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Trail running can help us feel mentally and physically strong even in the toughest of times. It provides a way to clear the mind, reset, feel full of energy, and take in fresh air. However, running is also demanding on the body and there are a few things you should keep in mind to make sure your training isn’t becoming unhealthy or increasing your chances of getting sick. From my career as a NCAA Division 1 and professional runner, I’ve learned a few tricks from my coaches and training partners about how to not only train at consistently high levels, but also to stay healthy while doing it. Listed below are my top 6 tips for making sure your training is promoting your health and not detracting from it.
Get Your ZZZs
Some elite runners sleep 10 hours on average per night (or more!). It’s during sleep that your body recovers from the day’s training and makes the necessary repairs to become stronger. Lack of sleep can weaken your immune system, throw off your hormone balance, and is one major roadblock for runners seeking improvements in their running. For recreational runners, 8 hours of sleep per night is a good benchmark. If you’re able, I’d advise sleeping more than 8 hours on days when you have more challenging or longer runs. The extra sleep is almost guaranteed to make you feel faster and most importantly, healthier.
Fuel Your Body Right
Eating well is essential to maintaining proper health while training. Training uses large amounts of energy and depletes your body of its nutrients and fluids. It’s essential to hydrate and refuel properly during and after runs, so your body has everything it needs to function normally. Some general guidelines as an athlete include: always eat enough, do your best to choose nutrient dense foods and hydrate consistently throughout the day with water. Consult a sports nutritionist or dietician for more specific fueling guidelines. For a remote nutrition consultation, I recommend contacting Kylee Schuler of FlyNutrition or Maria Dalzot.
Schedule Recovery/Easy Days
Recovery/easy days are specific days in your training when you purposefully train less or take days off from running. These days are essential for your body to recover from the physical and mental demands of training. Training consistently, without rest or easy days, can weaken the immune system and cause injuries to even the best runners. As a general rule, I’d suggest making at least 75-80% of your training “easy” and to include at least one rest day per week (likely more depending on your training experience).
Looking for a running coach to help you train smart, stay healthy, and run consistently? Find out more about my coaching services at tayteontrails.com or check out my own coach, David Roche, at Some Work, All Play (SWAP). For a comprehensive list of trail running coaches check out our national directory.
Dress Weather Appropriate
Wearing the right attire for the conditions — what they are at the time you head out the door, and what they may become — will help you stay healthy on the run. Especially during winter months, cold weather can make it easier for you to catch an illness if you aren’t staying warm and dry. Many brands make apparel for specific winter conditions such as extreme cold, wind, rain and snow. Breathable and water-wicking materials will help you stay dry and avoid getting chilled.
Practice Good Hygiene
Maintaining good hygiene is easy to do and will help keep you healthy. Common hygiene issues that occur from running include wet clothes/shoes, broken toenails, chafing, and blisters (see my article “How to Fix Your Trail Running Blisters”). These problems can lead to a variety of infections and illnesses if you’re not careful. A few good hygiene habits include preparing a change of clothes for immediately after your runs, clipping your toenails regularly, and wearing water-wicking materials. Additionally, continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Likewise, good mental hygiene is important. This means quieting the mind, practicing meditation, and taking a break from daily stresses. For a few ways I’ve learned to train my mind, see my previous article “Tayte Pollmann’s Tuesday Trail Tip – Mental Fitness”.
Conserve Energy for When You Really Need It
This is a practice used consistently by many elite distance runners. The idea is that before and after an anticipated hard or long run, you do as little as possible to conserve your energy. This will help to maximize your performance during the run and promote recovery afterwards. Energy conserving practices include taking a nap, reading a book, watching T.V., foam rolling, mediating, doing yoga and many other leisure activities. I find conserving energy is especially important before and after long runs when your body is depleted of energy. In this energy-depleted state, your body is weakened and more prone to illness, so it’s important to plan some chill-time around the run to minimize this energy depletion and to recover quickly.
Editor’s Note: Be safe as we continue to navigate the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, continue to follow the recommendations and updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including proper hygiene practices. Also consider reading iRunFar’s COVID-19: A Trail Running and Ultrarunning Community Guide.