The distance between the elites who lead the race and recreational runners who follow behind isn't as wide as you might think. It's possible for a recreational runner to narrow the gap by changing their lifestyle and training habits.
Learning how to sleep, wake, fuel, and hurt like a pro can take your training to the next level. Making a change in your running lifestyle isn't always easy, but the payoff can be big.
Sleep Like a Pro
The most important hours of the day aren't devoted to training; they're spent recovering. During recovery, your body absorbs and adapts to the high demands you place on it during training, enabling you to see the results of your hard work.
Many professional runners nap 1 to 2 hours every day, on top of getting an 8- to 10-hour night's sleep. Recreational runners might not have the time for a midday nap. However, they can put more emphasis on getting enough sleep at night. Start small and dedicate one or two nights each week to getting as much sleep as you can.
If you're fortunate enough to work at home, take advantage of this and try to spend about two hours a day lying down. Being prone, even when you're not able to sleep, allows your muscles to relax and stretch rather than contract and tense up in a sitting position.
Wake Like a Pro
Regardless of the race's start time, professional runners wake up early enough--often at 3 a.m. for a race that starts at 6 a.m.—to eat a light breakfast and get their legs moving.
Give yourself enough time to wake up, eat, and digest a light breakfast of protein and carbs.
Most pros eat about two hours before a race. And they always eat food they've tried out in practice.
Professional runners typically take a short shake-out run that's less than a mile as part of their workout routine. These shake-out runs are usually done before breakfast to help get blood flowing through muscles that have been at rest for hours.
Fuel Like a Pro
Pro runners are deliberate and methodical about how they fuel. They often pop an energy gel right before the race to saturate their blood with glucose. After the gun goes off, pros fuel every 30 to 40 minutes during the race.
Pro runners use a variety of energy gel brands and have their own favorite flavors. Regardless of their personal preference, all professional runners practice their fueling before an event.
When your stomach is under the stress of a high-intensity workout or race, it can be difficult to keep down food. For this reason, you should practice fueling during a few hard workouts and long runs before your race.
Pros also practice drinking as they run. Once you've signed up for a race, find out how many aid stations will be on the course. If you have a tough time grabbing and drinking from plastic or paper cups, set up a few and practice the "run and grab" before race day.