Being an athlete is physically, mentally and emotionally draining at times. Of course, there’s the highs – when you’re in great shape, when your mind is clear and when you remind yourself just how much you love to run. But there’s also the lows – when you have or are recovering from an injury, when you’re trying to get fit and it’s really hard and when all the extremes of bad weather and bad terrain are getting in your way.
So how can you ensure that running is more about the good times and less about the bad? Well, there are 3 key things we all need to do in order to be healthy. One is getting enough exercise (which, I trust, you do already). The second is eating the right foods: a very important one that involves cutting down on caffeine, sugar and gluten while loading up on leafy greens and oily fish.
The third one might be the most important as it’s something that involves every aspect of your health; both mental and physical. It stops you from experiencing that “draining” feeling I mentioned earlier, plus it prevents injury and improves performance.
What is this magic formula? Well, it may come as a surprise but it’s actually something quite simple. It’s sleep.
Getting enough, good-quality sleep is essential for our health and our happiness. It strengthens our immune systems, so that we don’t fall victim to every bug going around. It gives us the energy we need to train and to challenge ourselves, without pushing ourselves too far. And it keeps our motivation high, urging us on and improving our performance.
If you’re a runner, you should be doing whatever it takes to get a good night’s sleep; whether you’re in great physical condition or dealing with pain, sleep will always make things better. So follow these quick tips to dreamland and enjoy the results!
1. Respect your circadian rhythms
If you don’t sleep well at night, chances are it’s because you’re not listening to your circadian rhythm – that built-in body clock which means you get sleepy as darkness falls and become more alert with the sunrise.
And if you’re getting to bed at midnight, then rising at 9am… sure, you might be getting a decent amount of sleep but it’s not at the optimal time. You’ll wake up groggy and disoriented, feeling lethargic and definitely not in the mood for a run.
On the other hand, if you get to bed early – say at 10pm – you can rise at 6 or 7am, with the dawn chorus. You’ll feel energised, upbeat and – dare I say it – like a morning person! By becoming one of these mythical beings you’ll be able to get that 10k run in before breakfast easily. The day that follows will seem less stressful, and guess what? You’ll sleep better that night as a result.
2. Eat sleep-promoting foods
Ok, so you might already have a healthy eating plan in place. If so, good for you! But did you know there are foods out there that can actually improve your sleep? Well there are. And by chowing down on the likes of bananas, kiwis, almonds and sweet potatoes, you can kick that insomnia to the kerb.
Enjoy these foods as part of your evening meal or for a pre-bedtime snack and sleep sounder for longer.
3. Get into meditation
Of course, you might see running as a meditation exercise all on its own. A chance to escape the hustle and bustle of life, to clear your mind and to focus on the breath. But the bad thing about running is, it gets us all hyped up. That rush of endorphins is lovely, true… except when we need to settle down at night, we often find that we can’t.
Instead, we find our pulse still racing, our mind busy and our bodies far from relaxed. This might not apply to everyone but in my own experience, evening runs always left me feeling this way!
One way I solved this post-run wakefulness was to have a bath before bed; I don’t do it every night for environmental reasons but love a good soak when I’m feeling especially wound up. Another way I love to relax after running is to do a guided meditation exercise. My favourites are ones where you focus on tensing and relaxing each body part; I find that it soothes both my body and mind when I need it to most and that afterwards, I always sleep like a baby!
Don’t think you can sit still for long enough? Give it a try… I did, and it really worked for me!
Well, that’s about it! Hopefully these tips will help you to get that R&R that you need and deserve. Meaning you can enjoy each and every run the way you should!