Training as a Pro Runner
Training as a professional runner is the same as any other level, challenging, requiring a lot of discipline, and fun! On easy workout days for the last one. Only kidding...sorta. :)
These questions (from you guys!) all in some way relate to training. I tried to answer thoroughly without rambling on for toooo long, so as always let me know if more questions come up.
Q+A category on the blog page has more!
How huge of a role do you think strength work/weights play? And how much time do you devote to it?
Weights are a huge part of running well. When I have a great and consistent strength program, I feel so much better during workouts. Not only can I generate more power, but I feel more durable in longer workouts!
For most of the season I lift twice a week, although sometimes in late summer or beginning of fall (when starting to build back up at the start of another track year) there has been three a week on my schedule. Each lifting session is about an hour.
Strength work doesn't necessarily stop in the weight room though! I have PT exercises that strengthen areas I need to work on that I often do at an entirely different time then my lifting sessions. This includes things like band work. I also do a lot of circuits, which often are made up of core and body weight exercises. The goal generally of the circuits is to get the heart rate up and work on strength. The same goes for med ball throws- I consider this strength/explosive work and I like to do a med ball throw circuit at least once a week.
What would you tell a freshman starting their college track career?
1. Be patient
Something that I think would have been helpful to hear is "you're not the only one thinks they should transfer immediately." When I first got to Duke, I often felt like I wanted to leave. Not all of that was track related or anything, but the feeling was definitely there and was both influenced by track and had an influence on track. And what was hard about that was watching everyone else have so much fun and seem so content with where they were. When I was an upperclassman, I watched younger athletes feel the same things I had felt when I was younger. That's when I realized that EVERYONE (ok, there is probably some exceptions) struggles in the transition at some point in any number of ways. When I told younger athletes that I, too, had questioned what I was doing at one point in my past, they were shocked because they've only been around to see me settled in and having the best time. So I think this is important to share. Had I decided to pack everything up and move back home, I wouldn't have known how much I was going to wind up absolutely loving every second of being on that campus. Be patient in finding your groove. It might take a bit and that is ENTIRELY okay.
Also, be patient with track performance. I was convinced as a freshman that each year I was going to cut A SECOND off of my 400 time. Yes, a second. Why did I think such a thing? Because up to that point I had done just that! (roughly lol) When I got too caught up in that, it kinda showed in my performance (even though there could have been other factors). Flash forward three years later and I was heading to NCAAs in an event I didn't ever think I would ever be able to say I'd run. Be patient because wild things can happen.
2. Stay focused-but have fun.
My best years were when I allowed myself space to have fun outside of track and honestly, stopped taking myself too seriously. I was working incredibly hard at track and school, don't get me wrong, but I definitely had time where I was like RIGHT NOW is for (insert something fun). And RIGHT NOW is for track. If you don't let your mind chill a bit, you start over thinking, building up stress, and heading down a path towards burn-out. Not only that, track is fun! Running is a social sport and honestly, if I hadn't laughed my way through many a tough training weeks with the awesome friends I had, I wouldn't have been as excited about putting in the work.
It was soo hard to pick just a few things to cover on this topic and these are just the first two that popped into my mind! If you ever need more advice on entering a college sport just ASK an older athlete you know. We've got a lot to say:)
How many hours do you train on a typical day?
About 4-ish depending on which day of the week it is.
On the days that I do a lift (Tuesday, Friday), I practice from 9 until about 11:00/11:30. After a cool down and brief recovery I'll head to the gym and lift for roughly an hour. I'm usually done by 1 at the latest.
Some days I turn this into a double and lift later on in the evening. The lift still takes about an hour, but I will often warm back up with some cross training, like 20-30 min on the bike.
A lot of my teammates do doubles as well, which would be another run later in the day. With two practices like this, including travel time to a track, trail or gym, a big portion of the day goes towards track.
I also consider other things "training" like corrective exercises, stretches, and recovery sessions with the foam roller. Some days this can be as little as 10 min or as long as an hour!
Do you log both food and workouts?
I log workouts. In full honesty I’m not very good at it and it took a lot of encouragement from my coach to get me going. But, I do find it helpful for looking back and seeing where I was or how I felt the last time I did a workout. If I had a good workout, its nice to see what type of training day I had the previous day or two. Its also helpful to look back weeks or even months to a run or track workout to see how much you've improved the next time around. Super encouraging!
