Standing on the starting line healthy and happy is often thought as the minimum for running a personal best, but what if it was the priority? Runners are goal-driven people, and after all, to do something you’ve never done before, you have to approach the endeavor as such. While this could translate to more mileage, more intensity, and different training, it might behoove most runners to approach big goals through the lens of being their healthiest.
I know I’m biased as a Physical Therapist, but hear me out. In this 3 part blog series, I’ll pave the way for you to have your best race, from before the start line to long after the finish line.
1. Strength training
A marathon training cycle is a grand undertaking. The length and intensity will vary depending upon your experience and goals, but undoubtedly results in at least a few grueling months ahead. Your body needs to be ready to handle the load from a strength and resilience standpoint, and one of my favorite concepts that describes this is "Get fit to run, don't run to get fit”. Placing a significant block of strength training and strength-based running work, helps to build the foundation for the long runs, tempo efforts, and speedwork to come. Take 4-6 weeks at the beginning of a training cycle to prioritize the quality of your strength workouts over running workouts. This way, the body can adapt to the strength work and muscle soreness doesn’t impede any quality run workouts.
What does this look like? Strength train 3-4 times per week, including upper body, core work, and athletic movements such as jumping. The resistance and volume needs to be sufficient to really challenge the muscular system. This means leaving the gym with just as much fatigue as after a particularly hard run workout. If you’re unfamiliar with weight lifting, it’s worth it to seek out a strength coach to provide guidance and the bones of a strength program. Another option is to see a Physical Therapist as a pre-season check up. They will assess your movement, strength, and range of motion, creating a comprehensive plan to address any imbalances present. PT’s are skilled in movement, and can teach basic movement patterns to set you up for strength training success.
2. Gait analysis
Your running form tells the story of you as a runner: which areas of the body take on the most stress, the force of impact, efficiency, flexibility, and much more. There are some very simple cues and adjustments that can make a big impact not only on your injury resilience, but also running speed. Incorporating these changes will be easier early on in a training cycle, when the volume and intensity is lower. There are many online options for gait analysis, and at Precision we offer both in-clinic and remote options. We offer cues and explain the reasoning behind them, as well as exercises that complement your specific needs.
In my personal experience, I’ve placed a lot of pressure on one training cycle or one race in the hopes of reaching my goals. This mindset perpetuates desperation, an all-or-nothing viewpoint on the journey ahead. Unfortunately, I’ve been down this road enough times to find out that it usually results in nothing. Whether it be injury, overtraining, or burnout, the joy of the process and potential of a race is thwarted from the beginning. Shifting to a process-oriented mindset and focusing on small victories along the way can help you steer away from poor decisions. You’ll be less likely to push through fatigue and/or injury, and remain in tune with your body. The common advice to “listen to your body” is often lost on us as runners, because our sport involves ignoring discomfort and getting it done at any cost. Sometimes we even have a hard time feeling satisfied because there is always potential for more in our sport. It takes intensity and dedication to succeed, but it also takes restraint and adaptability. The North Star in training should be both passion and patience.
In part two, I’ll discuss the elements of a training cycle that will keep you on the road, including, but not limited to: healthy run routines, recovery, adjunct therapies, and maintaining strength routines. Stay tuned!
Keep going, you got this,
Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT