Meeting your mileage for the week can be tough enough as a runner who works a full-time job, has responsibilities at home and still likes spending time with family and friends. But self-care as a runner is where a lot of gains can be made: from dialing in your sleep to self-massage and even a pedicure (yes, for the men as well!), taking an hour or two out of your week to make your life more runner-friendly can help you get faster in ways running more miles can’t.
GET GOOD SLEEP
The best thing you can do for your running isn’t that 4 a.m. 5-miler when you were up until midnight filing a work report. Getting 8 hours of solid sleep per night will do your running routine the most good. Don’t skimp on sleep hygiene either. Authors of “Peak Performance,” Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg, both advocate turning off devices like phones or tablets (or at least keeping them out of the bedroom), and optimizing your bedroom to be cool, dark and quiet for the best sleep. If you can cut caffeine later in the day, keep alcohol to a few hours before bedtime and skip late-night sugary snacks, even better. Much of our fitness gains are made in our down time, not on the track — so if you’re not putting in that recovery time, it’s likely you’ll hit a plateau, or even go backwards in your training.
ADD A (QUICK) YOGA FLOW
Whether you follow a specific routine, hit a weekly class or just do the stretches that feel right to you, adding a yoga flow to your running not only keeps you a bit more limber, but it also squeezes in core strengthening in the process. Think of it as a sneaky way to add bodyweight strength training into your schedule. For some people, the weekly class fits in perfectly, especially if it’s something you can do with a friend. But for most runners, the best way to approach yoga is to try to sneak 5–10 minutes of stretching into your morning routine. Check out Erin Taylor’s “Hit Reset,” a book of yoga poses designed for athletic success, for some inspiration.
FOAM ROLL OR BOOK A SPORTS MASSAGE
Some lucky runners can afford a weekly or monthly sports massage, which can be great for lowering your cortisol and making sore muscles feel better — and a good massage therapist can dig into the tight spots that you can’t (or won’t) get to on your own, like that left glute that’s been aching since your last long run. But if sports massage isn’t in the budget or you don’t have a great massage therapist nearby, you can still get a great self-massage by foam rolling or using a lacrosse ball to massage your quads, hamstrings, calves and feet. Regular self-massage allows you to target problem areas, like that right ankle that gets sticky every time you do a trail run. If you’re not sure how to get started, there are plenty of routines and techniques available online, or you can book an appointment with a physical therapist or kinesiologist who can help you create a specific routine to target your problem areas.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET
As a runner, your feet take a beating. You may not want to subject a manicurist to your callused feet or black toenails, but you can do a lot with a scrub bucket full of water and epsom salts, followed by a pumice stone to slough off some of the roughest skin. Don’t go so hard with the stone that you get rid of calluses entirely, but keeping the dead skin to a relative minimum makes for happier feet in the long run (pun intended). Dry skin? Use the stone, then add a heavy duty foot lotion, slap on a pair of socks and sleep your way to smoother skin. If you have issues like plantar warts or a black toenail that hurts or throbs for more than a day after getting it, it might be time to seek a podiatrist’s help. The faster you address the small issues, the less time you’ll spend off your feet.
REMEMBER YOUR POST-RUN PROTEIN
While the post-workout protein window is bigger than researchers once thought, making sure your post-run meal includes a hefty dose — at least 20 grams — of protein is key for promotion muscle growth and recovery. If you know you’re not great with meal-planning, having an emergency container of whey protein ready to mix into a water bottle or smoothie will help keep your body running and repairing properly. If you’ve been struggling to drop weight, adding protein post-run might actually help, since we tend to binge on carbs later if we haven’t properly fueled after our workout.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN