That said, there are a lot of other things that go into being a good, healthy, strong runner. There is no way to completely avoid injuries (even for elites and pro's) but there is a lot that you can do to minimize your chances of injury and to be as strong of an athlete overall as possible.
Here are some of the things that work for me. :)
- Strength and Core Training - When you run, you are moving over and over in a very specific movement pattern. Us runners usually have fantastic calves and quads from all those miles. But to run the best you can, to maintain good form throughout your races, to have the most efficient form, and to ward off injury, you need to have strength and stability in all of your major muscle groups, especially your core, hips, glutes, and even your feet.
I am not going to give you a list of "10 magical exercises" to make you bullet-proof, because I don't think there are 10 magical exercises and I think that mixing things up regularly is important, but here are some of the exercises I recommend.
- single legged squats
- full squats
- jumping squats (I call them "rocket squats")
- lunges (forward, backward, side to side, jumping)
- calf raises and drops on a stair
- lying bridges (single legged once you can - these are great for glutes)
- side planks (with movements once you can)
- front planks (with movements once you can)
- push ups
- bench dips
- donkey kicks
Some videos I like are Coach Jay Johnson's awesome Myrtle Routine, this KILLER core routine (also from Coach Jay), and this great strength routine from Nike (shared by Runner's World).
My coach sent me one of these Ab Carvers and this thing is EVIL yet effective. It really works your full core (front and back) and it is a lot harder than it looks. It is hilarious to hand it to a teenager and watch them suffer and crash after just a few reps (and not be able to sit up the next day).
I also really recommend Jay Dicharry's book "Anatomy for Runners". This book is super and very user friendly. It gives you simple tests to do to determine where your weaknesses are as a runner and then detailed exercises to do to strengthen the areas you need to strengthen. It's a great resource for runners.
I have a few different routines that I do and I mix them up with the videos I mention. I typically do core and strength work 3-4 days a week. It is easy to slack on this when you are running a lot and are busy and tired, but getting to done is important.
- Dynamic Warmup - If I am just running easy miles then I usually just use the first mile or two of my run to warm up gradually, but if I am going to do any speed work, then I like to do some dynamic warmups. Also, if it is super cold out, I often do a little bit of dynamic warmup before I head out the door. Dynamic warmups are great for getting those muscles awake and firing and ready to go before running fast. Leg swings, toe touches, high knees, butt kicks, super skips, walking lunges, carioca (FOR THE LOVE people… stop calling it karaoke. Karaoke = singing), and then some strides are usually perfect for me.
- Rolling and Stretching - There are plenty of people who swear that you don't need to stretch and some that even think stretching is bad for you. On the flip side, there are many runners and coaches who believe in the benefits of stretching. As in all things in life, do what works for you. I believe in stretching AFTER a run/workout (never before). For me, doing some calf, hammy, quad, and hip stretches after a run feels fantastic.
I have a pile of "tools" that I use for self massage. (I don't live somewhere that I have the option to get regular sports massages but I think you can do a great job on your own if you need to). I have a "stick", a lacrosse ball, a Roll Recovery, a Foot Rubz, and a foam roller and I use all of them daily. I have found that certain tools get certain areas better than others. For an example, nothing helps work out a tight piriformis in my opinion than a lacrosse ball, but the Roll Recovery is best on my hammies and quads. So I use all of these tools. :)
I have found that doing some light stretching and then rolling/massaging my muscles once a day keeps my legs feeling good. It helps with tightness and soreness. It also helps me notice any areas that may be starting to get a little tight or sore before I would notice them on a run. Finding little niggles while they are still little lets me give them some extra attention with massage, stretching, etc. and get them resolved before they turn into a big niggle or injury.
Rolling and stretching is something that I slacked on last training cycle (and I believe I would have caught and resolved my tight hamstring earlier had I been more diligent). When you are super busy it is something that is easy to skip but I really believe it is well worth the little bit of time and effort that it takes. I typically do my stretching/rolling/massaging routine after a run, and if I have any sore spots or am extra sore, I do it again at night while watching TV.
- Diet and Nutrition- What you eat and how much is an important part of training. If you eat too little you will be under-fueled and will underperform. If you eat too much (regularly) you will carry extra weight, which isn't ideal. The "what" you eat is even more important than the "how much". I recently wrote a post about what works for me in regards to my diet and fueling and this is very much a "find what works for you" topic, however, there are a few solid truths.
Eat/drink within 30 minutes after a run or workout. Eat real food. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, legumes, proteins, healthy fats. If you fill up on good stuff, you won't have a lot of room for the less than good stuff. :) Eat from all the food groups. Drink lots of water. Don't make anything off limits (unless you have allergies). Remember that food is truly fuel for you body, so give it the good stuff. Runners ask a lot from their bodies, and therefor need to feed them well.
|refueling after a run with hot cereal mixed with fruit, nuts and a few dark chocolate chips :)|
Mental Training - Last but certainly not least is the aspect of mental training. We talk a lot about how much of running, training, and racing is mental and yet most of us do not put much (if any) time into our mental training. Three books that I recommend on this are The Gold Medal Mind by Jim Afremow, Mind Gym : An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack, and Running Within by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott. All of these books have really great information and inspiration, along with exercises to do to help you develop your MENTAL strength and toughness. It is good, good stuff. This is another area I slacked on last training cycle and am recommitted to. I have been reading/using Mind Gym this past week and it's amazing how powerful it is.
Sleep - Ok people… this is one area where you are going to have to just "do as I say, not as I do." Sleep is important for everyone. Sleep is super important for athletes and runners. You should get a full night of sleep. Naps are good too if you have the option (I don't).
Most nights I get six hours of sleep. I got to bed just after 10pm (when I make my teens be in their rooms on school nights) and I get up at 4-4:15am. I know it's not ideal, but the wake up time is required to be able to get my running done, and I don't like to go to bed before the kids since that is often the only time of the day I have with the big kids since they get home so late with school, sports, work, etc. I do try to at least rest for a little bit throughout the day if/when I get the chance and I am always laying down on the couch with a blanket shortly after 8pm (once the little kids are in bed). Many nights I catnap on the couch while the older kids watch TV, do homework, play on IPADs, etc. I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, as long as no one needs anything. :)
|You can almost always find me in "my spot" on the couch, with my blanket and my puppies (I don't know where Peanut is in this pic but she is usually there too) any night after 8pm…sometimes awake, sometimes not so much. :)|
So, that is what I do. I run a lot. I do my core and strength work. I roll, stretch, and massage my muscles. I pay attention to my diet and nutrition. I am putting time and effort into my mental training. And I sleep as much as possible. Is it easy fitting it all in around everything else I have to do in a day? Nope. But I wouldn't change a thing. :)