To get better you have to get out and log the miles. But, there's much more to becoming a better runner than simply logging the miles. If you want to run farther, get faster, or simply avoid running related aggravations and injuries, there are a litany of things you can do that don't involve logging a single mile.
While I'd generally say there's little sense in sweating the small stuff, the small stuff can make a big difference in your running. Below are a few of the small things you can do to become a better runner. No additional mileage is required.
Sleep like a pro.
Whenever one of my runners tells me they're feeling flat, fatigued, or otherwise out of sorts during a run, I usually inquire about their sleep. More often than not, the runner I'm questioning tells me they didn't sleep well. A common reason for lackluster performance is poor sleep.
The act of running breaks your body down. It's during the rest and recovery phase that your body heals, adapts, and gets stronger. It stands to reason that compromising the rest and recovery phase can lead to poor performance. It can also lead to injuries if you're not careful.
As your training progresses and your mileage increases, your body needs more sleep to recover from the work you're doing. In general, a 'normal' adult needs about 7-8 hours of sleep a night. If you're an elite athlete, you need about 8-10 hours a night. While you may not be an elite level athlete, there's something to be said for treating yourself like one.
Spend some additional quality time in bed and you'll perform better and reduce the chances of aggravations and injuries.
The overwhelming majority of the discomfort and pain my runners report is tied to soft tissue. Soft tissue includes muscle, tendon, ligament, and fascia. Soft tissue tightens and contracts when you run. Running also creates microtears in muscle fiber.
Left untreated, unhappy soft tissue can lead to poor performance, aggravations and injuries. A quality sports massage is all about making soft tissue happy. If your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia are happy, you'll likely be running happy.
Additionally, a quality sports massage can help improve your range of motion. Improved range of motion means improved running economy and efficiency. So, treat yourself and get a quality sports massage. BTW, there are a litany of other reasons why we'd recommend a sports massage. Click HERE for the lowdown.
Warmup for your run.
Part of the beauty of running is you can simply throw your shoes on and head out. I've done this myself on numerous occasions. But, this approach isn't ideal.
I often tell my runners to emulate what the pro's do. Virtually every professional runner does some kind of quality warmup routine before they actually 'start' their run. There are a variety of reasons why warming up before your run is a good idea.
Warming up allows your muscles, bones, and joints an opportunity to loosen up. It also gradually raises your heart rate. A quality warmup also makes it easier to get into the rhythm you want to sustain for your run. Getting into a comfortable rhythm increases the chances of you finding the runner's high.
Your warmup doesn't need to be terribly complicated. You can walk (or jog) for 3-5 minutes and follow this up with some dynamic stretches & range of motion drills. Warming up before your run almost inevitably leads to better running.
Cooldown after your run.
After a challenging session at the track or an exhausting long run on the road, the desire to simply collapse might be quite pronounced. Resist this urge. Do a quality cooldown before you collapse.
Spend a few minutes walking to gradually bring your heart rate down. Doing this will also help flush out any lactic acid that may have accumulated in your legs. If you're really ambitious, knock back some water and/or a sports drink while you're doing this.
After a few minutes of walking segue into some liberal stretching of all the major muscle groups (calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, etc) for a few minutes. Then, perform some quality self massage with a foam roller or a stick. Lastly, ingest something with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
This may sound like a lot, but this whole routine can be pulled off in about 10-15 minutes. Doing a regular, quality cooldown can help expedite recovery and reduce the chance of aggravation and injury.
Take a day off!
Running has a tendency to attract the Type A (++) personality type. This personality type tends to include a 'no pain, no gain' mentality. Running at a high level requires a certain level of commitment. But, as I mentioned earlier in this piece, it's during the rest and recovery phase that your body heals, adapts, and gets stronger.
While it may seem counterintuitive to take a day off, it's often just what the doctor ordered. A day off should leave you feeling physically and mentally refreshed. It's not unlikely your next run (or workout) will feel great.
Rest days are actually a critical component of any training plan. If you're never giving yourself a day off you're likely not performing as well as you could be. It's also likely you're increasing the risk of aggravation and injury. So, take a day off!