After making it past the most difficult parts of starting a new running program, such as finding a routine and sticking with it, runners may find themselves asking, what’s next? Once 2 – 4k runs become relatively easy, there are a number of tips that beginning runners should consider in order to continue making improvements.
Make Gradual Gains
Once running becomes second nature, it can be tempting to start increasing the speed of your runs as well as weekly distance. However, to avoid injury and mental burnout, runners should slowly increase either speed or distance, but not both. A general rule of thumb is to never increase weekly kilometer total by more than 15%. For instance, if your weekly total is 40k, a safe increase for the following week would be 44 – 46k. If wishing to increase pace or even incorporate some speed workouts such as fartleks or tempo runs, runners should wait 6 – 8 weeks after starting their training regimen in order to ensure proper aerobic fitness and muscular strength.
As running distance increases, so does the toll that running takes on the body. Proper nutrition is important for keeping muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments healthy. Aim to eat a lean protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrate source at every meal. Avoid excess fat, refined sugars, and processed foods. After particularly long or hard runs plan to eat a snack of 100 – 200 calories with a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4:1 within thirty minutes of finishing. Doing so will help with optimal muscle recovery.
Along with proper refueling, beginning runners should focus on staying hydrated as well. An easy way to monitor hydration is to observe urine color. Dark yellow urine indicates poor hydration, while consistently clear urine indicates you may be drinking too much water, leaving you susceptible to conditions such as hyponatremia. Pale urine is best. Drinking clear liquids, such as water or green tea, can help achieve hydration most quickly. Post-exercise, low-sugar electrolyte replacement drinks such as nuun are recommended.
Recovery is just as, if not more, important than training. To be able to sustain a long-term running habit, equal attention should be paid to other lifestyle activities. Sufficient sleep and knowing when to kick back and relax are both important.
Keep a Training Log
Maintaining a training log to track details such as kilometers, pace, weather, route, and overall feelings about a run can not only improve motivation but also help a runner learn more about his or her running preferences, potential weaknesses, and what does (or doesn’t) work in terms of training. Developing a nightly habit of filling out a running log can make it more difficult to skip the day’s workout, for fear of writing a dreaded “0” in the kilometer column. Additionally, a running log can help a runner track changes, such as pain or soreness, which will lead to better mindfulness about exercise.
Listen to Your Body
The more a runner runs, the more he or she will want to continue running. This habit is a great one, unless a runner continues to run through pain. If ever pain or fatigue arises, do not hesitate to listen to your body and take a day or two off. In the end, a precautionary day off can save a runner from weeks in a boot, or worse, on crutches!