Runner's Footprints

Runner's Footprints

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

How to Run Stronger

10 Strategies to Your Next PR or BQ

Whether it be your first or 10th marathon, runners ask: how can I run faster? Once you get a taste of a PR, you know exactly how the feeling of improvement makes you excited for what's possibly next. The simple answer is if you want to improve, a runner needs to train strategically and practice healthy habits. Let's look at the elites from sprinter to marathoner: their days are designed to improve at their distance by training AND following healthy habits. Below are my 10 strategies that have helped me run over 145 marathons in a strong effort. It's a lifestyle I love as I try to balance work, family, and friends. None are a secret; none are relatively new; but collectively they could be the answer to carry you to your next breakthrough. 

1. Find Your Personal Purpose
Before embarking on anything that will test you like you have never been tested, you need to ask yourself: why am I doing this? What is my motivation? What will it mean to me as I pursue my goals and, more importantly, what will it mean once I achieve it? You need to search and reflect deep inside why is it that you do what you do. If you can only find a superficial answer, you will find that you may lack motivation. However, once you find that deep powerful purpose then nothing else matters. You don't even need to share the purpose because it is only meaningful to you, but it is so powerful that it will drive you everyday. Every single day, remind yourself of this deep reason why you do what you do. You are not here to simply exist. You are here to be extraordinary. Everyone has the ability to find their inner extraordinary. Living a life pursuing this purpose means you are driving towards your passion. When you reflect on your purpose, you will never run out of the drive to succeed. Your motivation becomes endless. I found my purpose when I was little prior to becoming an athlete. That purpose has been redefined several times at different stages of my life as I have matured; it has given me the insatiable hunger to always drive and motivate myself to be better today than I was yesterday. 

2. To Race strong, Train smart
I'm a huge advocate of quality over quantity. Pressed for time? Reduce the "junk" miles and make every mile you run count. Make every training session have a purpose. Tempo runs, intervals, timed repeats, fartleks, hill repeats, mountain climbing, etc. They will give you the training stimuli necessary to take you to that next level. Every distance runner will benefit from pushing themselves at different distances. Now what's the perfect combo? Depending on your goals and level of commitment, a coach can safely guide you. Do too much, too soon, too fast, and you increase your risk of an overuse injury. Listening to your body is key.

3. Hydrate and Eat Wholesomely
One of the most crucial elements in my life is to aim to nourish my body with the most wholesome micro and macro nutrients. Many endurance athletes have allowed themselves to justify that if I workout or race for this long then I can eat whatever I want. Essentially, yes in terms of the energy question, calorie out equals calorie in for weight not to fluctuate. However, what many have missed is why not make every calorie in be a nutritious one that will actually benefit your body other than just hit a craving. Hunger is physiological. Cravings are psychological. You may perform already at a great level with a particular malnourished diet, but imagine what your body can do if you were to give it every macro and micro nutrient it needs for vital health. If we demand more of our body, we should give more to it in the foods we eat. My daily eating regimen is NOT perfect; however, I try to eat wholesomely at least 5-6 days/week. This will probably be the most difficult point to incorporate into endurance athletes because let's face it, we love food. The great thing about how the body works is the more you feed it super-foods, the more satiated it is, the less cravings you have, and the more energetic you feel. Change is very hard. But the rewards are insurmountable in a higher quality of life. How bad do you want it?

4. Find the Right Mileage for You
Runners come in all shapes and sizes. In an optimal world, we would love to train like the elites or those who run 100 mile+ weeks, but in reality many of us do not run for a living instead as a hobby. Additionally, as the participation of marathoning continues to increase in popularity, the average runner does not have the body frame as many elites do. I don't. My suggestion is find the weekly mileage that is right for your body type. If you are smaller framed, your body will be able to withstand higher mileage. If you are larger framed, higher mileage may increase your risk of injury substantially. Find the right balance of mileage and cross training that works for you. 

Photo: Crossfit Ganbatte
5. Indulge in Cross Training
If you eliminate junk miles, you will find that there is much more room to fill your training with other activities. Indulge and enjoy it! Other forms of exercises strengthen and emphasize other muscle groups, which will support your primary muscles. Back in high school, there were only a couple top track female athletes who were allowed to train with the Varsity Football team in the weight room. I was one of them. We lifted and lifted heavy. Cross train right and it will benefit your primary sport of choice. If you strengthen your body as a whole, you become a stronger runner. Bike, swim, weight lift, hike, ski, rock climb, and/or take a fitness class are a few options. I am a competitive runner and triathlete; however, I see myself more as an outdoor enthusiast. I have found my greatest joy is when I just keep moving. 

