Whether you are a 6+ hour marathoner or vying to make an Olympic team, there will come a point in your training where you are ready to take the next step. This may include increasing your mileage, cleaning up your diet, or improving your focus on your event. Listed below are the steps I have made over the years when trying to improve performance, and how they have helped me succeed.
1. Get a Coach
For my first two attempts at qualifying for the Olympic Trials, I was coach-less. I figured I knew enough about running that I should be able to coach myself, and that I could get by with just running high mileage. After my second attempt, where I missed the qualifying standard by 3 minutes, I decided to enlist the help of my high school coach. The difference was remarkable. Suddenly, I was no longer second guessing myself in my training and he was pushing me to do workouts I never would have done on my own. The result? Only 5 months after my failed attempt, I ran nearly 7 minutes under the standard.
2. Sleep More
Virtually everyone can benefit from extra sleep, particularly athletes. The benefits of sleep are far reaching, from reducing cortisol and inflammation levels, to stimulating natural production of human growth hormone for better recovery. When I left graduate school in order to pursue running full time, I experienced faster recovery almost immediately, which was essential for being able to withstand 100+ mile weeks. A good rule of thumb is to add 10 minutes of sleep per 10 miles of weekly running. For instance, if you run 60 miles per week, you should aim to get an additional hour of sleep each night.
3. See a Nutritionist
Very few runners have perfect diets, and though your diet may be “clean” you may not be eating the proper proportions of macronutrients for your sport. For me, seeing a nutritionist was eye opening. I discovered I have multiple food sensitivities, which were ultimately hindering my performance. I also learned that I had been approaching race nutrition improperly. Making the right changes was crucial, and I still consider my initial nutritionist appointments to be among the best investments I have made into my running career.
4. Consult a Mental Game Coach
No matter your goal, getting extra help with your mental game never hurts. A mental game coach will help you assess your strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan for achieving your goals while reducing the anxiety that is common among athletes. Before I started working with my mental game coach, I let factors that I could not control consume me. What if I performed poorly and people judged me? What if I don’t run to my potential? What if I fail? When I learned to control the controllables and forget the rest, running and competing suddenly became more fun.
5. Make the Right Investments
Need a massage? Get one. Could use some physical therapy for your stubborn IT band syndrome? Schedule it. One of the biggest mistakes that runners make is devoting time and money to their favorite hobby, only to ultimately hold themselves back by not making the right investments into their health.
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