A good exercise to carry out for yourself is to make a list of three things that are signs you may be overtraining or underperforming and sliding down the slippery slops of UUPS (Unexplained Under-Performing Syndrome), and give it to someone who knows you well, and will happily tell you when they think you’re doing too much. For example, my main three would probably be irritability, decreased endurance/strength, and persistent fatigue.
Listening to your body is so important too. Although it is great to pass the bat to someone to watch over you, and make sure you don’t get lost down the rabbit-hole, it is just as key to check yourself. Ask yourself honestly if everything is going right. Iron out any niggles before they become major injuries, rest where appropriate – even if it means missing a session if you don’t feel right, and don’t be afraid to adapt your plan or have a week off if you are unwell, as an example. Don’t lie to yourself!
Working with heart rate can be extremely beneficial, not just to keep you running within your capabilities and not to a goal/dream time, but also to monitor things like fatigue, overtraining, and effort. I certainly could do with training with heart rate a lot more. To figure out your heart rate zones, you should measure your resting heart rate. This is best done laying in bed when you first wake up in the morning, preferably with minimal movement. I would take an average from 5 readings.
Mental health is also important to keep you on track. Look after your psyche, and keep a positive mind and home environment where possible. There are some fantastic books out there for just this: “mind management”. A favourite of mine is the Chimp Paradox, but there are other great sporting specific ones, such as The Winner’s Bible. Remember the skills and techniques taught in them, refer back to them if you need to, and practice them. Create a good support network around you. I also find displaying achievements helps me remember how far I have come from being a complete non-runner to completing marathons, triathlons, and everything in between. I have a PB medal display, and a scrapbook with all of my racing memories in. Have a good mantra, such as “I can, and I am”; i.e. I can do it, and I am doing it now”.
Educate yourself. Listen, read, absorb, and talk. Any advice can be good help, but stay true to yourself – there can be a lot of different opinions about things out there, so don’t get lost in trying too many things out at once. Listen to podcasts such as Marathon Talk. Read books, websites, magazines, blogs, etc. Visit running shows, talks, seminars, and even take part in training courses.
Find a plan. Make it your plan. Stick to your plan, and this one plan ONLY. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just worry about doing your plan. Got it?
Keep a training log, so you can track how everything is going. It can be good to refer back to if you are having a particularly bad week or so, you can look back and see if your heart rate was increasingly high over a few days, you had poor sleep, you may have been overtraining, or maybe you have had some niggles that have developed into something worse.
I am also finding that fitting fundraisers/fundraising in around training can be tricky. This can be about planning around races you have signed up for, social commitments, etc. I like to incorporate some running events into my training, and this can mean adapting my plan for mileage, or possibly running to/from an event or before it. Sometimes due to family commitments I have found that doing my long run straight from work mid-week is an option. This means that I would finish running at a similar time compared to if I had run with my club but started 90 minutes later.
I hope some of my things help or inspire you in your training, and that you may enjoy some of the notes I took from a much vaster talk, where I condensed down the bits I considered simpler to digest and reflect on online.
Thanks for reading,