“I call them business meetings,” pro marathoner Ryan Hall once said about his daily nap.

Better Sleep

Ryan is the fastest American marathoner and half marathoner of all-time and is so adamant about his regular nap that he insists it’s part of his job:

“Everyone else seems to call their afternoon shuteye ‘naps.’ I call them ‘business meetings.’ On my easy days, I schedule two hours for these meetings. When you’re sleeping, your body absorbs all the hard work. It’s ironic: one of the best ways to get better is to do nothing.”

It’s true: when most elite runners are capable of just about the same training, the competitive advantage is often outside of running. Extra sleep – or in other words, extra recovery - may make the difference in how well you adapt to your training.

Yeah that’s great for the pros, but what does it mean for us recreational runners? Simple: the more you ask of your body, the more it needs to rest and recover. Learning how to sleep better could be the next big performance enhancer for you.

It’s also true for athletes in a variety of other sports. A Stanford study had their basketball team sleep 10 hours per night with almost immediate results: improved mood and higher energy, but more importantly faster sprint times and more accurate shooting! The researchers found comparable results for Stanford’s swimming, track, golf, football, and tennis teams.

Can you imagine how much more energized you would feel for every run if you were properly rested? Your mood would be better but you’d also see tangible performance benefits - just like the participants in that Stanford study.

Maybe you’d be more motivated to run more frequently, helping you gain more endurance.

Your training would ultimately be more productive, helping you gain speed (without doing any extra work!).

It’s likely you wouldn’t have as many aches, pains, and small niggles that always leave you wondering if you should run or not.

After your running annual review, you might find that sleep is the next piece of your training that needs an upgrade.

Here’s how you can do it.

Sleep 101: Daily Lifestyle Matters!

Ok, sleep is starting to sound like it could really help your running. I haven’t even covered everything yet: there’s also evidence that you’ll experience fewer overuse injuries if you sleep more! So get your sleep – and more injury advice here.

But how do we ensure that when the time comes for bed, we’re able to fall asleep? Many of us get in bed and lie there fully awake, unable to fall asleep. We wonder why we were so tired at 3pm but now at night we can barely shut our eyes.

Getting to sleep faster is something that you can start remedying during the day so you’re better prepared once the sun sets. Sometimes it’s what we do hours before you fall asleep that really matters.

First, easy on the stimulants. Limit caffeine after 1-4pm depending on your tolerance and sensitivity. While some can have a shot of espresso and fall asleep an hour later, caffeine can make you sleep more restlessly, waking up more often than usual.

If you typically have a coffee in the afternoon, try replacing it with green or black tea. Both have less caffeine than coffee (green tea can have as little as 1/4 as much caffeine).

Exercise is a natural sleep aid and is a critical component to a good night’s rest. You’re probably a runner if you’re reading this so here’s even more incentive to go for a run most days of the week! If you run regularly, you can expect to fall asleep faster, improve the overall quality of your sleep, and sleep more overall.

Just be aware that running within 2-3 hours of going to sleep may affect your ability to fall asleep (especially if you run a hard or fast workout). Your central nervous system will still be “awake” and you’ll feel restless instead of tired.

Get your sunlight! If you work inside, you might be throwing your circadian rhythm off by avoiding sunlight during the day. Akin to living in a cave, not getting any sunlight alters your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

Direct sunlight impacts melatonin production and reminds your body that it’s supposed to be awake – and darkness reminds it that it’s bedtime. So go for a walk, get outside during your lunch hour, and enjoy the sunlight!

But if you need to go to sleep during the day (like if you work the night shift), avoid sunlight as much as possible and wear sunglasses outside.

How to Get to Sleep Faster

Now that you’ve taken steps to get yourself ready to fall asleep during the day, it’s important to make sure you can get to sleep as fast as possible once you turn the lights out. But most of us struggle with either sleep procrastination or taking too long to fall asleep.

Sleep procrastination is familiar to all of us: it’s when we say I’ll go to bed in fifteen minutes and then after an hour of watching cat videos on YouTube, reruns of Seinfeld, or reading that stupid Reddit threat we wonder why the hell we’re not in bed.

There’s nothing forcing us to stay awake, but we do it anyway. The “trick” to get yourself to go to bed when you intend to is to set an external reminder: a watch alarm or automatic timer that shuts off your TV both work well.

These work because you need an external notification to shock you out of that tired, groggy state of procrastination. If you don’t use a cue to snap yourself out of that state, you’ll keep watching those cat videos until midnight.

