Yesterday I stumbled upon an interesting TedTalk by David Epstein titled “Are Athletes Really Getting Faster, Better, Stronger?”
If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend watching all 14 and a half minutes of it now. Well worth the time.
If you’re reading this in an email, click here to watch the video.
If you aren’t able to watch it now, here’s the gist:
Throughout the history of sports, we have continued to break records in all disciplines. We’re running faster, jumping higher, lifting more, and traveling further than we ever have before. And when you break down those records from over the years, the amount of improvement is incredible.
David’s first example is of the Olympic marathon.
In 2012, the winner of the Olympic marathon completed the 26.2 miles in a time of 2:08:01. If you compare that to the winning time nearly 100 years earlier in 1904, which was 3:28:53, you’ll find that the 2012 winner ran the same distance 1:20 faster.
That’s right, the 2012 time was a full hour and twenty minutes faster than the 1904 winner.
Does that mean that we as a species have developed, evolved, and improved that significantly in the past 100 years?
He argues, as would I, no.
In fact, we probably haven’t developed with noticeable improvements at all.
Instead, we’ve learned new technologies and techniques that make us faster, better, stronger.
It has taken the best in the sport 100 years to improve by 1:20, but fortunately for the average runner, most of us aren’t tapping into the improved technologies and techniques nearly as much as we should be.
Getting Stronger is Possible
Most of us are ignoring the improvements that can increase our strength and speed significantly.
When I took a look at what we were ignoring, I found that most things fell into one of four categories. Four categories of ways we can improve our running abilities and start getting stronger.
Let’s take a look at what I found.
1) Embrace New Technologies
I like to say that running is the simplest of sports, and cluttering it with a bunch of gadgets and gear takes away from the appeal.
And I do believe that.
But I also believe that those gadgets have a place in making us stronger, and by using them regularly, we can learn a lot about ourselves as runners, and gather data to make ourselves faster.
The running community is full of super high-tech gadgets that most people (myself included) would never have access to or be able to afford, like zero gravity treadmills or regular VO2 Max testing.
We also have increasingly affordable access to technologies your average runner can use everyday. Things like:
- GPS sport watches, which allow you to track distance and pace to improve your workouts, or
- Heart rate monitors, which if used and studied properly, can help you adjust each workout to it’s desired effort.
We also see vast improvements in the technology we find in our workout clothing and gear.
- Shoes: The running shoe industry is enormous, with every company trying to sell you a their new technology. When it comes to purchasing, go with what feels comfortable, but also pay close attention to weight and traction, particularly for you trail runners.
- Socks: They might seem like an insignificant part of running, but the technology that goes into running socks is incredible, and can have a massive effect on performance.
- Compression: For the longest time I had mixed feelings about compression socks and sleeves for performance and recovery, but hey, if the winner of the Boston Marathon finds them helpful, I’d bet my money that you will too.
2) Don’t Ignore Advanced Training Techniques
The sports world is constantly learning how to train smarter. You can too.
Of course there are the tried and true, but still overlooked, techniques like incorporating trails, hills, speed work, and focused cross-training into your regular training, but there are also training techniques even more obvious that we continue to ignore:
- Running Form: When was the last time you paid attention to your running form? Film yourself running and review the tape yourself or have a coach look it over for improvements.
- Personalized Training Plans: In the internet age, we have access to hundreds of running coaches we can work with directly to develop personalized training plans that fit our needs, abilities, and restraints.
- Injury Prevention: It’s easy to think about an injury when you have one, but what if you could do things each run that help prevent them from coming in the first place? People like Jason Fitzgerald are giving us tools to do just that.
- Strength Training: This is my biggest downfall as a runner. I like to run, not do strength training exercises. But that’s exactly where I should be focusing my time. Simple strength exercises can go a long way for running speed.
3) Find Accountability Through Community
Fostering a community to help encourage and hold you accountable is nothing new to sports or running, but as time has progressed, we’ve been given access to countless options for building just the right community for our needs. Here’s what I’m talking about:
- Online communities like Run Your BQ, Let’s Run, blogs, and so many others.
- Group runs, organized by running stores, gyms, churches, and community centers are popping up everywhere. They are fun, friendly, and a great way to build a running community.
- In-person race specific training groups, either organized through those same running groups, or through charity sponsors like Team in Training and the dozens of other charity groups. These race specific groups can challenge and push us at just the right time with a group of runners all focused on the same goal.
The community you run with will hold you accountable, and push you to new levels.
Even though I’m usually guilty of running alone, I find great benefit from running with others, and the accountability I get from having this blog.
4) Pay Attention to Your Nutrition
As David points out in the TedTalk above, the winner of the 1904 marathon was drinking a mixture of rat poison and brandy as his energy drink.
Yup, rat poison and brandy.
I’m no stranger to alcohol after a race, but I think we’ve come up with a few better options than a rat poison/brandy combo for in-run fueling.
The problem is, most of us ignore what’s out there and don’t actually consume proper nutrition for maximum performance. Either we don’t want to, say, because we just like water better than a sports drink, or because we don’t know where to start.
The key here is experimentation. Experiment with things like:
- Rotating between water and a sports drink (like Nuun or Heed, avoid sugary drinks like Gatorade).
- Consume simple carbohydrates during your run through energy gels and chews, or natural foods like dates.
- Fuel your body properly before your run, and replenish properly after your run for better energy and quicker recovery.
It’s so obvious that what you eat before, during, and after a run will have an effect on your performance, yet for some reason we often ignore it.
Why it Sounds Easier Than It Actually Is
I’d be willing to bet that nothing I said today is new for you.
I’m also willing to bet that most of what I said you don’t do.
For some reason we like making things harder on ourselves than they have to be. We don’t like doing 5 minutes of strength training after a run, even if it means we’ll end up running faster and stronger. And we’d rather eat a giant pizza to replenish post-run lost calories than something healthy for us.
We’re really good at putting things off. Even if it means we’re making ourselves suffer.
Maybe it’s time we change that. Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard and start getting stronger and faster.
Because if we don’t do it now, 100 years from now they will be kicking our butts. And we don’t want that, do we?
Call for Comments: What training tricks do you ignore or avoid, even though you know they will make you faster?