Running Tips, Thinking Outside the Box

Competitive runners, like athletes in all sports, are always searching for an “edge.” Be it a training based edge or a psychological tool, those seeking to be swifter of foot are on a never ending hunt for which elements to tweak in their favor. Here we’ll explore 5 tried and true running tips, outside the normal realm of running “media” tips. We have used these with great success here at ZAP with our full time pros and our coaching clientele as well. 

Running Tip 1: 1 Hour + of Daily Walking

Daily walking is an underrated, effective recovery tool as well as low level training stimulus. Too many runners, including those in the upper echelon, train hard and remain sedentary otherwise. Walking as a normal part of your training day increases blood flow and advances the removal of waste product. Gold Medalists Paavo Nurmi and Lasse Viren of Finland both used daily walks to engage their prime movers and advance recovery. It is also a staple amongst Japanese marathoners and current female world marathon record holder Brigid Kosgei. This running tip is also a big change we have made with the ZAP pro team over the last few years.

Tip #2: Get a Blood Panel x 2 Annually

More than a dozen studies have been published in recent years looking at the performance effects (all negative) of low iron stores, vitamin D & potassium, as well as what can and will influence the absorption of critical nutrients.

While this is not surprising, the percentage of athletes, particularly women, who are consistently “low” in vitamin D & iron – and how impactful that is on performance – is jaw dropping. A 2021 University of Colorado took 90 female distance runners (all running more than 50 miles per week.) They found more than 60% had serum ferritin levels (a protein which holds iron) below 15 micrograms per deciliter. Be aware….this is VERY low and WILL affect your performance and recovery.

Iron is used to make hemoglobin which transports O2 to working muscles. If it is low a runner will feel increasingly fatigued. The exact value will vary considerably from athlete to athlete. Anecdotally however, many coaches of professional athletes will avoid competition if an athlete has a ferritin level below 40-50. Additionally, iron supplements are a mainstay for 80%+ of post collegiate athletes with whom my fellow post collegiate coaches work.

(Note: traditional family physicians will commonly tell patients their iron levels are “fine” without taking into consideration the needs of endurance athletes. A “normal” reading for hemoglobin and/or ferritin is often deficient for a runner training intently).

Running Tip #3: Spice it Up

Running tip #3 is all about spicing up your routine. What could be better than a ZAP running vacation?

Distance runners are creatures of habit as much as any athletes on the planet. We tend to run in the same handful of venues. We tend to race within the same series of races year in and year out. Change that this year. Variety is not only the spice of life but an excellent way to reinvigorate running gone stale. Find a new venue for your weekly long run or interval session. Move outside your comfort zone and register for a race away from your normal “circuit,” even one for which you’d need to travel. (Maybe a ZAP Running Vacation would be exactly what you need!)

Training and racing effectively over the long term involves assessment and tweaking. These tweaks have long been proven to give runners some pop amidst “dead” periods. Use this running tip to bring some excitement to your running if it’s feeling stale!

Tip #4: Mobilize Tissue Pre Run

One of the more valuable areas of growth and knowledge in recent years has been in the area of tissue activation and mobility. We now know that manipulation and engagement of prime movers, those muscles responsible for forwards movement, can increase the their efficacy. A few simple pre run exercises (see below) will not only have you feeling inherently better, but moreover will allow you to recover more readily. Try the brief warm up routine below before you head out for your daily run.

Jog 3-4 min slowly 

10 walking lunges (5 each leg)

lateral “hops” in each direction x 8-10 sec

light skipping (yes just like when you were a kid) x 2 (15 sec)

leg swings forward as well as laterally in front of you (8-10 sec each leg)

Running Tip #5: Set Daily Process Goals

Most of us have outcome goals (ie how fast I want run, what place I want to finish etc.) However, to achieve those outcome goals, athletes should have what Sport Psychologist Dr. Robert Swoap calls PROCESS GOALS. These are the goals we have near complete control over. For example, sleeping 8.5 hours daily, acquiring a massage once every 2 weeks, drinking 90-95 oz of fluid daily with 700-800 mg of sodium. These are all checklist (aka process goal) items which if completed daily will make the performance goals more likely. They are also good running tips in their own right!

Take away 1-2 of these running tips, apply them to your training consistently, and you’ll receive a performance boost this fall and winter.