But what if you have no problem going to bed at the right time? Some of us get to bed on time but lie there, wondering why we can’t fall asleep. If you lie in bed struggling to sleep, don’t stay there. Sleep is a habit and the more often you associate your bed with not sleeping, the more frequent it will become.

5 More Tips to Sleep Better Tonight

With a third of American adults not getting enough sleep, it’s critical to get the best sleep possible. Let’s talk about actionable advice you can implement TONIGHT to start sleeping more soundly.

Do these 5 things and you’ll dramatically improve your quality of sleep and fall asleep faster:

Use blackout curtains in your bedroom that block all outside light from your windows. This alone will reduce the number of times you wake up early in the morning.

Block outside noise by using a noise machine. You can buy a separate one (common for infants) but I prefer to use an app like Simply Rain. If your partner can’t stand the extra noise, a pair of good ear plugs works too.

Set up a humidifier to add more moisture to the air in your bedroom. You’ll breathe easier and won’t get a parched mouth with higher humidity. This is much more important if you live in an arid environment or overuse heating or air conditioning.

Read a fiction book immediately before bed to clear your head and forget your to-do list. See what’s on my reading list here and shut your brain off at the end of the day.

Power down all screens at least 30 minutes before bed. No laptop, television, iPad, smart phone, etc. This is tough, but the blue light from the screens negatively affects your circadian rhythm and impacts melatonin production. If you must work on a computer or laptop at night, use a program that limits blue light like f.lux (free).

Remember that being a good runner is about much more than just running. These “sleep hacks” can all improve the quality of your sleep to better enhance your recovery.

If you’d like a free e-course that shows you what other elements of a healthy lifestyle can help you run faster and with fewer injuries, sign up here to get started.

Now a question for you: what helps you sleep better? Leave your best tips for falling asleep faster, sleeping more soundly, and getting more sleep in the comments below.

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Rarely do we take a meaningful amount of time and step back from the bustle of our daily lives to reflect on our accomplishments and progresss.

Landscape

But it’s a valuable tool that can help you stay on track with all of your goals. Author Chris Guillebeau performs his own annual review to evaluate his personal and professional progress.

Have you ever thought about doing it for your running?

Analyzing your running goals, successes, and failures of the past year is a valuable way to truly understand what works for you (and what doesn’t), what you actually enjoy doing from a training perspective, and how you can improve your running to stay healthier or run new personal bests.

You might do this already for your races – I previously published an article by Greg Strosaker about the value of a race post-mortem. This is very similar, except it’s for your entire year’s worth of running.

Admittedly, I’ve only done this a few times and the last review was in 2010. I consider each year that I’ve missed my annual review a wasted opportunity to learn more about myself as a runner. So today I want to encourage you to learn what a good annual review looks like.

Why 2010 Was a Pivotal Year For Me

Everything changed in 2010.

My views on running were refined after my 2008 IT band injury that left me a cripple for six months. After slowly getting back in shape, my fitness grew by leaps in bounds in 2010. I set an annual mileage record (my first in three years) by nearly 200 miles and I won four races

From 2009 to 2014 I trained with no significant injuries until an Achilles injury sidelined me for over a week. But going 5 years with no major problems was an ENORMOUS milestone for me because I used to be chronically injured.

These changes are highlighted in my 2010 Analysis, a comprehensive review of my training that shows you what worked, what didn’t, and how you can learn from my own training to help you become a better runner.

It includes:

  • My complete annual mileage history from 2005 – 2010
  • All of my injuries per year (including my “famous” ITBS from 2009)
  • 3 of the most important lessons I learned – and how you can apply them in your own running
  • My 2010 goals (very few were met – but that’s ok!)
  • Where I screwed up

The full analysis is available in the Runner’s Gear Bag, a private area on SR that includes a bunch of free downloads and resources. If you’d like me to email you the link, just sign up here.

But today I want to give you a preview of the analysis so you can see what really helped me. Enjoy!

I’m Not Perfect – Here’s Where I Screwed Up

Running isn’t all flowers and puppies every day for me – don’t mistake my success for perfection. There are setbacks. Let’s look at my 2010 screw-ups.

I wasn’t being consistent with core workouts in March, then I ran a 3k time trial in spikes on the track. I hadn’t been wearing spikes so it was a new stress for me. Then I skipped my normal post-run recovery. Then I danced all night at a wedding in dress shoes while drinking. Clearly, I wasn’t making the best decisions. The next day I had to cut my run short because my left arch was tight.

