From the Front Desk: Training Tips

Although I tend to be quiet by nature, running is the one thing that I’ll gladly discuss with just about anyone. Lucky for me, it’s a topic that comes up often while I’m behind the desk at Mile High Run Club. I’ve had some great questions and chats recently—and have been genuinely floored by the responses. In an effort to flesh out fuller answers that I don’t always have time for at the desk, I’ve decided to do a mini blog series on tips to make the most out of your training. This is based on both my experiences as an athlete as well as what I've begun learning as a coach. Here's some of the advice that's come up lately. As always, I hope you find something useful to take away!

1. Find what motivates you.

Before you even lace up, ask yourself: WHY am I doing this? What do I want to get out of it? There are a million reasons to run—to race the clock, lose weight, improve fitness, challenge yourself— that are all valid and worth the effort. Find your purpose. This is what keeps you going when things are uncomfortable. This is where your strength comes from. So find what moves you and (quite literally) run with it. Write it down and look at it when you’re struggling to get out the door; sometimes I even write it on my arm during races. Without a reason to run, it’s unlikely that you’ll find much fulfillment in the sport. Running should ultimately be a fun thing--not another chore.

For extra motivation, consider signing up for a race. If that's terrifying, maybe just start with following some inspiring athletes on social media. From elites to first-timers, there’s a huge, supportive community out there. We all have training ups and downs, so let’s go through them together. Some of my favorite runners on Instagram are: @kiefferallie @shalaneflanagan @jordanhasay @karagoucher @coachcorkyruns @run2pr @mileposts @gazelle_maddie and @nycrunningmama. You can find me at @mmmarni.

Shalane Flanagan winning the 2017 NYC Marathon

Shalane Flanagan winning the 2017 NYC Marathon

A few good hashtags are: #runnerscommunity #igrunners #runhappy #instarunner #runnergirl and #marathontraining. There may even be a hashtag for your next race! Search it to find others who will be running alongside you and encourage each other during training.

2. Form is your friend.

Form has been a deal breaker for me. Despite following best training practices, I’ve been sidelined by injuries far too many times. Individual issues will vary, but if you’re training smart and still constantly having problems—STOP. Ask a friend to film you running. Where does your front foot land? What are your hips doing? Your arms and torso? Better yet, get a gait analysis. A running-oriented sports doctor or physical therapist will be able to break down your stride and help you address points of weakness. For a lot of runners, this means strength or mobility training. For others, it may mean building to a higher cadence (steps per minute) or learning how to activate certain muscles.

Improving form will make you a more efficient runner. You’ll be able to go faster with the same effort. Case in point: after reducing my over-stride and drilling glute activation/hip extension for the last few months, my average stride length has increased from ~1.05m to ~1.1m. That’s almost 2 inches. It may not seem like a lot, but if I’m taking 20,000 steps in a race, that’s nearly 2/3 of a mile difference!

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1.05m stride length in Oct. 2017 vs. 1.11m stride length in Feb. 2018

1.05m stride length in Oct. 2017 vs. 1.11m stride length in Feb. 2018

A great resource for getting more familiar with the ins and outs of form is Runner’s World Your Best Stride. It won’t replace a personal analysis, but it does offer an overview of common issues to be aware of as well as strength and stretching exercises to address them.

3. Know what works for you.

I’ve already suggested following other athletes on social media for inspiration, but this comes with a caveat: don’t worry about what they’re doing. Running is personal. There are so many factors that can affect performance. As much as I’d love to run 24/7, my body doesn’t work like that. I often have to cap it at 3 days a week, 25-35 miles plus time cross-training and lifting. Yeah, there’s FOMO when I see other people logging 6-7 days and 90 miles/week. But I also know that training like that wouldn’t make me faster; it’d break me.

Instead, figure out what you need from your training. What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you’re just starting out, you may not know the answer to this yet. That’s fine! Pay attention to where to you struggle or excel as you begin to build your base. If you’ve been running for a while, think about where you fall in terms of speed vs. endurance, what mileage range feels best, how well you pace and run hills, whether certain foods make you feeling sluggish, etc.

Running long at the QDR 30k (Credit: @albertrunsonplants)

Running long at the QDR 30k (Credit: @albertrunsonplants)

Once you’ve started to figure things out, you can determine the best way to tackle your next goal. This is where a coach can be a great asset in designing a custom training program. On a more fundamental level, however, the strategy can be as simple as finding a running buddy for accountability, trying a different method of cross-training or adding a long run to the schedule. Learning how your body works and what it responds best to is the biggest favor you can do yourself as an athlete.

4. Be patient.

On that note, change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the product of consistency, hard work and smart choices. You WILL improve if you stick with it. So often we compare ourselves to other people without considering their timeline. Olympic athletes don’t wake up one morning and nail a qualifying time on their first run ever. They’ve been training for years and years to get there. You may surprise yourself with what you can accomplish one day, but you won’t know unless you try. Small changes grow over time. Pay attention to them.

Racing XC in fall 2009, my first year running. This hurt. A lot.

Racing XC in fall 2009, my first year running. This hurt. A lot.

5. Track your progress.

One of the best ways to look forward is by looking back. I’ve kept data on all of my runs since 1/1/15. Although the day-to-day (and even month-to-month) changes are negligible, there’s a very clear upward trend year-to-year. My paces are faster. I’m running higher mileage. And most importantly, I feel stronger doing it. On days when I bomb a workout or think I’m never going to hit my goals, I can always look back at where I was a year ago and see how much progress I’ve made.

There are plenty of ways to keep tabs on your running. Running Log is a great free app for iPhones. If you run with a Garmin, you can record data through the Garmin Connect app or website. And if you want to be a little more social, Strava is an athletic tracker and social network all in one.

This year I’ve also started looking at the bigger picture of my training in a comprehensive Excel document. It tracks everything from where the run happened (treadmill or outside) to goal mileage and specific workouts. This way I can make sure that each week builds on the last in a sound, logical manner and track any issues that may pop up.

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Have a running-related question? I'd be not-so-secretly thrilled to chat about it (or direct you to a coach/professional who may be more helpful). Catch me behind the desk at Mile High Run Club Nomad M/T/W mornings or anytime via the comments section or Instagram!