6. Periodize Your Training
Any professional runner and other competitive athletes in any sport train in seasons. The body can be active all year long. In order to improve, you must train in macro and micro-cycles. Macro-cycles would be your season. Optimally, you would like to peak if well trained 2-3 times per year to avoid any complication with overuse injury. Micro-cycles would be typically your months. You build for a number of weeks and then incorporate active rest weeks at the end of a micro-cycle. The concise science explanation behind this is that your body builds and improves during rest, which is why sleep is so essential. Chemical factors are released during rest and sleep, so allow the body to flourish in them. Finding the most effective combo takes experimentation and research or you can also hire a coach to find what best formula fits your needs.

2013 HRC 5K - 1st FOA
7. Use Races as Training [Sparingly]
Races and timed trials are a great opportunity to tap into your next level performance. Think of them as a test for yourself and also a celebration of your training. In high school and college, in order to become a better test taker, you practice with test after test. Similarly, to become a better racer, you need to practice with races. If you are not strategic on how you race, you are increasing your risk of injury and defeating the purpose of attempting to reap the benefits from a smart training cycle. Aim to peak 1-2 periods per year at the end of your season, maybe three periods at most. Talent is nothing without hard work. Finding what works for you and how to improve strategically takes practice. You race too many races too hard, too often, too soon and it increases your risk for injury. Know what your body can withstand and learn how to build gradually. 

8. Taper Intelligently
If you target 3-4 races per year to be your A-races, you must effectively taper in order to maximally race those races at an all out effort. Physiologically, the body stores nutrients and regenerates tissues during rest much more efficiently than when you are taxing it. Anyone who says the taper doesn't work for them is simply not doing it right. Ask any experienced coach: the taper IS essential for top performance. There are a variety of ways to taper effectively depending on the race distance. 

Horseshoe Lake 8955' elevation
9. Rest, then Rest Some More
Complete rest, active rest, and sleep are all essential to allow your body to improve. Regardless if you have found yourself to be functional with minimal rest and sleep, functionality and peak performance are not the same thing. 

Allow your mind to be fully engaged into the activity in front of you. Turn off the tube, pick up a book, have dinner with someone while looking/interacting with the person(s) the entire time, cuddle, meditate (which we do not do enough of), and hit the sheets early. Your potential can be much higher if done right. 

10. Mentally Train
Even after following our training plans perfectly, it can all be lost on race day if you have not trained your mind. You can be in the best shape of your life or the most fit athlete when you toe the line, but if your mental game is not on point, you end up giving in the last third of a race at any distance and end up conceptualizing an "excuse" as to why you didn't hit your mark. I've seen it done hundreds of times over the past decades. 

A game or a race is a test. It's a test and celebration of ourselves. We can't win every time. We can't PR every time. To truly learn how to be a champion within yourself you have to learn how to fail. Reflect and accept your mistakes. That makes a champion every single time. Don't create an excuse before, during, or after because it serves you no purpose. Instead, allow that reflection to fuel you for your next attempt that way the journey truly becomes your reward. The win, PR, or BQ then just becomes the icing on the cake. Create a race day routine, strategy, and execute. Execution is the final key to achieve the desired goal. If you have faith in yourself and your purpose, you can be unstoppable. The power of the mind, as my father has always taught me, is by far the most powerful tool you can ever utilize to become your own champion every single day. 

2014 Ridgecrest 50K - 3rd FOA 
Over my years of experience as a competitive athlete, coach and speaker, I've learned that we can always improve. We can always have the fire to be better than we were yesterday in our sport, relationships, career, and life. It takes failing, it takes hitting rock bottom to realize and learn how to pick yourself up and become your own champion of life. The possibilities to your personal achievements are endless at any age. It begins by believing in yourself and reminding yourself daily you have purpose. THANK YOU for reading and please feel free to share or contact me with your goals if you're ready to train with purpose. 


  1. Great article Nadia. I'd like to meet you one day. Sincerely Davis Garcia.

  2. Nadia, you're such an inspiration and role model to me! I love the blog and can't wait for the book!

  3. Nadia, you're such an inspiration and role model to me! I love the blog and can't wait for the book!

  4. I've been following you, since I started running competitively. My goal (as of right now) is to BQ.Post LA Marathon, I've been in a slump and not very motivated to run. Your post forced me to remember why I started running in the first place.

    Thank you.

  5. I like your number 1, personal purpose. It doesn't have to be about winning, running is a personal sport and goals in running should be personal. That being said and after reading this, I'm pretty pumped to push myself in some cross training this evening (but I'm going to have to have the TV on to watch the Dodgers play) and then (after a healthy meal to fuel my body and a good nights sleep) hit the road early in the morning for some quality running!