When you finally click that registration button and commit to a major racing goal, a moment of panic often sets in.
What on earth have I done? How can I possibly accomplish this?
Whether you’re signing up for your first half-marathon, a Boston qualifier or an ultra-distance race, setting big new goals can be daunting. Fortunately, there is an abundance of wonderful coaches and training plans available to help you get there.
But beware that training successfully for any distance is about more than just mileage and workouts. To make the most of your running, the rest of your life has to support your goals as well.
Fear not — you don’t need to become a monk to achieve your running and racing goals. We all have lives outside of running, and it’s essential to maintain some balance to avoid getting burnt out. But training hard requires a commitment — and you’ll need to be prepared to make some adjustments during your heaviest months of training.
Here are four of the most important elements to consider:
GET YOUR REST!
As much as we all acknowledge needing more sleep, fitting it in often proves challenging. When your training is at its heaviest, however, this becomes essential. Remember it is during sleep and the recovery period after the hard workouts when your body repairs itself and gets stronger.
During the deeper stages of sleep, human growth hormone (HGH) is released, which helps to repair damaged tissue and maintain bone health. Too little sleep decreases the release of HGH while also leading to an increase of cortisol, one of the body’s stress hormones. While cortisol is exactly what you need in a fight-or-flight situation where you have to react swiftly, a continuous overload of cortisol in your system puts your body into perpetual overdrive. Over time, this can prove damaging.
A night or two of shortened or low-quality sleep is not the end of the world, but if you continuously deprive yourself of rest, your body pays the price and your training suffers. So, find a way to get those extra zzz’s whenever you can, especially after your toughest workouts.
MAKE TIME FOR ACTIVE RECOVERY
Hard training also requires a more active recovery to help you bounce back from workouts efficiently. After a long run or speed session, one of the least effective ways to recover involves settling into the couch for hours on end. You have earned some rest, but making a little time for a recovery routine can make a difference in how you feel in the hours and days that follow.
After getting in quick post-run calories, spend about 10–15 minutes doing some dynamic stretching, foam rolling or even a little light strength work. While getting in more exercise may be the last thing you feel like after a long effort, taking this time will help you cool down more efficiently and reduce stiffness and soreness. Over time, you’ll notice the difference when you lace back up for your next run.
FUEL LIKE AN ATHLETE
No matter what dietary preference, the quantity and quality of what you eat during your heaviest weeks of training can have an enormous impact on how you feel and how well you recover. For long, hard efforts, it’s essential to fuel adequately before and after workouts. Just like sleep helps your body strengthen and repair itself, so will proper fueling after your run.
While a short recovery run doesn’t necessitate a huge post-run meal, taking in adequate calories after a long training run is important to help you jump start recovery. If your stomach tends to be cranky after longer efforts (especially on a hot day), it may be easiest to take your calories in liquid form, such as a smoothie. Healthier options are always ideal, but any calories are better than none when it comes to refueling.
Keep in mind heavy training is not the time to try to lose weight. Restricting calories when your body is working its hardest is ultimately counter-productive. Focus on the quality of your diet rather than counting calories, and incorporate more lean protein, complex carbohydrates and high-quality fats.
MINIMIZE STRESS & BE SELECTIVELY SOCIAL
While we certainly can’t anticipate every curve ball life throws at us, try to plan wisely when choosing a goal race. Major life events like moving, changing jobs or getting married can be time consuming and overwhelming by themselves, even when the event is entirely positive. Try not to choose a race that will have your heaviest training fall during the times when you are at your busiest or starting a new routine.
Social time and fun events with friends and family are essential to your mental and physical well-being. But when training is at its heaviest, you may need to be more selective with your social calendar. Trying to combine late nights with friends and early morning long runs can make both events less fulfilling, so try to plan accordingly. Focus on the events that mean the most to you, and arrange your training schedule as needed to fit them in.
Setting big goals is what inspires each of us to work hard and be at our best. The path to get there is demanding, but always rewarding. By combining effective training with a lifestyle that supports your efforts, you can set yourself up for short- and long-term success!