Six Strategies to Improve Your Running and Prevent Injury
Kaitlin Gregg Goodman is a Providence, Rhode Island-based runner. Kaitlin took her running to a new level in 2015 by applying major changes in her training after four years of training on and off. Last year, she committed to training full time for a 10k marathon, the Stanford Invitational. There, she ran more miles and integrated workouts within her long runs. Her reward – finishing 3rd place in 32:09.82 (77.29 per 400 for 25 laps). This was a new lifetime best time for Kaitlin.
Kaitlin’s accomplishment only goes to show how solid commitment to serious training can greatly improve one’s performance. If you want to improve your running, here are some tips from Kaitlin and other coaches as shared from Running Times:
FOCUS ON ENDURANCE
Kaitlin shares, “I was running longer long runs and doing workouts within long runs.” By increasing your mileage, you increase capillary density and mitochondria. Fat is better utilized as fuel while running. There is better muscle fiber adaptation, as well as higher glycogen storage. These improvements on a cellular-level make it possible for you to maintain your desired pace for a longer time. Your body has become more efficient with utilizing oxygen and producing energy.
It is important to note that adding volume may increase your risk of overuse injuries, such as IT band syndrome and tendinitis. To lower these risks, Ben Rosario, head coach of Northern Arizona Elite, recommends running on soft surfaces for the majority of your mileage and putting a bigger premium on post-run recovery, such as foam rolling, flexibility exercises, and massage.
Mike Caldwell, head coach at Greenville Track Club Elite, believes that runners need recovery days to prepare them to handle hard interval sessions. According to Mike, “I think a lot of people just don’t understand recovery. Our recovery days are vital to our system. We’re able to run hard on our hard days [because] we only ran 45 minutes on Wednesdays and Fridays.
All fitness gains happen during recovery, which is why it is important to find a personal balance between the volume and intensity of hard days and easy days. If you are hesitant to lower their recovery day mileage significantly, consider slowing the pace, to reduce stress on the body while allowing for more volume. Mike also stresses on sleep – getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night so you won’t be hard-pressed to run your best.
PERFORM TOTAL BODY WORKOUT
Develop strength and power by working your entire body. While exercises that focus on core stabilizing muscles are important, lifting heavy weights to work the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the lower and upper body are equally vital to improve race times for well-trained distance runners. Most athletes use kettlebells and their own body weight, while others add in balance boards, medicine balls, and elastic bands.
The goal is to address strength imbalances and apply them in a running-specific manner. John Goodridge, coach at Eastern Michigan University, says that hills sprints are equally effective as lunges or squats. A recent study found that hill runs help develop stronger hip flexors, which could lead to better form, efficiency, and faster times. To lower the risk of injury, athletes must not move on to heavier weights until they have mastered good form.
EAT AN OPTIMAL DIET
Emily Brown, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, is a former elite runner. She shares that, “I always try to address nutrition from the standpoint of the positive influence it can have on health and performance, versus focusing on the negative. An optimal diet can benefit an athlete by increasing energy, both for training and everyday activities, as well as enhancing recovery from exercise.”
The additives found in many commercially prepared foods can negatively impact a runner’s performance, so minimize intake of processed foods. Avoid simple sugars, as they increase the production of cortisol – a hormone which can inhibit recovery from workouts. Manmade fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, have been linked to increased inflammation and cholesterol levels, as well as poor cardiovascular health.
Tim Catalano, co-author with Adam Goucher of Running the Edge, says that staying positive is an approach that reflects self-determinism. “We don’t have the power to change an experience—an experience is what it is,” Tim says. “But we do have the power to change how we experience that experience. You can let those dark voices [in your head] overwhelm you and have a bad day, or you can make the voices focus on all the good stuff, and it turns out to be a pretty amazing day. And the thing is, it’s the same damn day.”
BE DETERMINED AND CONSISTENT
Leo Tolstoy said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time,” which is something that distance runners could easily forget when life gets too busy and their goals might seem unattainable. While it can be challenging to keep training when it seems like you have plateaued, remember that being consistent allows you to achieve changes that lead to new levels of performance.
Art Siemers, head cross-country coach at Colorado State University, shares that, “Distance running takes patience. My main focus is finding athletes with the desire, commitment, and patience to slowly build an aerobic base over their early college years, aiming toward a big breakthrough once the body adapts to the stress of higher mileage. This can be a challenge in the age of instant gratification, but those athletes who possess patience and a strong work ethic usually succeed.”