Being a professional racer can be an individual quest. But professional runners rarely reach their highest potential alone.
Many of the best runners in the world have a team of experts helping them prepare their minds and bodies for performance. These runners have physiotherapists and psychologists, trainers and nutritionists, doctors and teammates.
This month, we’ve decided to treat you, our newsletter readers, like professionals, introducing you to a team of experts to help you perform at your best this year.
Last week, we introduced the first two members of your team: Yera Patel, a physical therapist at NYU Langone Health, and Justin Ross, a clinical psychologist in Denver.
This week we talk to Atlanta Track Club coach and 2008 Olympian Amy Yoder Begley and Empire Elite Track Club dietitian Amy Stephens.
Want to ask them a question? Email [email protected]mes.com and include the expert’s name in the subject line. (Questions about training or coaching go to Begley; those about nutrition go to Stephens.) We’ll be answering readers’ questions as we enter February — which can be the toughest month for keeping New Year’s resolutions. Year.
These conversations have been edited and condensed.
⚡️ Q&A with Atlanta Track Club Coach and 2008 Olympian Amy Yoder Begley
What advice do you give to new runners?
I tell people to try to get rid of all the obstacles that would prevent you from running.
Make sure you have shoes that fit: you don’t want old shoes that will hurt your knees, your back, or blisters that will keep you from running.
Learn how to refuel and hydrate to ensure you don’t get worked up on a shorter run.
And start slow. There is walking, running and running. It may be easier to start with 30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking instead of three miles.
What do you say to runners trying to improve their performance?
People who just ran and didn’t add anything like hill reps will see huge improvements as long as they progress slowly.
Do heavy workouts three days a week. Add one speed workout per week, one threshold per week, and one longer run per week. Start slow and low with the intervals and add to it.
Any advice for runners returning from injury?
Coming back from an injury is the same for everyone: you have to start slower than expected.
I say the same with elite athletes and everyone else who comes back. They say, “I’m ready to start!” and I’m like, “Yeah…wait another day or two.” It is a progression.
When do you tell runners to consider working with a coach?
People come to me when they’ve done a race or two and want to achieve a certain goal. So if you’ve been running for a while, or you’ve been on a couch 5k program, or you’ve done three or four 5k runs but aren’t going any faster, this is the one time to find a trainer.
Also, if you injure yourself while running, it can be helpful to find a trainer.
What should runners look for in a coach?
Look for someone who has training plans but also has flexibility in those plans to be able to fit into your life. Can you move things? If it’s a team, do they meet as a group, and are there times and places that work for you?
It can be hard to fit in, so it’s important to find something that will work in your life. Once addicted, yes, you will get up at 4:30 a.m. to enjoy it. But not at first. At first, make it accessible so you don’t find yourself running across town to get to a workout.
Any words of wisdom on goal setting?
Finding flexibility in your shots is huge, and be prepared to pivot and find a different run if needed. You can devote a lot of time, energy, and money to training, and you don’t want disappointment to keep you from finding another opportunity. Or if an injury occurs, you don’t want to strain and injure yourself.
Have multiple goals for the year and also have process goals. You might have bad weather for your half marathon or marathon. And you might not reach your target time or age.
But if you have a goal for progression – I’m going to try to run four days a week, or I’m going to try to go to every speed session this season, or I’m going to try to stretch every day – have that goal. of process just in case you don’t reach that time goal.
🍴 Q&A with Empire Elite Track Club Team Dietitian Amy Stephens
What high-level advice do you give to runners?
The first thing I tell people is that there is no need to think too much about eating. Fill your diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein, and whole grains.
Another important thing I tell patients is to stock your pantry. This should include healthy carbs: things like rice, whole grains, oatmeal, and potatoes. And keep snacks handy. There are some fun snacks if you’re ready to whip up a few nutritious foods, like chia pudding or homemade protein balls.
Have easy-to-prepare snacks that don’t require cooking, like apples and peanut butter, or carrots and hummus, or toast with avocado. These are all great, easy foods that are as easy to grab as a bag of crisps. And people want to compete with the bag of chips – you want something quick and easy.
When – and what – do you tell athletes to eat before their races?
Your body has enough stored glycogen for an hour and a half of running without food. But getting something in your stomach is important for preserving glycogen in your body longer.
I recommend choosing foods that are high in carbs, low in fat, and low in protein. Something like oatmeal with banana and honey, or a waffle and jelly because it’s quick and easy.
The biggest mistake athletes make is not eating enough or overeating before a race. You can eat a carbohydrate-rich meal before an event (a meal a few hours before) and a small snack an hour before. And practice that.
How do you recommend runners refuel?
I encourage my athletes to eat right after a long run or workout, within about 30 minutes. This glycogen window is where your muscles and body are primed to absorb the maximum amount of carbs. I usually recommend things like chocolate milk, yogurt with fruit, or some kind of nutrition bar.
If you run, you want to support the run and get the most out of it. Refueling triggers on-the-spot recovery, which will help you recover faster so you can prepare for your next practice or race.
Are there any foods you tell runners to avoid?
As long as 90% of your diet contains nutrient-dense foods, 10% can be less nutrient-dense. You don’t have to give up your favorite food.
You can have chocolate; it does not change your performance. But if you tell yourself you can’t have something, it has a much bigger impact on your mental state.
Many elite runners feel this pressure to be perfect – hit or miss – but over the years we’ve learned that it doesn’t help the athlete. They get distracted by thinking about the foods they miss and thinking too much about food. I don’t want you to think about it at all on the starting line; I want you to think about how you are going to take the lead.
What advice do you have for runners with stomach issues?
I like that runners have two options and train with a few different foods that you think might work before a race.
Running involves a continuous jostling of the stomach, so you need to train your body for it. But if you have constant stomach problems, contact someone who can help you identify a problem. Too much food? Too little food? A sodium problem? A nutritionist can help you solve some problems.