It was Lao Tzu who once said, “The mileage in a car matters not; it is how well you take care of the engine.” He didn’t actually say this, but he also didn’t say most of the things the Internet attributes to him. But this quote certainly applies to running.
Marathon training plans can lead us to become sticklers about numbers. If we miss a run, we try to make up for it. Logging the miles becomes the only focus, even later on during training when our longer, taxing runs. We’re runners after all; we should spend most of our time doing just that — running.
But we can’t ignore one undeniable fact: there’s more to running than just running. In fact, running and logging the miles might be the least important aspect of training. This might seem sacrilegious to most, but take it from me. I have battled just about every overuse injury you can think of over my three-year running career:
- Plantar fasciitis? Check.
- Runner’s knee? Yep.
- Metatarsalgia? You bet.
- Stress fractures? Double check.
- IT band syndrome? Before I became a runner, I didn’t even know what an IT band was.
Let’s be real. Most of us are never going to become sponsored elite athletes, but that’s also not why most of us got into running. We run because we enjoy it! So why not participate in activities that keep us on the running trails instead of at the orthopedist’s office looking for answers?
I’ll tell you why: because runners are the most stubborn and hardheaded people I have ever met in my life. I would know — I am one hundred percent guilty. But dealing with injuries led me down a path that has benefitted my running immensely. I get better not by hill-training, speed work or tempo runs (though I have certainly dabbled) but by making sure I take care of my body so I can keep running.
Here are some of the activities I have picked up over the years that have helped my running, either by improving flexibility or increasing strength and power in my leg muscles.
Before this year, the only time I had ever done yoga was one semester in high school where I took it as an elective. I’ve learned, however, yoga is an absolute game changer. No matter how out of your league you might feel at first, if you stick with it, you will see improvement.
I prefer to spend my time on poses that open up my hips. Often times, ailments we might attribute to one area stem from an issue with our hips or psoas
. Some of my favorites include the pigeon pose, lizard pose, cow face pose and garland pose. Even if you incorporate these into your normal stretching routine, you will feel a difference!
The big thing to remember about weight training is that less is often more
. As runners, we want to be as light as possible to go faster. You don’t want to add too much bulk so that it slows you down.
Many reps with little weight can give your muscles the endurance you need while not compromising your own weight. And forget about popular exercises like the bench press or bicep curls; that isn’t going to help your running. Get the most bang for your buck and opt for exercises that target multiple muscle groups. I am particularly fond of back squats, deadlifts and kettlebell swings.
When I suffered my first running injury, I dove headfirst into swimming — no pun intended. I didn’t want to sacrifice the cardio fitness I had built up, and I was also looking for something that would supplement my running once I got healthy again. Swimming was the perfect antidote because it was so easy on my joints and also worked out overlooked muscles that weren’t being engaged while running.
The local swimming pool can be intimidating for the uninitiated — swimmers have their own set of rules and a code of conduct they live by. If you really don’t want to deal with that or if it’s particularly crowded, you can always just dive into the deep end and tread water for a while. Sure, you might get some funny looks, but you’ll get the last laugh when you’ve completed a long workout while every other swimming lane has people knocking into each other.
It would be too easy for me to include cardio machines like the stationary bike, elliptical or treadmill, though I prefer rowing machines, Jacob’s ladder or assault bikes instead because they target your upper body as well. Instead, I want to mention some exercises you can do at home. My two personal favorites are pushups and flutter kicks.
Pushups are a perfect way to tone your upper body without adding bulk. Like flutter kicks, they also help strengthen your core, which is pivotal and often overlooked. They are great everyday exercises you can do anywhere around the home. In fact, if I know I’m going to be home all day, I challenge myself to do ten pushups anytime I walk through a doorway. You don’t think it would be that bad, but they really start piling up. It also helps build accountability, which is huge for runners.
Don’t just look at the cross training day in your training plan as an extra rest day. Visit the local gym or swimming pool, and if you’re too busy, there’s also plenty of stuff you can do at home. When you cross the finish line of the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon or UPMC Health Plan Pittsburgh Half Marathon, I promise you all that time spent on cross training will be worth it!
Visit the ‘Burgh Blog each month for more training tips and tricks from Armando Martinez and the other 2019 Official Bloggers! You can also follow along as Armando trains for the DICK’S Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon on his blog Barefoot BF.