This post continues my analysis of how "Greatness is Elemental", by discussing the "Water" stage of training. (Read about the first element, "Oxygen", here.) Here's what I wrote previously about training at the Water level:
"Water is the next most important element of life, so it's not surprising to note that hydration is one of the next most important components of training. It's crucial. And just as your life won't last long without water, your running career won't go far if you don't stretch, eat enough, properly warm-up and cool-down, get enough sleep, and employ some sophistication to your running (intervals, fartleks, etc.).
In my experience, this is what most athletes get out of their training programs, minus the sufficient sleep. Most runners don't invest enough time in their sleep. That said, most dedicated runners can reach the Water stage."
The Water stage isn't necessarily dependent on the Oxygen stage. That is, you don't have to achieve the Oxygen stage before you can begin behaving at the Water stage (though it is hard to apply sophistication to something you're not doing). Over the long term, if you aren't going to get out the door and run, nothing in the Water stage is going to help you.
Let's take a brief look at each of the activities one must do to train at the Water level and outline why these activities are important and what you should keep in mind when doing them.
Okay, I'm breathing. Now what?
Hydration: Drinking enough water is essential if you want to be your best. Water is an amazing thing, not just for it's cool, refreshing taste (when it isn't coming out of a Dasani bottle...seriously, how does Coke make water taste gross?), but for the myriad ways it helps our bodies. These include regulating our body temperature, enhancing digestion, improving mental clarity, detoxing our skin (very important for distance runners who hope to have girlfriends) and avoiding numerous other ailments like back and joint pain.
I don't believe in making a hard and fast rule about how much water you should drink. In general, if your mouth is dry or your pee is yellow, you should drink some water. You don't need to overdo it with water, especially if you drink juices, sports drinks, teas, coffees, sodas and/or eat copious amounts of lettuce. Just don't neglect it.
Stretching: Stretching is one of those things that some people (generally flexible people) tend to enjoy and others (people like me) absolutely abhor. But before I give you a bunch of excuses as to why I don't stretch well enough, let's just be clear about why we both should be stretching more. The expected benefits--reduced risk of injury, reduced soreness, reduced tightness--seem obvious but may be just a placebo effect, but don't forget that there are some very interesting benefits you may not have considered--increased relaxation, enhanced body awareness, enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements (steeplechasers, are you reading this?), and the fact that for many people it just feels good.
Most people, however, have personal barriers when it comes to stretching. By this I mean something that keeps them from doing it as much as they should. In my case, I don't like sitting on the ground. Yes, you laugh at me now, but this is actually a big deal. It's not that I never sat down to stretch, but I certainly tried to do most of my stretching standing up, because...just because. When I figured this out and bought something to sit on, my stretching improved dramatically. Seriously, give some thought to whether or not there is something holding you back from stretching optimally.
Eating enough: I still remember an awkward situation that happened in the dorms when I was in college. My buddy Scott and I were eating with a group of girls from the women's cross country team. One of the girls went to put a bite of salad in their mouth and the salad fell off the fork and onto her lap. Scott saw it and said something to the effect of, "[Name]'s got an eating disorder." And the table went quiet.
It's not just a problem with women runners, but not eating enough is a problem women seem to struggle with more than men. It's an issue that isn't talked about enough--with men or women--and I would wager that most teams are no different than ours was, when the mention of an eating disorder would cause silence to descend at a table because everyone knew girls at that very table weren't eating enough and the issue itself was taboo.
Well, here's what happens when you don't eat enough. It affects your metabolism, which then affects your body temperature, your blood pressure and your heart rate. If it's serious enough, osteoporosis--the loss of bone mass--can set in and you will begin to suffer stress fractures. (This ends multiple careers every year.) Finally, it just makes you look bad. You grow crazy peach fuzz, your hair dries out, your skin dries out, and you lose sleep. Obviously I'm describing serious anorexia cases, here. But it doesn't take that much to start having an effect.
