OK I Can Run, Now How Do I Get Better?
Written for WorkingClassAthlete.com by one of our amazing readers. Want to share your stories or tips? Email Ben at [email protected]
This is a continuation from Taking Your First Steps to Becoming a Runner
“A run begins the moment you forget you are running.” –Adidas ad
You’ve started to run but are finding it difficult to work through the pain and exhaustion. Sound familiar? You may be well over your target or just under, unable to push yourself just that little bit further.
I found this bit the hardest just because it meant I had to push myself. Running small distances a couple of times a week would have kept me ticking over just fine but I needed to know what it was like to really work hard and how much my body was actually capable of.
To learn how to improve my performance I began to stuff myself full of research between runs, reading everything from magazines to online forums. I would come home from an evening run and read them in bed that night. It became an addiction but in my quest I found the most important tool I needed to improve my performance – food.
Every runner knows what it’s like to come back from a run and want to eat the kitchen bare and the longer my distances became the worse I would be.
I’d collapse next to the fridge and raid it, not even giving myself the time to cook something remotely healthy. It took me a while to learn the link between stuffing myself full of cheese and the muscle aches which crippled me.
The link between diet and exercise is crucial because food plays a major part in both preparation and recovery
A week into my new streamlined diet and I felt faster, lighter and in much less pain. If you are thinking that you don’t have the time to fuss about with ingredients then don’t panic because with a full time job neither did I. Instead here is a small list of foods that if you regularly add to your diet will make a massive difference.
This was the simplest thing to add and the most effective. Just a few oranges a day combated my muscle aches due to the vitamin C. They don’t stop the pain while you run but do help you ache much less afterwards.
Apparently runners need about 70 per cent more protein and this is the perfect way to get it. Chicken is a lean clean protein that your body can use effectively and Selenium will protect your muscles.
Dark Chocolate and Almonds
These are packed full of vitamin E and antioxidants amongst other things. 4 squares of dark chocolate is really the maximum and if you eat them with almonds you get a delicious guilt free sweet treat.
Whole grain pasta
Pasta will become your god. It’s easily digestible, helps you restock energy and control your metabolism. It’s also quick and easy to cook after a long workout and does fill you up.
Bear in mind that making your diet better is not about losing weight, it’s about performance
The correct diet with exercise will help you lose weight but it’s all about finding one that suits you. The right one will work wonders for your body and mind and most importantly give you the energy to work that bit harder every time you get out there.
If you are training for a race or even just want to improve your stamina then cross training is essential. I learned this the hard way! A fortnight before the half marathon, my running buddy had given me free gym membership leading up to the race and I was ecstatic.
I had been doing nothing but pounding pavements, yoga and muscle exercises for over 5 months straight.
I was bored
The thought of a pool or treadmill was so welcome that I was in the gym with her the same day I got my pass. While we were there an instructor was running a class on leg exercises on mats in the corner so we went over to join in.
I have to admit I thought I was going to breeze through it. I had used my legs every day for months; they had to be strong enough for this! I remember smiling smugly as I got into position with my back against the wall and my knees bent, arms out almost like sitting in an invisible chair.
We just had to hold the position until told otherwise and I struggled. My thigh muscles were on fire, my arms were shaking and I was sliding down the wall in exhaustion. The instructor barked at me so much over my awful performance that I cried.
I learned a valuable lesson which was work EVERYTHING
Becoming a one trick pony with running is silly, your body needs all the strength it can get. Any chance you have to fit in different exercises do them. Even something as simple as skipping will pay dividends.
A way to counteract it and balance out the stress is through yoga. I cannot express enough how good this practise is for you as a runner. Yoga will stretch you out making leaner muscles. It will build your core enabling you keep the strength in your form while you push it to its limits. It will teach you how to breathe and it will relax you.
It doesn’t matter whether you go to a class or get a DVD because honestly even a few sequences will help you immensely. Plus do it enough and you’ll become bendy pretty quickly and there’s a lot more perks to that than you may think.
Taking care of yourself
It’s important to remember to treat yourself well when you’re practising any kind of fitness but especially running. It is such an intensive and all body way of keeping fit that being more mindful of you will keep everything balanced.
Make sure that any new aches and injuries are cared for properly before you get back out there. This is as vital as taking proper rest days between runs. You can only build muscle, and therefore run further, if you let your body repair itself and form new muscle and you can only do that if you let it rest.
Make sure you take those days off seriously
At least 1-2 days a week should be spent doing no exercise AT ALL. It sometimes helps to take a more holistic approach to fitness the further on you progress.
This is simply about creating an outlook on you as a whole and not just the exercise. Your body is a machine that houses a variety of intensely complex systems, psychological as well as physical, so treat it in the manner it deserves.
There are all sorts of alternatives to the way you exercise and the way you manage it. Taking a browse around health food shops and online alternative therapies may also offer a range of ways to help you look after yourself better.
Cigarettes and alcohol disappeared for me about a month into my running regime and instead an obsession with shakes, bars and herbal pills became prominent.
I was always trying to find the quickest way to deal with problems rather than the best way. It was like running was becoming a metaphor for my entire life! I have learned various methods through my journey that I have found through trial and error and I will include a few examples.
To start with, protein shakes aren’t for everyone, I know because they weren’t for me. Instead to build up my energy reserves I drank chocolate shakes made with soya. Soya is a lot easier to digest than dairy so if you want a mini boost after a run they are excellent.
Cutting out red meat from my diet whilst training for races was immensely effective because by limiting myself to pulses, more veg and white meat I was not only giving my body a much more varied supplied of ingredients to repair and rebuild itself but also foods that it found easier to digest and metabolise.
It’s mainly about trial and error
Your body will start to tell you what it needs and you will learn to listen. This takes the guess work out of it and paves the way for your body and mind to become in sync. After a while you won’t need to think about looking after yourself it will just happen making a very happy and healthy you.