Let me start with this: our current situation is tough right now. If I could snap my fingers and get us all back to “normal” life, I would. In a heartbeat. But I can’t.
What I CAN do is help you make the best of the situation. If you’ll permit me a bit of unmitigated silver-lining-searching …
As a coach, I think that the current situation offers runners with a couple circumstances that will actually prove to be positives — provided you take advantage of them the right way.
The first is that races are being cancelled and postponed. If you had races you were really looking forward to, you’re going to have to squint hard to see the silver lining here.
No races means more time to develop as a runner
But, having a calendar free of upcoming races means that you have the freedom in your training schedule to do some of the all-important “foundational” work that I so often see runners skip in the rush to get race-ready as fast as possible.
The second is the lack of a work commute (for most people). Leaving aside that less time in the car is probably good for your mental health, it also means more time available for other activities — like, say running.
Bad news: poor training will still get you injured
The bad news is that despite most of life being turned on its head, sudden jumps in training volume or intensity are still going to greatly increase the risk of injury. So you don’t want to use that extra time to double your mileage or load up on intense speed workouts.
How do you take advantage of the increase of available training time and the decrease in upcoming races, then? What do you do to make sure that what you’re doing is productive and will make you a stronger runner when races do resume?
I’m so glad you asked.
I have three things you can start to include in your routine now that will make you a better runner, AND will allow you to train harder and race better in the future. Develop these habits and you’ll be able to point to at least one productive thing that came out of all this.
1) Post-run strides
If you want to become a faster (or more efficient) runner, you should be including post-run strides in your routine 1-2 days / week.
They’re not hard (you never want to be straining or struggling as you’re doing them), they don’t take long (we’re talking 5 minutes at the end of a run), but they have an absolutely incredible impact on your running economy. Seriously incredible.
The improved efficiency (read: easier running) you get from doing strides translates to ALL paces, so your race pace is more efficient, but so are your easy recovery runs.
Here is the overview of how to include them in your training:
— After an easy run, walk for a minute or two to catch your breath
— Begin running at your easy run pace
— Gradually speed up, getting faster and faster for 10-15 seconds, never straining or struggling
— Gently slow back down
— Rest 60 seconds and repeat another 1-3 times
That’s it! It’s so easy! And quick! And important! It’s not a coincidence that this is number one on my list. There isn’t a better way to spend an extra 5-10 minutes in your week.
For you want a more detailed explanation, check out this video:
2) Foam rolling
Every runner I know owns a foam roller. They are incredibly versatile — I’ve seen them used as doorstops, decorative items in the living room, even cat toys. But what you may NOT know is that they’re great for improving your running, too! It’s true!
All jokes aside, I think that a lot of runners don’t regularly use the foam roller because they don’t know what it really does or how / when to use it.
Here are my big-picture takeaways:
— It keeps your muscles gliding along each other and functioning properly
— It’s best used for injury prevention and recovery rather than injury treatment
— Consistency is more important than spending a lot of time doing it
What this means in practice is that you should be doing a few minutes of foam rolling a day, or at least the days that you run.
The good news, though, is that you can do it whenever is convenient (pre-run, post-run, and before bed are all GREAT options), you don’t need to make it hurt (more painful is NOT more productive), and it’s much better to do a couple minutes a day than 20-30 min once a week.
Consistency matters more than timing or duration
The technique for foam rolling is going to depend on the specific muscles that you’re targeting and working on, but for a quick demonstration of advanced techniques for some of the most common areas runners need to work on, watch this:
3) Pre-run exercises
The pre-run routine of a lot of runners I talk to consists of two parts:
1) Put on their shoes
2) Head out the door
If this is you, I would like propose two other things your pre-run exercises could achieve:
1) Activating the muscles that you want to be working when you run
2) Reminding your body of the movement patterns you want to use as you run
These two things will help make your run more enjoyable, reduce the risk of injury, and help improve your overall efficiency (sensing a theme with these suggestions?).
The specifics of what makes a good pre-run exercise routine will vary from runner to runner. We each have weaknesses we need to address when it comes to our individual structures and our running mechanics.
What I will say is that anything is better than nothing, so don’t let a lack of an ideal routine keep you from doing SOMETHING before you get out there to run.
A few ideas of things that you can include are:
— “Traditional” form exercises like high knees and butt kicks
— General strength exercises like body-weight squats and lunges
— Even something as simple as easy walking for 5 minutes before you start to run is better than nothing
If you do nothing else different with your training, adding these three things to your running routine will make you a better runner and will make sure you take some positives from the extra time on your hands.
After all, when we do get back to racing, It. Will. Be. Awesome! So let’s make sure that you’re ready for it!
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. His coaching been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.