26.2 (Non-Running) Things That Will Make You a Better Runner
From sleep habits to how you manage stress to the food that’s fueling your training, what happens off the track, trail, or treadmill can have a big impact on your running. So think about your training as more than just logging miles. Use these 26.2 tips from the NYRR coaching staff and experts at Hospital for Special Surgery to help reduce your risk of injury and become a stronger, faster athlete even during the non-running hours of your day.
1) Adopt a holistic mindset. "As they say, 'Genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger,'" says NYRR Group Training coach Roberto Mandje. "Simply put, running is more than just what you do while you train. Your lifestyle (sleep, nutrition, etc.) plays a big role in how much you can get out of yourself and your running. In short, be aware of how your choices and decisions away from the training days can play a role in your results." (Related: Are You Taking a Holistic Approach to Marathon Training?)
2) Make a habit out of meal prep. "Learn to cook a few simple, fast, and healthy meals so you’re not always reaching for fast food or processed foods when you're short on time," says NYRR Group Training coach Gordon Bakoulis.
3) Don't fall victim to fad diets. Unless you suffer from celiac disease or gluten intolerance, think twice about a gluten-free diet. Same goes for Paleo. Both can fall short on essential nutrients and may be too limited in carbohydrates for most athletes. Instead of a restrictive diet, sort out which foods do and don’t agree with you, and practice meal timing and fueling during training runs to avoid an upset stomach on race day.
4) Be smart about sugar. During a race, easily digestible carbs such as sports drinks are the quickest way to get fuel to your cells during longer (60–90+ minutes) runs. But eating large quantities of sugary, processed foods around the clock, even during periods of higher training volumes, may keep you from eating the nutrients your body needs to train and recover optimally. Instead, aim to get your extra calories from foods like whole grains, rice, smoothies, olive oil, nut butter, and seeds.
5) Remember: alcohol comes after. "Enjoy alcohol in moderation and with water, and be smart about it," advises NYRR Virtual Trainer and NYRR Group Training coach Steve Mura. "If you have a long run on Saturday, refrain from heading out for a night of drinking Friday night. Save it for after."
6) Don't get dehydrated. "Especially when it comes to marathon training, this is key," says Mura. "Water will help you recover faster, which will help you get those hard workouts in. Even when it’s not hot outside, if you are training, hydrate!"
7) Keep the coffee coming! As little as 3 mg/kg (about 200 mg in a 150-pound runner), equivalent to about 8 to 16 oz. of coffee depending on brewing strength, taken 60 to 90 minutes before training or race-time—has been shown to significantly improve performance. And you don’t have to go cold turkey before your big event. Research has demonstrated that even habitual caffeine users (i.e. you drink coffee daily) can get the benefit. Still, if you're not a coffee drinker or the stuff upsets your stomach, makes you jittery or messes with your sleep, skip it.
8) Tell your doctor that you’re a runner. It changes the conversation and your M.D. may be able to address things that may be holding you back.
9) Manage your mental health. "Sports psychologists aren’t just for pro runners!" says Bakoulis. "They are trained to help athletes of all levels manage anxiety, develop habits of positive thinking, set goals, and more." As a primer to developing mental strength, check out Deena Kastor’s new book, Let Your Mind Run.
10) Stay positive! "Pay attention to your outlook and how you approach your training and racing," says Mandje. "Positivity plays a bigger role than most people give it credit for. Meditation can be a useful technique to calm nerves and ground yourself before a big event." (Related: The Hows and Whys of Meditation for Runners)
11) Get strong. "One way to stay injury-free is to get stronger outside of just running," says Mura. "Twice a week, add some body-weight exercises to your routine. Push-ups, planks, dips, and squats are runners' friends."
12) Cross train with care. "It can be a great way to reduce your risk of injury by limiting the pounding and wear-and-tear of running, but it’s important to ease into new activities," says Bakoulis.
13) Similarly, choose your leisure activities thoughtfully. "I was amazed to learn that Deena Kastor has avoided skiing all these years even though she lives in the skiing mecca of Mammoth Lakes," says Bakoulis. "But it makes sense—no elite runner wants a broken ankle! I’ve known runners who’ve had to skip important races due to injuries suffered while skiing, sailing, hiking, and playing soccer."
14) Give yoga a go. "It'll help you stretch and recover from hard workouts," says Mura. "Twice a week is ideal." Check out our line-up of free yoga classes at the NYRR RUNCENTER.
15) Address old injuries. "If you know you have a tendency for a certain type of injury, be it a recurring one or a muscle imbalance or weakness, be proactive in your injury-prevention techniques," says Mandje. "Don't merely wait for an old niggle to creep up on you."
16) Make friends with a foam roller. "The more you foam roll, the less you have to foam roll," says Mura. "Five minutes every other day is all you need to figure out if you have any questionable knots. If you do, spend more time on them and get rid of them before they become serious."
17) Catch more Zs. "Sleep is very important throughout your training, as this is where recovery happens," says Mura. "We can only train as well as we recover. When it comes to race week, the most important night is two nights before your race, not the night before."
18) Focus on footwear. "Think about the shoes you wear while not running," says Mura. "You stand throughout the day, so what will be the most comfortable for you? In terms of your running shoes, they usually last 300-500 miles, so keep a tab on how many miles they have. Strava does a great job at this!"
19) Pick the right fabric. "When it comes to running, cotton is the enemy," says Mura. "You want moisture-wicking fabric so the sweat and water gets pulled away from your skin."
20) Infuse your commute with inspiration. "Looking for some great podcasts? Check out Ali on the Run," suggests Mura. "On her show, she talks to runners and entertainers that will keep you motivated on your runs. Also, check out the book A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York by Liz Robbins."
21) Spring-clean your social media. "Follow those who will motivate or inspire you, not those who just add negativity to your life," says NYRR Group Training coach Cassie Wangsness.
22) Find a powerful mantra. "When miles get tough, simple, self-empowering running mantras such as 'strong and relaxed' are great running companions!" says Wangsness.
23) Reward youself. Be proactive in celebrating your own successes, from making it through a tough long run to hitting a new PR," says Wangsness. "Do the same for those in your running circles. Celebrating others generates positive energy that recycles back into future runs!"
24) Volunteer at a race. "Seeing another side of an event while helping others achieve their goals can deliver a big dose of running motivation," says Mura. Check out upcoming opportunities with NYRR.
25) Don't punish yourself. "Try not to miss workouts, but when that happens, don’t compensate by overdoing it in future workouts," says Wangsness. "Let go of missed workouts and continue moving forward as planned. Running is all about forward-moving momentum."
26) Establish a daily routine. "That way, there’s always time allotted for running," says Wangsness. "Plus, this can help with reducing stress, eating right, and other lifestyle goals."
26.2) Don't overtrain. "New runners tend to push too hard when training, but we like gradual change when it comes to mileage and speed," says Mura. "Follow a training program that is customized to you, like NYRR Virtual Trainer. This will prevent you from adding too many miles to your training plan early on."