A new year is like a clean slate, a time to set new goals and also to strategize how to accomplish them. It’s easy to make bold claims — even going so far as signing up for a big race — but then you need to follow through and turn those grand notions into reality. With just a few of these mini adjustments to your routine, you can have your best year yet.
ANALYZE YOUR TECHNIQUE
Your running technique may seem textbook perfect, but if you’re finishing most runs with some kind of minor-but-nagging pain in your foot, ankle, knee or hip that doesn’t ever really go away, you may need to revamp it. Often, there’s a flexibility issue or muscular imbalance at the crux of the pain, and a professional can typically prescribe the tools and exercises you need to fix it. Consider hunting down a local coach for pointers on perfecting your running gait, or make an appointment with a physical therapist to address those nagging pains that are keeping your runs from getting longer or faster.
STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE
Running is a whole-body activity, and improving core strength is a quick and easy way to improve your running ability without increasing your mileage. Consider adding just a few minutes of core training to your morning routine, with a mixture of planks, side planks, yoga stretches and crunches — anything that gets your heart rate up and your core working. It’s amazing how 10 minutes each morning can change your core over the course of a month — that’s 300 minutes every month added to your training, and you’ll barely notice once you make it part of your routine.
DIAL IN YOUR NUTRITION
An engine can’t run without fuel. Similarly, your running progress will inevitably plateau if you aren’t in tune with your nutrition. Take a few days to notice how you’re eating to see how to improve. The best way to do this is to keep a food journal (an easy free one is available with the MyFitnessPal app). Are you eating enough protein? Enough fat? Are your carbohydrates largely unprocessed, quality ones like fruit, vegetables and whole grains? Are you eating a lot more sugar than you realized? Make small changes, like swapping out soda for unsweetened iced tea, or pass on chocolate chip cookies and have a few squares of dark chocolate. Don’t try to make huge, sweeping changes all at once. These slow, incremental changes will work better in the long run.
Similar to nutrition, you’re never going to improve your run if you don’t start with good sleep. For most people, 7–9 hours a night is ideal. Sleep doesn’t mean time in bed staring at your iPad: We’re talking quality sleep in a dark room, away from screens. Try to track your sleep for two weeks to get a sense of where you’re at currently (it’s usually not as good or as long as you think it is), and then work to make bedtime more peaceful — and your hours in dreamland more worthwhile.
CONSIDER TRACK WORKOUTS
If you don’t already have some kind of training structure — even a simple one that just has rough times and mileages for days of the week, plus time off for recovery — make one. Then, make sure you’re actually tracking your runs, whether it’s simply a notation on your calendar, a note in a personal diary or an app like MapMyRun. Whatever your tracking method, having a way to look back and see what progress you’ve made — or, in case of an injury, a way to look back and see where things started to go downhill — can be helpful.
When your workout is done for the day, don’t hang up the running shoes right away. Add in a bonus walk any day that you can: Walk your dog an extra block or two, go on foot for an errand, meet a friend for a walk instead of a drink. Anything that will get you moving a few extra steps will boost your cardio and fat-burning capabilities, help you recover from your actual runs faster and speed up weight loss.