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Are You Focusing on the Big Things?

mindset and motivation running Aug 04, 2022

When looking to make improvements to our training, we often fall for the shiny object.  We want the workout we can post on social media.  We search for the magic bullet paces for training.  We buy the special shoes.  We seek out the incremental gains.  What about the big blocks we neglect because we are too focused on the finishing touches?  Are you getting the best bang for your buck?


It’s important to know how to optimize your training by focusing on the things that will give you the most significant gains.  The mistake so many runners make is focusing on the wrong things.  They tend to waste time and effort focusing on the small things that will move the needle a fraction of a percent before focusing on the larger things that will lead to a 20 or even a 50% improvement.  This leads to a lot of frustration and slower progress.  Instead of focusing too early on the details, take the time to get clear on the larger items you need to address to help you achieve your goals faster.


Imagine a jar.  The big things are like large rocks that we place into the jar.  Once you place the large rocks, there is still room for smaller pebbles to be added.  Even though the jar may appear full, you could still add sand to fill in some of the cracks.  However, if you add the sand before the larger rocks, you will not be able to fit it all in.  Today, we want to help you see the large rocks, so that you can add those to your jar first to build a strong foundation, before you focus on the pebbles and the sand.



You are the most important part of the equation.  Your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your running have EVERYTHING to do with the level of goals that you are able to achieve.  Like the saying goes, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”  You must first accept that you are a runner and believe that improvement is truly possible for you.  If you don’t, you will self sabotage yourself along the way to your goals, making the journey much harder or even impossible in some circumstances.  


Believe you can first. Then take the steps you need to get there. You don’t need to wait for evidence before taking action.  



Many runners could significantly improve their fitness and running performance by adding some weekly mileage.  If you are currently running 2-3 times a week, you would likely make gains by increasing to 3-4 days per week.  Of course, there is an upper limit to this, and it depends on several other factors (see below), but in general, increasing the time on your feet will often lead to training improvements.  


The next thing to consider is effort level. Many runners make the mistake of running all of their runs at the same pace/effort, leading to boredom and plateau.  By varying your effort levels and pacing throughout the week, you can gain massive benefits.  We suggest focusing on 3 main effort levels to start: easy, medium, and hard.  Eighty percent of your weekly runs should be performed at an easy level, while twenty percent should be performed at a medium to harder level.  Having a purpose for each run is essential to gain different physical adaptations.


Strength and Mobility

Strength training is non-negotiable.  Every runner needs to strength train, plain and simple.  You must keep your muscles strong to support your body while you run.  Your joints and tissues also need to be able to move freely to allow your body to go through the motions of running without restriction.  When restriction and/or weakness are present, the body compensates, leading to changes in your running pattern, an unequal distribution of forces on your body and joints, and an increased chance of injury.  Fixing your running pattern won’t work if you don’t address the underlying strength and mobility issues that are causing it.  By maintaining an appropriate level of strength for the distance that you would like to run, you greatly decrease your risk of injury, improve your speed and power, and make running feel a lot better. 



Pre-run, mid-run, and post-run fueling are less significant than your overall nutrition.  As runners, it is important for us to eat a balanced diet, with appropriate levels of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.  If your normal daily nutrition and hydration are lacking, what you consume around your run is less important.  Be sure to fuel your body well for your level of activity and goals.


Recovery and Sleep


If you’re not getting enough sleep every night, many other things are actually irrelevant.  In training, we break our bodies down.  In rest and recovery, our bodies build back stronger.  Without proper sleep, your body just simply won’t make the training adaptations that you’re hoping for, or they will be very short-lived.  Sleep and recovery are essential for all levels of performance.  If you’re currently sleeping 6-7 hours and increase that to 7-8 hours, you will likely notice a major difference in how you feel and perform.


Use this list to take a look and make an honest assessment of where you are right now.  Are you lacking in some of these larger areas?  If so, what can you do to address these areas before spending too much time and energy focusing on the smaller pebbles along the way? 


Now get out there, and run your life.


For more information, check out episode 265 of the Real Life Runners podcast!

Real Life Runners Podcast: Episode #265

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