Self-care is a bit of a buzz word these days. We hear more and more about the importance of taking time for one’s self, and what such a thing might entail. The truth is that self-care looks different for every person. For runners, in particular, it’s easy to think that the act of running is itself an act of self-care, and that’s certainly true. Some form of exercise is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. Of course, runners find the activity to be a good conditioner for their bodies, but many also find the activity to be a great stress relief.
Running, however, can also be an intensive exercise, and runners (as well as all athletes) must take special care to prevent injury, recover from workouts, improve stamina, and stay in tune with themselves. This is where a different kind of self-care becomes valuable.
Don’t Skimp on Sleep
Casual runners often find that running is an easy way to tire you out for sleep, but it’s actually quite common for regular runners, particularly during training, to experience insomnia. The reason for this isn’t entirely clear, but overtraining may play a possible role. You can help sleep come easier by running early in the day or evening, as opposed to an hour or two before bed. Make sure that you’re well-nourished and hydrated during your runs and throughout the day. If it’s stress that’s keeping you awake, come up with a routine to help you unwind. Reading a book, journaling your stresses, doing some restorative yoga, or participating in tai chi are all ways to help strengthen the mind and calm the body for a more restful sleep.
You might also try having certain plants in the bedroom that are more likely to promote healthy sleep. While everyone is different, active runners should strive for at least the classic eight hours a night of quality sleep. Being well-rested will help your body to perform at its peak ability.
Poor nutrition negatively affects your body and your performance as a runner. Carbs are discussed frequently around the time of a big race, but when planning for the big event, you want to be eating less-refined carbohydrates, like whole grain breads and wheat pastas, as opposed to refined carbohydrates that lead to blood sugar spikes. Lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and nut butters all provide the right balance of protein and fat that is particularly important during the recovery period post-run. Take it easy on the caffeine, however. While runners can and do enjoy their coffee and tea, too much caffeine can make it harder to get a restful sleep.
Care for Your Body
There are many different injuries that affect runners, with iliotibial band syndrome being one of the most common. With IT band syndrome, the thick band of connective tissue that runs the length of your thigh down to your shin bone becomes tight, swelling with inflammation and pain. IT band syndrome is one of the most common causes of knee pain in runners, and it can come on in even the most experienced athletes. It’s especially common in athletes who suddenly get back into training after taking a break from running.
To help guard against conditions like iliotibial band syndrome, there are a few things you can do. First, seriously consider regular massage. Massages aide in recovery and reduce inflammation. But, you don’t have to see a professional all of the time. You can invest in a foam roller (complete with instructional video) to regularly give yourself the kind of high-quality massage that is recommended by fellow runners and coaches alike. After using the foam roller, go ahead and indulge in a foot spa to further help your muscles recover.
Running as a Form of Meditation
A run can be a fantastic opportunity to explore meditation and mindfulness, especially if you’re running outdoors. Use your runs as opportunities to let go of the endless thoughts and distractions that tend to gather throughout our days, and instead notice the leaves on the trees, or the feeling of your feet as they hit the pavement. You’ll be more present and more alert, as well as feel less stress and a refreshed mind. An excellent book that teaches you how to run more mindfully is Chi Running by Danny and Katherine Dreyer.
It’s important to remember that proper fitness is more than just going for a run. Complete wellness, from quality sleep to proper nutrition and injury protection, are all essential to your health and wellbeing as a runner. Running, just like any exercise, should be apart of your complete picture of health. When this happens, you’ll reap more benefits from running than you ever could have imagined.
Are you a runner? How do you practise self-care? Let me know on Facebook or in the comments below.