Proactive Habits for Improved Performance
It’s been a week since my marathon. I took the whole week after off to relax and recover. And while I savored the rest, by the end of the week, I was chomping at the bit to get back to work. However, I know how important it is for my long-term running health to take a physical and mental break.
As I get ready to start any new training build, I like to re-evaluate my daily habits and set process goals that help me approach training as proactively as possible.
I recently listened to a podcast with Heather Knight Pech, a masters runner who is setting records left and right. She only started running consistently at 41. At 60, she is still running 75 mile weeks (down from her lifetime high of about 90 miles a week). I found her advice and experience incredibly motivating, reinforcing my desire to implement proactive processes as I begin my next training cycle.
She stressed over and over again the importance of taking care of our bodies as runners, and how that - along with smart training - makes all the difference in her longevity and her ability to continue to raise the bar. And this is a woman who just set the course record at the Boston Marathon for her age group - besting the standing record held by none other than Joan Benoit Samuelson - by finishing in 3:03:47.
She is a great example of how our daily processes add up over time into amazing progress. She is someone who has made it a point to actually implement all the things we know we should do, but maybe struggle to put into practice, such as:
Prioritizing food quality + eating enough: Heather said she tries to avoid eating out of "boxes and bags," meaning she tries to avoid processed food where possible, and eats close to 3,000 calories a day - and she only weighs 110 pounds! The reason I mention her weight is not because I believe that smaller is always inherently better. However, I DO think it's important to realize that if someone that small is eating that many calories, and running peak performances, then we all likely need a LOT more fuel than we realize. Underfueling is the flip side of the same coin as overtraining. They go hand-in-hand because our bodies need calories to recover optimally. And I think there’s a big difference in eating that many quality calories vs that many calories worth of processed junk. (No judgment or high horse here, I eat processed junk, too - but when is it ever not worth it to try to improve the quality of our food?)
Strength training consistently: Heather said she believes that running injuries are almost always a deficit in mobility and strength. I agree. (I would also add training errors into the mix, especially for new runners who just want to run ALL the miles but don’t have a coach or a plan to guide them through the process of building mileage safely and effectively.) If you’re part of the Run Empowered strength team, then you have already made huge strides in implementing a consistent strength training and mobility practice that will directly benefit your running.
SLEEEEEEPING + Rest : We know, we know, right? But it’s just so important. Training breaks the body down. Rest and recovery, which allow the body the time to adapt and rebuild, are where the magic happens. If you're interested in learning more about the importance of sleep for athletic performance and every other aspect of our health, check out the fascinating book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD.
Building a performance support team: The guidance and expertise of our coaches, physical therapists, trainers, massage therapists, etc. can be invaluable to our progress and longevity in any sport. Heather said she sees a physical therapist about every 10 days, regardless of whether she is dealing with any issues or not because that helps her to stay on top of any potential issues as they arise vs waiting or wishing for them to go away. She also mentioned regularly seeing a clinical massage therapist.
In general, I think every runner would benefit from proactively developing specific processes outside of their running itself that translate into positive performance gains. We runners are particularly reactive when it comes to dealing with injuries or burnout. And when these issues do arise, we panic and try to throw everything at them but the kitchen sink. Heather is an inspiration when it comes to proactively caring for our bodies in order to get the most out of our training.
Now, obviously not everyone has access to the same time and resources to be able to do all of these things at once. But we can absolutely make objective assessments about what we’re currently doing, what we're willing to prioritize going forward, and how we can lean in to our performance support team where possible.
Some food for thought: Where are you being proactive about your progress and where are you being reactive or avoidant? Do your actions, calendar, and expenses accurately reflect your priorities? If not, how can you bring them into alignment?
If you're interested in learning how to incorporate strength training into your weekly routine to help you run faster, run farther and finish stronger, check out Run Empowered, our running-specific strength program! Get access to a plan and a coach to help you crush your goals!