Seasonably warm days and long daylight hours mean longer training runs and the start of the summer racing season. Whether you are considering
running your first 5k or you’re a seasoned runner, it is important to evaluate your health rather than your mileage log. Many of us juggle work obligations, family time, and responsibilities to fit in our weekly training runs.Running represents a healthy way to reduce stress, socialize, and achieve fitness. But is running alone the key to health? Over the past few weeks I have thought a great deal about how runners train. The thoughts and recommendations described below are based on observations, empirical research, and reflections of my own trial and error method to achieve good health.
Every May I begin to plan my training runs to prepare for the races I signed up for during the eternally dark nights of January. My ambition usually exceeds the time I have available to train. Living in Missoula, MT makes trail running from my front door a reality, but my career and family are my priority. Including lifestyle changes with miles on the trails or roads, therefore, will not only improve running performance, but also overall health and quality of life.
Running is 25% of the health equation. A multitude of training plans and advice are accessible at our finger tips. A successful training plan is one which not only prepares you to achieve your running goals, but one which your body tolerates as well. Consistent training with attainable goals and workout variety to keep running fun and interesting is a vital part of the picture. But why are some runners fast while others train just as hard but struggle with injury or running form?
Genetics accounts for an additional 25% of our personal health equation. Leg length, slow/fast muscle fiber proportion, presence of health risk factors, and skeletal structural deviations from “normal” all contribute to our running ability and performance. While training can improve our ability to run, genetics may be the regulator which brings us back to reality at times.
Strength is an often overlooked part of the health equation. I may be underestimating the importance of strength in healthy running by saying it contributes 25% to one’s health. As the human body ages, strength training becomes even more important. As your long runs increase in both time and distance, the importance of strength training increases. Our modern day lifestyles are generally sedentary. Sitting has been added as a health risk factor and most of us sit for a majority of our work day. Bone density levels have been impacted by our sedentary lifestyles which likely contributes to the high incidence of stress fractures in distance runners. Strength training in a weight bearing position (no on exercise machines) will build functional strength for running and improve your bone density.
The final 25% of a runner’s health equation is individual lifestyle choices. Nutrition and sleep nourish and heal our bodies. In the absence of one or both, health will remain elusive. Many runners pay very little attention to nutrition outside of our training and race fuels. Our daily diet choices are the fuel we are asking our body to run on. If you put garbage in your body, you will get garbage out (in the form of running performance). I crave salt and sugar like everyone else after a long run, but once I satisfy my craving, I try to follow a simple, well rounded diet. Find what nutrition plan works for you as genetic makeup has been shown to contribute to the foods which fuel us efficiently. Finally, allow your body to rest, recover, and sleep. Seven to ten hours of sleep per night are what the body and mind need to fully rest, recover, and rejuvenate us to face the coming work and training week.
Challenge yourself to consider each of the four contributing factors to running performance and overall health this summer!
John Fiore, PT
Sapphire Physical Therapy