The method for logging workouts that has worked the best for me is probably a Google Doc template. I can update each day with notes and its easily accessible by both my coach and I. I really like using an app too and I use the Map My Run. My Under Armour shoes connect to the app so I can easily upload runs and cross training sessions to the app. The app isn't as great for seeing a whole month of workouts quickly since you have to just scroll through them, but inputting information is straightforward and quick since I always have my phone.
I don’t consistently log food, no. But I’m working on it because I think it would be extremely helpful. I generally eat healthy and stick to the same basic structure, but a huge focus this year for me was getting the exact right nutrients specific to my body and logging food can help keep me accountable.
If you're logging both food and workouts simultaneously, this can be really eye opening to how certain foods make you feel on workout and race days. Or what helps you recover after a hard day.
Have you ever been injured?
I fortunately have never been injured very seriously! During college, I would take time off (never more than a few days) for pain that I had in the back of my knee. It usually happened around the time I was starting to get into longer and tougher workouts and I eventually would even back out.
During this most recent season, I had a true recurring "injury," which was hamstring pain that left me afraid to sprint and push it too hard. Never having experienced serious injury, I was afraid that it could be something more serious and didn't want to risk it. It was unlike the usual sore muscles I had experienced.
After working with a PT, I found imbalances in my body and my running form that could be contributing to the issue. Over the next several weeks, I rested (covid made the need for tough workouts almost nonexistent anyways) and did cross training while working to strengthen the problem areas I had finally discovered. And I think its really making a difference! Will know for sure when I get back into tougher workouts.
Do you get paid? How do you survive financially?
A difficult subject for many professional track athletes, financing your pro journey can cause a LOT of stress. There are so many different situations in professional track- sponsorship, clubs, brand deals, etc, but for the purpose of this quick Q+A, I'll answer from my own experience.
My first year as a pro, I was training with my college coach and team, so outside of being a graduate, not much changed for me. I worked a part time job to pay the bills. During track season, I was able to win some prize money from races and some modeling I did for Under Armour. But, like many other pro track athletes, a part time- or full time- job was NECESSARY.
During that year I was going to meets with District Track Club, the team that I am a part of now. I decided to move to DC at the conclusion of that season to train full time with the team. Being on a professional team can be huge for support. Depending on the team and their standards, there is often financial support in varying degrees available for athletes.
Another way professional runners can make some money is by working with an athletic brand. I am SO happy to be part of an amazing brand, Under Armour, and rep them on and off the track. Contracts take many shapes and forms: from a base pay, to bonuses for competing at or running well in races, to support in the form of athletic gear.
Conclusion: There has been many many many a time where I nearly thought I couldn't keep doing the sport due to basic survival costs. Finding a job or a situation that allows you to train at peak performance levels can be quite the challenge. Keep this in mind when you see your pro friends grinding it out on the track- 9 times out of 10, they're doing it solely cause they love it.
How do you deal with the mental aspect since going pro?
The adjustment from college to professional was pretty significant and it took a while to adapt. Your mindset has to shift in a lot of ways. For me, the day in and out of college track felt planned and necessary steps, while going professional felt like a major life choice that was on the brink of being "not a great idea." I think the reason for that was the difficulties I had finding a job that worked with my training schedule and provided me with enough to live off of. Basically I was doing the same thing track wise, while adjusting to the aspects of "adulting" like paying rent, making all of my own food, going to work and doing actual work that is used by members of society, etc.
It was especially challenging when I moved to a new city and had to get used to a whole new lifestyle. All of this is to say that the mental stress from external factors can easily transfer over to the track. Especially when a lot of the life sacrifices you're making comes from your decision to be an athlete. This puts a lot of pressure on your performance. (If this sounds similar to college track pressures, you're right! Its comforting to know you've been through it before, it just looks a little different.)
How have I dealt with it? I'm still learning everyday how to deal with the mental challenges of being a professional athlete, but having a great group of teammates, going through the same thing, to talk to about it all has been amazingly helpful. Someone always has a piece of advice, a helping hand, or some motivation on the track.
Another thing I do is remind myself that I do this because I'm passionate about running and love being a part of the sport. I like pushing myself to see what I can do. I love connecting with and supporting other athletes. Keeping this bigger picture offsets the daily challenges.