This post and "tips" segments are a collaboration with my physical therapist.
You all know I am on this journey to become the best runner I can be. I have completely unequivocally fallen in love with the sport. Last year I had many setbacks, some of which were due to me getting by a car, some of which were due to me pushing my body too far after said accident, and others were due to simply lack of knowledge about my training and body. I have since met and/or worked with many individuals along the way that have taught me many things I wished I would have known sooner in my journey.
First off, let me Tell you don't give up on your journey!
These are a few of the things I have learned and are helping me immensely.
Our feet are vital to our athletic ability, they set the stage for our running. Lack of foot/ankle strength is a lack of stability. Let me tell you, I learned this the hard way. I never realized my lack of foot/ankle strength until after my foot injury. Part of my recovery as well as one of the exercises my personal trainer has me do rely on balance. That balance transfers into your running. You can’t separate foot strength from leg strength here because they’re connected in the way your muscles fire. Keeping those muscles strong is important. Foot, ankle, knee, hips; make sure to work them all.
TIP: With or without a balance board, lift one knee and stand on the opposite forefoot. You can do this on your shoes or barefoot. I find that my balance is different in both situations so I alternate. This exercise fires your stability muscles in your feet/ankles as well as those stabilizing legs, core, hip flexors and glutes. You might be surprised to feel so much working at once. Do this every day. It’s so simple, but it will change your world according to my therapist. I never realized how week my foot/ankle was until post injury recovery. It's been a real eye opener.
We never actually learned how to run. Did you ever think about that? But, there is a way to run more optimally. The most common mistake is that people think running faster means moving your feet faster. Yes and no. Your legs move faster as a result of many other things. Don’t push your legs back, but rather lift your knees. Put power into the ground and drive your knees forward. If you have tight hip flexors like I do, please refer back to tip number one to help strengthen them.
TIP: start by running in place slowly. Increase the lift in your knees higher and higher. Hold that core tight and swing the arms. Push through the ground to propel your knee forward. This is similar to how you should be running. Run form is not hard. It’s the muscle memory that needs to take hold when you’re actually running. Keep it up!
Endurance, speed, and strength are the foundations of running. What really helps develop muscle memory is developing a solid foundation of endurance. Run slower, run longer. It’s hard to run incorrectly when you’re running slower. Don't worry about pace so much at first. Build that strong base then you can worry about speed. How about breathing? Are you breathing correctly? How is your form? Are you slouching?
TIP: Test your efficiency. Slow down. How long can you go breathing through your nose? If you’re breathing through your mouth as I often do, you’ll burn out and hit a plateau. Focus on your breathing for a bit until you settle in. I have to count to four for a good while to settle, in every four steps and out every four. Also try adding sprints into your regular run. This will make you work a little harder but teach you how to breath, keep correct form, strength etc.
Vegetarian. Pescatarian. Paleo. Vegan. Gluten-free. X Diet. Can I eat this? Or can’t I? Let’s not get caught up in the categories and dogma of what we are, but rather let’s focus on not eating chemicals, junk, and sugar. When it comes to nutrition, frequency and consistency is key. Wait, hang on, let me repeat that to myself. Eat consistently and daily. I aim to eat 80% clean and 80% vegetarian. But trust me, there is an occasional cupcake or skipped meal in there, unfortunately! Fueling your body is important because that's where you get your energy to run. Also, you'll just feel better in general.
TIP: Cut our sugar and processed foods as much as possible. You’ll be amazed to see how much sugar is hidden in your diet. Sauces, salsa, yogurt, granola, juice, and more are sneaky and are high in sugar.
Fear is what drives our ambition. When we have opportunities, in most situations, we asses risk and calculate the outcome before we even try. In running, the answers and results don’t come to us until we cross the finish line. The outcome is always unknown. Rather than allowing fear to limit us, we need to embrace it. We need more of the unknown to lead us to a path of greatness. If there is not fear, then it’s not a worthy goal.
TIP: Learn to love fear. Run to it.
As I’ve been getting faster and stronger, I’ve wondered when I should give up and at what point should I be satisfied with my running ability. The answer? Never. Why limit yourself? There is ALWAYS room for improvement. It may not be speed, but I can definitely breathe better, my stride can be smoother, or I can burn fat better. Whatever it may be, always push yourself and tackle the seemingly impossible.
Dream Big. Work Hard. :)