Alternate title: I made all these mistakes so that you don’t have to!
It’s June. You took your requisite two weeks to a month off after track season ended, and now you’re not only looking forward to summer training, you’re itching to get started. You have big goals this year – you imagine taking a minute off of your personal best, winning that state championship, crushing that fall marathon, setting the home course record, qualifying for the national race, every time you close your eyes. You want to put in the best summer of training you’ve ever had in your entire life, and you have no shortage of motivation to do it.
I get it. I’ve been there. Over and over, I’ve been there. But here’s what I learned: when you’re that motivated, it’s easy to adopt a dangerous all-or-nothing attitude that blinds you to the mistakes you’re making on a daily basis, that will eventually prevent you from achieving any of your goals at all. That might even sideline you for the season, taking you out of the equation entirely.
Luckily for you, I already made all those mistakes. I learned the hard way what happens when you ignore them. And I wrote them all down here, for you, so that you don’t have to suffer the way that I did.
I want you to run happy and healthy and love the sport, and I also want it to love you back. So without further ado, here are six (and a half) tips for getting the most of your summer training:
1. Your runs don’t have to be blazing fast to be effective. Your body can’t recover as quickly from a hard session as it can from an easy or moderate one, so odds are if you go all out on Monday and Tuesday, by Wednesday you’ll be tired and sore and more likely to need a day off. In the sport of running, consistency is key. It’s more effective to string together a bunch of average, medium-paced runs in a row than to go all out for three days only to have to take off on the fourth.
1a. There’s a misconception that if you’re not running fast, you’re not working hard. That’s wrong. It takes hard work and discipline to run slow when you want to run fast. It takes a lot of self-awareness to slow down when someone you think you can beat is ahead of you, especially on an easy day. People tend to think the hard part of competitive running is pushing yourself. It’s not. It’s NOT pushing yourself. The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.
2. If you’re able to choose between sleep and running, do your run later and get more sleep. It’s not hardcore to skip sleep, it’s unproductive. Your body needs at least 8 hours to absorb the training and recover effectively.
The one caveat to this is if you live in a very hot and/or humid climate and need to run in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. That’s a whole different monster. Waking up early is smart in that case, but try to compensate for the lost sleep with a post-run nap or an earlier bedtime.
3. Don’t do AB workouts, do CORE workouts. What’s the difference? An ab workout addresses the abdominal muscles only. A whole core workout addresses not just the abdominals but also the obliques, glutes, pelvis, lower back, and more. The purpose of working out just your abs is vanity; gettin’ that six pack, lookin’ good on the beach. The purpose of working out your entire core is getting functionally strong so that you can better handle the physiological stress of training, recover more quickly, and eventually run faster as a result.
4. Do some of your runs on grass and trails for the relief of training on soft surfaces (and because in the winter you’ll miss the color green, believe me), but don’t worry about your pace. The terrain will naturally slow you down, but it will also force you to use different muscles than you usually do, which will make you a stronger and more resilient runner.
5. Don’t just hydrate with water. Well, definitely DO hydrate with water, but combine it with an electrolyte-replacing sports drink. Cheap examples: Gatorade or Powerade (if they’re too sweet for you try diluting a cup with a little water, it’ll taste better but serve the same function). Pricier Examples which are probably worth the investment if you are running a lot of miles/sweat a lot: Nuun, Skratch, SOS Rehydrate.
6. Most most most importantly…ENJOY YOURSELF. Setting only outcome-based goals (“win state”; “break 19”; “take a minute off my PR”) drains the joy out of the sport that you love very quickly. Remember that. Set another, more important goal: to enjoy the process. To love the sport more in July than you did in June, and to love it still more in August. Actively cultivate your passion, and let the rest take care of itself.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Let me know if you have any burning questions or tips to add, and I’ll do a follow up post. But for now…