Lesson learned: realize when you’re introducing too many new training stresses into your program and not recovering properly. You can’t burn the candle at both ends.

Another moment of idiocy happened last September, when I was doing thirty second sprints on pavement in old spikes. I took the spikes out of the shoes, but the sole was very stiff. Several of the sprints were slightly downhill and I was going at max effort. It felt awkward but I pushed through it, ignoring the fact that I was awkwardly sprinting in uncomfortable shoes downhill. Doesn’t sound smart does it?

I tweaked my left glute and IT Band that day, but with a very aggressive treatment plan I beat that small injury in a matter of days. Still, in hindsight I can be a total idiot.

Lesson learned: if you’re doing something really hard or fast, and it’s uncomfortable in a bad way, then stop! You have to live to run another day. You should always be thinking about your training using “the third eye” – meaning, think about it from an outsider’s perspective. Would a coach support what you’re doing?

If you make these mistakes, don’t get down on yourself. Do everything you can to heal: sleep more than usual, cross-train if you can every day, strengthen the weakened area, take ice baths, use a foam roller or golf ball to massage the injured area, and eat as healthy as you can to give your body what it needs to recover. The more perfectly you can execute a recovery plan, the faster you’ll get back to training.

Get the Whole Review Now

You can get the entire annual review by joining us here. There are six more sections that include the three biggest areas of improvement that helped me stay healthy and run more than ever before (plus a lot more).

Learning from your mistakes is just the first step. Once you find out what you did wrong, then you can fix them to become an even better runner. But more importantly, look at the types of workouts and training that you enjoy.

What kinds of runs motivate you?

What makes you feel alive?

How can you do more of what works and less of what doesn’t?

An annual review might be one of the most productive tools you have to improve. Use it and learn more about yourself. You might just surprise yourself at what you discover next year!

Get the full annual review here.

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9 Reasons You’re Running Slow (and how to fix them to get faster)

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Tweet Isn’t it funny that when something isn’t working, most of us just “buckle down” and try harder (even if you’re lost doing the wrong thing)? But often “what got you here, won’t get you there.” So if you’ve hit a plateau and are stagnating, running the same times and getting frustrated, doing more of the […]

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When Are You Ready to Run a Marathon?

July 9, 2014

Tweet A few weeks ago a runner emailed me and said: “I started running a few weeks ago and I’m up to 9 miles per week with a 4 mile long run. I’m also working on increasing the run portion (I’m walking every few minutes) of all my runs. I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon […]

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The 13 Weirdest Things Runners Do

July 2, 2014

Tweet If you run, you’re probably a huge weirdo. But don’t worry, I am too – and there’s safety in numbers so I’m glad you’re here! After running for 16 years, my life has become progressively weirder. Not only do I do things that normal folks think are unbelievable / weird / crazy / stupid, […]

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The 5 Traits of a Good Running Coach (and when you should think twice)

June 26, 2014

Tweet In the fall of 2001 after the season’s first home cross country race, I went on a four mile warm-down with a few other runners from the Varsity team. After the run as we were recounting our battle stories from the race, one of the track coaches walked by and asked why we were at […]

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Everything You Need to Know About Running in the Heat This Summer

June 19, 2014

Tweet Summer training ain’t easy. With skyrocketing temperatures, high humidity, and scorching sun it can feel like it’s impossible to get in a good run. A long run or fast workout is hard enough. What about a RACE? Like a friend of mine always says: In the heat, I don’t compete! Even if you just run […]

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What’s the Ideal Runner’s Diet Plan? Matt Fitzgerald Says…

June 16, 2014

Tweet The other day I had dinner with a registered dietitian who also has a Masters in Public Health. After my second Coke, I felt the need to explain that I don’t normally drink soda. Even though I was all jacked up from the the sugar and caffeine rushing through my system, I felt guilty. Yes, […]

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Inspiration on Tap: The Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Half & Festival

June 11, 2014

Tweet I’ll admit: I’m in a slump. Motivation is low and the only inspiration to run I’ve had recently was when the scale showed an extra ten pounds. The desire to train after any marathon, particularly an overwhelmingly emotional one like Boston, will likely be small. It’s normal. You feel like you’re in a rut and […]

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6 Workouts That Make Running Fast Easier

June 5, 2014

Tweet The best way to get faster actually has nothing to do with speed. Just run more and you’ll gain the endurance to run faster races. But instead of standing on my soapbox yelling about high mileage all the time (my wife has warned me to keep my voice down), I’m going to share several types […]

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