Much of being an elite runner is taking care of details that help us stay healthy year to year and get better at the margins. In 2016, I started taking details seriously, and it paid off. Since then, I don’t run without stretching, getting in the gym is just as important as any run, and I do hard, focused strides year round.
Doing these things isn’t just for elites. If you have a desire to run a personal best at any distance, incorporating just some of these routines into your training will make you a more durable, and faster athlete.
Stretching and Activation
Before every run, I spend about 20 minutes stretching, rolling on a foam roller, and doing various activation exercises that prime my body to run. Taking the time to do these things makes for a better run because my hips and glutes are ready to move, and I feel stronger and more balanced, which reduces the risk of injury.
After a run, if I feel that something is tight or not moving right, I’ll take a few minutes to roll or stretch it out as well. Since being more diligent about stretching and activating before and after I run, I haven’t suffered any injuries that have inhibited my running.
Strides and Plyometrics
Every Monday after my afternoon run, I do plyometrics and strides. Ideally I do them on a track, but a flat trail will do.
Plyometrics help distance runners learn how to recruit muscle fibers most efficiently. Increasing the rate at which muscles can produce force helps improve how oxygen is used to maintain any given speed. The better the muscles are at producing force against the ground quickly, the less time you spend on the ground. The plyometrics I incorporate into my training are bonding, single leg hops and box jumps.
I also do 4-6x100m strides (accelerations) to keep in touch with the top end of my speed all year around.
I consider strength work in the gym to be one of the most vital parts of my training program. Not only does getting in the gym make me a stronger, and therefore faster, runner, it also helps me stay injury free. Much of my program is focused on improving reactive strength, and correcting imbalances that may lead to injury.
Sleep is vital for recovery and has a huge impact on athletic performance. Sleep is the cheapest and most effective way to recover better. I sleep at least eight hours a night and I try to nap after workouts and hard long runs to aid in recovery.
I also eat as soon as I can after a workout. Eating anything after a workout is better than eating nothing, but you should be trying to get in protein, carbohydrates and focusing on rehydrating. Protein helps speed muscle repair after hard workouts and carbohydrates replenish your glycogen, leading to faster recovery. I often bring a smoothie with me to practice, rather than waiting to make one when I get home. This also bridges the gap between working out and waiting to eat until a meal is ready.