Marginal Gains: when every little bit counts

Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.

—Jim Rohn
There was a lot of talk about marginal gains around the time of the Olympics because, for those athletes, a decimal point of improvement could be the difference in a podium win or a back-of-the-pack finish. While no one in my running circle is looking for Olympic-level kind of gains, there are a lot of details in the margins that can make us happier runners with better results.
This current training cycle has been more intense than any of my other training cycles, and I have really found myself relying on the little things to keep my body healthy and happy throughout the workouts. The more intense my workouts, the more critical it is for me to rely on the little details.  As with forming good habits, marginal gains accrue over time to ultimately lead to more success.  Here’s to hoping that all of the little things will help me get to the finish line strong and fast!
Here are a few of the marginal  and not-so-marginal habits that I think have helped make me a stronger runner:
  1. Consistency: Without a doubt, consistency in my workouts has made me a stronger runner.  I wake up early to run before work, and I make sure to complete all of the workouts that my coach prescribes.  There are plenty of days that I wake up tired or get home from work and feel tired, but then I think of my goals and what I want to achieve, and I get my butt outside or downstairs to our gym.  (Of course, if you are sick, skip the workout!)
  2. Sleeping in compression socks: There is debate over the full benefits of compression socks.  Some proponents say that wearing them during a run improves running by increasing circulation and reducing vibrations to the leg muscles.  Others say that during a run, there’s not really that much added benefit.  One thing that is more widely accepted is that compression socks do help aid in recovery (when not running) by increasing circulation.  I do like to wear compression socks when I run in the winter, but I’ve found that staying cool when it is hot outside is more important than running in  compression socks in the summer.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t speed recovery to my legs while I sleep.
  3. Drinking a lot of water:  I started really being intentional with hydration when I was pregnant, and now that I am breastfeeding and working out like a crazy person, it is equally important.  I drink a whole lot of water throughout the day, and I only occasionally drink caffeine or alcohol.  In addition to water, there are a couple of drink mixes like this one that I like to add for flavor and a little added benefit.  I also drink almond milk for the added calcium (still tbd on dairy, so I limit milk).
  4. Eating enough good foods:  Fueling properly has become much more critical as I push my body in training AND in breastfeeding.  My body is working as hard as it can, so I need to make sure that I give it the nutrition that it needs.  I have transitioned to eating mostly organic foods, and I have cut out a lot of the refined grains that I used to eat.  I used to try to eat a low-fat diet, but I now try to incorporate good fats into every meal. I also make an effort to get a lot of protein through good meats, protein shakes, and cheese.
  5. Rolling and stretching: I’m not the best at rolling and stretching, but I am definitely better than I have ever been. One thing that has helped tremendously is that I carry a lacrosse ball in my purse, so I can roll at any time that I feel a twinge or have spare time in the car.  I also keep “The Stick” at my desk at work. I also do at least a light foam roll and stretch every night before bed. One more thing: I schedule semi-regular sports massages.  They are expensive, so I have to ration them out, but they are so valuable when I’m putting a lot of stress on my body.

One of the most valuable gains that I am missing is SLEEP.  The more intense my workouts get, the more I realize how much extra sleep I need.  I am not even getting the minimum suggested amount of sleep when you subtract out the time that I wake up to feed/console Cadence in the night.  She has never been a great sleeper, and teething isn’t helping us much.  So, I’ll work on this.  🙂


What are your tricks outside of running for marginal gains?