Here in the northeast, running season 2016 officially opens in April. The Boston Marathon is the kickoff of the year, as crowds line the streets to cheer and to celebrate the sacrifice and diligence that went into training for such a rigorous course over the hard winter months. Registration for fall races typically opens in April, and runners eagerly plan their training schedules and hope to get that BQ or PR. As I look forward to the opening day of running season with glee, here are the areas that are receiving my attention in the off-season.
One of the small pleasures that I allow myself each season is that I add 5 new songs to my runningpod at the start of the year. I am not big on digital music, as I prefer to have a tangible album that I can admire as a work of art, but I do have a small screenless iPod that has replaced my cassette walkman for running. Adding five new songs each season is one of my small guilty pleasures that helps with the motivation factor in the dull, grey days of winter.
My most significant addition to my thoughtfully curated running list this year is the fact that, after 14 medals, I have a new running theme song that is now in regular rotation on my runningpod. This song actually came from a CD that I already own, so while I will be adding 5 new songs this season, not all of those songs need to be purchased. Having new music on my runningpod helps me to drag myself to the gym to be tortured by the freakmill (my term of endearment for treadmill) when there is too much ice and snow to run the trails. New music also helps me to push through hard workouts, as I incorporate cross-training and push my body in ways other than endurance during the off-season.
Pre-gaming the 2016 running season is also the time to evaluate nutrition to ascertain that I am receiving the proper fuel to be able to sustain a grueling training program and race season. Fueling both before and after workouts is important, as is what you eat on rest days. We cannot expect to be top producing athletic machines if we put crap into our bodies and do not fuel with good nutrition choices to be top performing athletes. In addition to Gatorade and gels, it is about the choices we make for each meal and snack that aid in muscle recovery and ensure that we are ready and pumped to perform when needed.
This year, I am making changes to my post-run snack list. Juggling multiple food allergies the past few years has been particularly challenging, and it has taken me quite a while to get to the point where I can handle them in stride. I have snacks planned for the 2016 running season that will not only give me the proper carb/protein balance needed for optimal muscle recovery, but hopefully also provide enough variety so that I do not get bored with what I am eating.
When I first started running, I did not have food allergies. All of my food allergies have been adult on-set, so making changes to this area of my life has taken a back burner to the crisis of trying to figure out what to eat on a daily basis. Now that I have had some time and experience with managing my food allergies, I feel I am able to make better choices in my food selections to be sure that not only am I eating food that will not kill me, but I can make choices to ensure that I am properly fueled to be a top performing athlete.
This season, I plan on adding more variety to my diet. I often feel that my food choices are limited given my multiple food allergies. However, now that I am retired, I have discovered that there are so many foods to which I am not allergic with which I can experiment and find creative ways to prepare. My goal is to try at least one new recipe per month to be able to give me a wider variety of foods to eat to be sure I am receiving proper nutrition. I have also recognized that I tend to stick with the same fruits and vegetables routinely. I am hoping to be able to expand the variety of fruits and vegetables that I eat this year and to truly incorporate the entire rainbow of produce.
Perhaps my most favorite form of cross-training is boxing and martial arts. However, after multiple head injuries combined with a lack of funds for ring fees, I now have to seek alternate options for cross-training. Add to this the fact that I have some specific areas of my body that are in need of strengthening to prevent the type of injury that seriously sidelined me in the 2015 running season.
This year, I am focusing more on strength training and plyometrics. Plyometrics should address the specific body areas that contributed to last year’s injury. Strength training is crucial for all runners. As I get older, I am discovering more and more how beneficial strength training is for my life. Most weight equipment was designed to accommodate a 150-pound male. Given that I am an approximate 100-pound female, I intend on focusing on free weights instead of machines for my strength training. Not only can I do this at home, but also it saves me from trying to fit into weight machines that were not designed for someone of my size.
Balance and flexibility are usually lacking in runners and often contribute to injury. In addition to all the surfing I plan to do this summer, which helps with balance, I am also incorporating some yoga and pilates into my routine to help with balance and flexibility. The goal for the 2016 running season is to run well and to remain injury-free. Now that I have more free time than ever before, I am hoping to incorporate more play into my day and to be active in different, fun ways that use a variety of muscle groups.
On one of my recent minimalist sprees, I was quite surprised to find that I had three storage bins full of running wear and running related paraphernalia. I literally had at least one, if not multiple, shirts from pretty much every race I have ran. Some of them were t-shirts and some of them were technical, wicking shirts. I decided that my medals are much more a reflection of my accomplishments and meaningful to me than any t-shirt could ever be.
I went through all three bins and got rid of all but my most favorite shirts. I also went through all of my running gear currently in use and realized how ratty some of my technicals have become after being constantly drenched in sweat, even after having been washed in sports wash and air dried. I took this purging as the opportunity to replace the well-worn technicals with some of my race technicals that have pretty much just been hanging out in a storage bin. What is the point of having a bunch of race technicals if I am not going to wear them?
Now, every time I go for a training run, I can celebrate my accomplishments by wearing one of my race technicals. Plus, it serves as a reminder of the reward that is waiting at the end of a long and hard training season. It makes me feel like I have an entirely new running wardrobe when all I did was to start using what I already had in storage. What is the point of storing something unless you are going to use it? Now my goal is to put all new race technicals immediately into rotation and to remove any items that are smelly or ratty. No matter if you always use sport wash and air dry your running clothes, there comes a point when they are just smelly and nothing will remove the stench of sweat from well-used workout clothes.
I no longer have three storage bins of run wear. All of my running clothes are currently out and in current rotation. While I have updated other aspects of my running gear, like rotating shoes every 300-500 miles, I had neglected to update running shorts and running shirts. I am pretty sure that some of that old smelly ratty run wear that went to the rag pile are from almost 10 years ago when I first started running. It was definitely time to start using what I already have available.
Now that I have been retired for a few months and have taken the opportunity to relish in my newfound free time, I realize that the beauty of rewinding real slow is that I now have the time to focus on the things that are most important to me. I have time in my life to be able to focus on running and cross-training so that I can get through a running season uninjured. I have both the time and the energy to put into making 2016 the best running season yet. I’m looking forward to it.