Small Resolutions, Big Results

This is the time of year when we runners tend to start making big resolutions about running farther and going faster. We start committing to impressive numbers we would like to see on the scale and on the finish-line clock.

Big audacious outcome goals are important because they fire you up to get out the door every day, and shape your daily workouts into training. What’s more, they motivate you to uncover more strength, speed, and resilience than you knew you had.

But some of the small steps you take in the course of your everyday routines can go a long way toward determining whether or not you meet your big goals. Here are some resolutions to make for the year ahead. These are the habits of the most successful runners.

Eat like an athlete.

When you’ve got your eyes on a prize, you must start treating food as fuel. Aim to pack in the most nutrients (like carbs, protein, and healthy fats), vitamins and minerals for the least amount of calories. Stay away from empty calories of sugary treats and packaged foods. Carbs are the body’s most efficient form of fuel. So if you’re looking to shed pounds, rather than putting yourself on a low-carb diet, which could make you feel depleted going into workouts, plan your meals and snacks so that you eat the most carb-rich meals right before your workout.

Hydrate.

Even a small amount of dehydration can slow down your runs, and make any pace feel more difficult. Aim to consume at least half your body weight in calorie-free fluids throughout the day. So if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 ounces. If you weigh 120 pounds aim for 60 ounces per day. Rather than chugging all those fluids right before your workout—which can lead to GI distress—sip the fluids at regular intervals throughout the day.

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Keep a training log.

Increasing your mileage by more than 10 percent each week can put you at risk for injury. But you won’t know if you’re at risk if you don’t track your mileage. Keep detailed notes about each run including distance, pace, the course, weather conditions, and how you felt on the road. Also since worn-out shoes can lead to injury, and shoes should be replaced every 200 to 500 miles, you’ll also want to make a note any time you replace your shoes. If you’re training for a race, you can use the information in your log to set smart and realistic race goals. What’s more, jotting down notes about aches and pains can help you spot problem areas before they become full-blown injuries. And adding up your miles can provide a confidence boost when you’re feeling discouraged.

Take recovery seriously

When you’re juggling work and family commitments, it’s tempting to dash to the rest of your day as soon as you finish your run. But the time you take right after a run to rehydrate, refuel with quality protein and carbs, and stretch out any sore spots will go a long way toward energizing you for your next workout and keeping you healthy in the long term. Try to move your workout 10 to 15 minutes earlier so that you can have time when you finish to stretch, rehydrate, and refuel. In the 20 minutes following a workout, your body is primed to restock spent glycogen stores, and rebuild strained muscle tissue. Keep a wholesome carb and protein-rich snack within close reach so you can take advantage of that opportunity. If you don’t feel hungry right after a run—and many people do not— a sports drink, a protein shake, or a glass of milk can replenish your body and help with rehydrating you.

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See something new.

We runners tend to love routine, but often we end up running the same miles at the same pace over the same course day after day. That can lead us into a fitness plateau, and it can also make our running routines feel downright boring. Resolve to run on new roads each week. Use a GPS watch to track your mileage. Have a friend drop you off a certain number of miles from home, and run back. Resolve to see all the parks in your town, or all the streets in your neighborhood.

Share the love.

Do you remember how intimidated you felt when you first started running? Do you remember how certain key pieces of advice from more seasoned runners improved the quality of your running life? Give back to the running community—and add a dimension to your own running life—by mentoring another runner, either through a structured program or on an informal basis. Offer to help a friend or a family member who wants to get fit. Help them work through the frustrations and fears that go along with starting something new. Incorporating their interests into your running life will take the pressure off your own goals, and also help you remember why you love to run.

Leverage Your Fitness.

Leverage the fitness you developed while running to try another sport or learn a new skill. Try hiking, yoga, or other activities that require minimal equipment. Having a more than one sport will give you a chance to develop full-body fitness that will ultimately make you faster. It will give you options when the weather makes running outside impossible. Also, it will help prevent burnout. When you have more than one sport in your regular routine, you’ll always be eager to run.