There are a few at every race. They get better and faster every year, while other runners plow along, season after season, completing distances but never seeing real improvement in their timings.
The small lifestyle and training decisions made every day become habits that make all the difference in achieving goals. Here are a few habits that set highly effective runners apart from the pack.
With self-discipline most anything is possible. – Theodore Roosevelt
1. They Visualize.
It may seem unlikely that imagination can change athletic performance. But coaches, including Dr. Jim Bauman, who has worked with multiple USA Olympic Teams, use visualization to improve their training programs. Using internal and external imagery, the participant imagines completing a practice or a race perfectly, from either a first-person or a third-person perspective and involving as many senses as possible.
Another method of visualization is kinesthetic imagery, where the athlete goes through the movements he or she will perform completing the task, which is especially effective for developing mental preparedness and muscle memory. Just like any skill, visualization is something that must be practiced. The best visualizers do it with each practice run and race.
2. They Fuel With Carbs.
With low fat, low carbohydrate, and low calorie diets all touted to be healthy and promoting weight loss, it’s easy to see why runners get confused about proper nutrition. For runners, the correct balance of protein and carbohydrates is critical to repair muscle while providing a glycogen source for fuel.
Studies of elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners have shown that these athletes eat diets composed of 65-75% staple complex carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, quinoa, and potatoes.
The remainder of the diet consists of lean proteins and vegetables, with a little fruit. Avoid simple sugars or fiber right before running, or risk stomach upset and unplanned trips to the porta-potty.
For marathoners, a rule of thumb is that no additional energy is required for runs under 75 minutes. For longer runs, you may refuel in small doses, taking in about 25 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour after 75 minutes.
3. They Supplement- With Fresh Food.
Dietary supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry—everything from protein to antioxidants are available just by popping a pill. But these supplements have limitations. Unlike regular food, these supplements are not completely free of risk though they are rigorously tested or regulated by the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore, and they may lack some of the co-factors found in real food that help to make the substances effective.
While supplements have their place in a healthy diet, most runners can meet the majority of their dietary needs through choosing a variety of fresh, whole foods.
4. They Hydrate.
We all know we need to hydrate when we’re thirsty, but how do we know when to stop? While hydration is very important, more water is not necessarily better. It is important to stay hydrated throughout the day, and not just chug water only while you’re running.
Chugging too much water continuously while running can lead to stomach upset and even low blood sodium (hyponatremia), which can be deadly when running.
Some experts recommend the “pee test”: if your urine is pale yellow to lemonade-colored, you are probably adequately hydrated. If it is clear, you may need to cut back.
5. They Invest In Footwear.
Effective runners understand their bodies. They know how their feet strike the ground, and they invest in shoes that help make their gait more efficient and minimize injury. Personnel at any good running store can help runners learn whether they overpronate, oversupinate, or have a neutral gait, and they can help runners choose shoes that are best for their type of motion.
Effective runners understand that the best running shoes come from companies that specialize in running: Asics, Saucony, and Brooks are some great examples.
6. They Know Their Rhythm.
Analysis of the training programs of top-level marathoners shows that as they approach races, they decrease the intensity of their training, not the frequency. It’s important to develop a training rhythm that works for you.
A general rule of thumb is to build your mileage base first, then add speed and strength work. Runners should listen to their bodies and allow adequate recovery time between long or hard workouts, especially if training progress is slowing down.
7. They Race Smarter.
Effective runners know how to race smarter, not harder. They run the tangents—the shortest distances between 2 points during a race—and they keep to the inside of curves.
They surge forward at the tops and bottoms of hills, because they know that gaps at the beginning of a race are likely to persist through the finish. And they pass with authority, making it less likely that other racers will struggle to keep up with them.
8. They Just Keep Running.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, effective runners are consistent. They keep running, day in and day out. Whether the weather is hot or cold, they take the necessary preparations and run.
When they are having trouble recovering, they may do an easier pace or different workout, but they stick with their training. Sometimes dedication makes all the difference.
It never gets easier, you just get stronger.
Becoming a more effective runner requires attention to many details: mental preparedness, training strategy, nutrition, equipment, and racing strategy. But with time, attention to these details can solidify into habits that can help any runner stop plodding along and rise to the top of the pack.
What is your habit that keeps you running? Feel free to share with us.