If you want to be your best, you will have to learn to toe the line with your diet. But when in doubt, eat a little more. You can work off that extra food with the extra energy you'll have tomorrow. And for goodness sake, don't be afraid to talk to someone about it if your appetite goes away and you don't feel like eating. It could be normal or it could be the start of a problem; it's better not to risk it.
Proper warm-ups and cool-downs: Anyone who runs at the collegiate level no doubt does an adequate warm-up or cool-down. Or at least they have no excuse for not doing it. It's the high school athletes (and fun runners) who are prone to not warming up or cooling down sufficiently. When I was in high school I was never taught how to warm-up effectively. I probably never ran a race in high school where I was actually ready to run, and I probably never recovered from a race as well as I should have. Half the high school runners I see today have the same problem.
Your warm-up should always include a jog that is long enough for you to start sweating. You should stretch lightly (it's not time for yoga) and you should do some strides (100m repeats at 80%). The important thing to note here is that there is no such thing as warming up too much. Seriously. Take your warm-up and add an extra 10 minutes of strides to it. I bet you run faster.
As for your cool-down, don't wait until you've already cooled down (and tightened up) to start it! We all understand that you want to tell everyone how your longer warm-up helped you to run a new personal best, but that should come after the cool-down. Remember, you can always blog about it. So get jogging! As part of your cool-down, consider eating something light and healthy like a banana, an energy bar, or part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If you've just run a tough race, your body will be starved for the energy and it will help your muscles recover faster.
Sleeping enough: I just read an interesting argument at an economics blog called Marginal Revolution:
"If you get up late in the morning on weekends, you must think sleep is very valuable. And if sleep is very valuable, that means we should go to bed early. Because if you go to bed early, you always have the option of sleeping later -- that is sleeping more -- and getting even more sleep than if you had gone to bed late. (You can't just shift your sleep into any hours block you want, given the coordination issues.) And if sleep is very valuable, the option to sleep more must be valuable as well. Therefore it's time to go to bed. Now. Early."
If a good philosophical economics argument can't get you to go to bed earlier, I don't know what can!
As a runner, it's important that you recognize the importance of sleep. Or maybe I should say, that sleep is more important than pretty much anything you do that keeps you from sleeping. Obviously the argument above isn't making the case for any of sleep's major benefits: decreased depression, decreased stress, enhanced mental clarity (assuming you didn't just wake up from a nap), and even decreased risk of weight gain (see ladies, eat more sleep more! no worries!).
Here's the kicker, though. We have barriers to sleeping, too. And the biggest one is procrastination. Students are particularly prone to this. They stay up all night working on a paper or studying for a test, because they "had to". Newsflash: if you want to get your sleep, you can find a way. First suggestion: turn off Twitter, IM, and/or World of Warcraft. Now that you're bored, finish that paper and study for that test. And go to bed!
Employing sophistication to one's training: This is the last of the great Water activities, and this is incredibly obvious to all of you, I'm sure. It's what most of us just call "training". You probably assumed I was talking about this when I wrote about the Oxygen stage. That was actually more about just getting out the door. This pertains to what you do once you're outside.
I'm not going to tell you which type of workouts you need to do because, frankly, I don't think it matters. I don't believe in the "myth of the perfect training program". Chances are, the problem with your training program isn't the workouts but how you are running them. My basic advice: talk to your coaches, understand what you're being asked to do, carry out the instructions as effectively as possible, and modify future training sessions as necessary. That's it.
Now that I'm in the Water, what can I expect?
So you've decided to do all of these activities to the best of your ability. Are you ready to conquer the world? Ahhh, no. (Wait, I'm not supposed to say that, am I?) The fact is, this is par for the competitive runner's course. Every runner on every team with a reasonably decent program is (and probably has been) doing all of this for some time.
But that doesn't mean it's not worth it for you to do it as well. On the contrary, this is what logicians call a "necessary but insufficient" factor. You have to do these things if you want to be great. But just doing them isn't enough. So if you're not doing these things right now, start working on building them into your training routine. If you are, try to do them more efficiently and effectively and stay tuned for my next post on Food. Yum!