Let’s face it, we all love the allure of a quick fix or golden bullet that can catapult your progress. What follows are six of the best that I’ve extracted from a 10-year international athletics career, a first-class honours degree in Sports Science from Loughborough Uni and a lifetime of being a general well-being geek!
Tip #1: Grow!
The most common fault I see amongst fun/club (sometimes even elite!) runners is that they ‘sit’ when they run i.e. their hips are low and posture somewhat collapsed. The upshot of this is that they:
- run heavy and flat-footed on their feet
- land with their foot in front of their centre of mass, exerting a breaking force on momentum
- don’t activate their core which often results in trying to control the movement from tense shoulders, which in turn can restrict breathing
By extending at your waist and lifting your hips so that it feels like they are more on top of your legs, this prompts the core to fire and the shoulders to relax creating a wonderful sense of control yet openness.
Tip #2: The Golden Hour
The body is primed to absorb protein and carbohydrates in the hour immediately after intense exercise. If you miss this chance to refuel, it is likely you’ll feel sluggish and heavy legged for a good few days afterwards. If you don’t feel like eating immediately after, a protein drink will fit the bill. The textbooks say to aim for 0.8g of carbs and 0.4g of protein per kg of body weight, but Becky says don’t get too het up on numbers. Nature has an uncanny way of producing foods that have the right balance built in. If you eat naturally, your body will intuitively know what it needs. Whilst chocolate bars don’t exactly grow on trees, if ever there were a time to treat yourself to a sugar fix, after a hard session is it: the insulin spike it will elicit enhances protein absorption. And let’s face it, you earned it too.
Tip #3: Even Splits… then unleash your monkey!
There’s a large body of evidence to show that physiologically, to get the best out of your engine, having the self-control to hold back and run even splits is the way to go. For middle distance races that might mean being at the back of the field a la Kelly Holmes at the Athens Olympics. For marathon runners that means trying to run the first half as if you’re asleep – or at least that’s what I heard Ryan Hall, American record holder, say once.
Instead, from the off, people typically operate in a fear-driven monkey mode as if startled by the starting pistol. But they felt good they say, adrenaline their false friend wearing off all too soon. But, if don’t at the right time, you can deploy your monkey to devastating effect, that defies even the physiologists. Just know that the kind of aggressive effort it can sustain only endures the final last-tenth-throes of a race. Approx.
Tip #4 Accomplices, not adversaries
Competition is no place for being pally right? Wrong. The word actually derives from the Latin ‘competere’, meaning ‘to seek together’. But somewhere along the way we seem to have lost this essence, favouring instead a more aggressive or fearful approach to our competitors (thanks again monkey brain!). However, if you can make a switch in your perception, viewing them instead as accomplices to your endeavours, with each other’s help you can reach even higher heights. There’s nothing like a bit of team work to gird your loins. And after the race you’ll have a firm friend to share in your successes. Everyone’s a winner!
Tip #5 2 Day Rule
Such a common mistake is that people do not allow themselves the necessary full 2 days it takes to recover from and adapt to a hard running session. They try and squeeze in 3 (or more) hard sessions a week. There are two ways this can go:
- you dig yourself into a hole and you burnout;
- you end up training in no-(wo)man’s-land whereby you are too tired to dig deep enough to elicit the kind of effort it takes to get maximum fitness gains from your training (and you likely eventually burnout too).
One way around the awkward 7-day week is to operate instead on a 9-10-day cycle (apparently Paula Radcliffe used to do this) or to alternate 2 hard sessions one week and 3 the next.
Tip #6 Take the Lead – just
Initially coaches are more like dictators. You do as they say because they know best. But a key part of long-term running success is in gradually redressing that balance as you get better and better at listening to your body. Eventually that will dictate your training. Coaches are by no means obsolete at this stage, but their role switches more to ‘guardian of the flame’ – preventing you from burning out by doing too much, picking you up when you’re down, or giving you a kick up the back side if bad habits are pissing on your bonfire! The key to all of this is communication.
I hope there are a few (or 6!) nuggets you can take away there. In reality there’s no such thing as a quick fix, but there are definitely ways we can prevent ourselves from needing to be fixed in the first place!
Here’s wishing you many happy and healthy miles to come.
Becky Lyne, MD GRACE-full Running