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As part of my daily strength and stretching exercises, I write out the alphabet with my big toe. Why? Because, think about it, the feet are at the core of every run. So often the legs are thought of as being the powerhouse of a runner’s engine, but the first thing to make contact with the ground are the feet. As such, a runner’s feet need to be healthy, as do the ankles because they connect the feet to the legs.

When I injured my IT band and went to physical therapy, I learned tons of new exercises that I still incorporate into my training. I’ve stuck to writing out the alphabet with my big toes because it prevents my ankles from tightening up when I first start a run. Prior to doing the exercise daily, my ankles locked as soon as I started my runs. I think it was because my ankles were too weak to handle the sudden weight and impact bearing down on them. Now that I do the toe exercise, though, my ankles are champions, helping to stabilize me at every twist and turn I encounter. This exercise doesn’t just help with my ankles. It also helps to activate smaller muscles in my shins and calves because those legs muscles are helping to turn my ankles in all kinds of directions.

As another part of my foot routine, I use a spiky ball (a tennis ball works, too) to roll out my feet each night. Just like I use a foam roller to roll out and relieve the tension in my legs, I do the same for my feet. It feels especially good to do it after a long race!

spiky ball foot

I also do what’s known as the towel grab, picking up a towel with my toes. Doing so helps to strengthen the muscles in my feet.

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While these are the big three exercises that I focus on, there are many more. There’s simple foot flexing, where the foot is lifted up and flexed and then slowly aimed back down and pointed. There’s the towel stretch, where a towel is wrapped around a foot and then used to pull back gently on the foot (a hand wrapped around the toes works just as well).

So now that I’ve got you thinking about your feet and considering writing out the alphabet with your big toes, I thought I’d end today’s post with my own abc’s of running. What are yours?

Anybody

Running is for anybody — all that’s needed is a pair of shoes! Even people without limbs manage to run, so get out there!

Badass

No matter the distance, I always feel like such a badass when I’m out running on the road. When the weather is especially bad — rain, freezing temps, sweltering sunlight — I feel even more badass. Running is such a confidence booster!

Calluses

For all of the amazing benefits running provides, the appearance of my feet is not one of them. But I’ve come to love my calluses because they help protect my feet where they need it most. Plus, I’d much rather have a callus than a blister!

Drive

No one will ever make me get out of bed and run; it’s something that I have to do on my own. Some days I have to dig way deep down for my drive, but it’s always there, pushing me faster and farther.

Explore

Your feet and legs can take you virtually anywhere. I love to use my runs to go down a street or path that I’ve never been on before.

Free

Running is one of the most freeing activities. With the wind and sun on my face, I feel like a little kid during recess again.

Gels & Gummies

Now that I’m starting to train for a marathon, I’ve entered the complex world of fueling while running. Just the thought of squirting a gel into my mouth makes me want to gag, so I’ve decided to go the gummy route.

Healthy

I could talk for hours about the physical and mental health benefits of running. Stress reduction, weight control, and healthy joints are just a few of the many benefits!

Intrinsic

To be a long distance runner, I had to find something within myself: my drive, my motivation, my spirit. I have to pull so deep to find the courage to get out on the road some days, but after a run is completed, I always know that it was worth it.

Jogger

This is probably the most hated word in the running community. I am not a jogger, and I do not jog. I run.

Kind

Dealing with injuries and setbacks has taught me to be kind to myself and my body. Rather than hating on my body for being weak and injured, I have to love my body for pushing its limits and taking me so far.

Listen

Every pain deserves attention, and I’m still learning to listen to my body when it’s crying out for a break. It’s much better to listen to my body before a pain turns into a full-blown injury.

Machine

My body is a complex system full of parts that must work together in order to propel me down the road. My body needs strong core, hip, glute, leg, ankle and foot muscles to run at its best. When I neglect to strengthen parts of my body, breakdown occurs.

Nutrition

Runners require foods chock full of vitamins and minerals to perform at their best. As a vegetarian, I’m constantly focusing on the nutritional content of the food I’m eating. Strong muscles need proper fuel.

Odor

I embrace all the odors my body emits when I run. Those smells are the best perfume to me because they signal hard work and dedication. Embrace the stink.

Pace

Runners are obsessed with their paces. That’s why we wear our fancy watches and phone armbands. Sometimes, though, pace isn’t important. Remember to take your easy, recovery runs for what they are, running them on feel rather than pace. Leave the watch or phone at home now and again and just run to run.

Qualify

Boston Marathon, anyone? It’s definitely a dream of mine to one day qualify.

Rest

Training is useless without rest. Muscles actually use rest to grow stronger and adapt to new stresses. Take your rest days, and take extra ones when needed. Never be afraid to rest.

Sacrifice

Running is not always easy. Sleeping in, eating favorite junk foods, and having great looking feet for the summer are just a few things that a runner has to give up. But, as they say, nothing worth doing is ever easy (and running is worth it — trust me).

Train

Running anything over a 5k without training is just asking for disaster. Follow a training plan so your body can adapt to the stresses of a race and run at its best. Don’t forget to strength and cross train, too.

Universal

Runners come in all shapes, sizes and skin tones, and running is a universal sport that connects all of those people. Whenever I meet a fellow runner, I instantly consider them a friend.

Variety

You won’t get better running the same distance and course each day. Add in tempo runs, intervals, hills and new routes to challenge your body and become a better runner.

Wallow

Never wallow in the disappointment of a bad race, difficult run or long injury. Instead, focus on what you’ve achieved so far. One race, run or injury does not define you as a runner. There will be other days and other races; there will be a time when you can run again.

 X out

Put a big ‘ole X through every completed day on your training plan. It will feel so good to see all those days crossed out at the end; you’ll feel pride in knowing that you accomplished so much.

You

Running is ultimately a sport of self competition. Can you beat your old time? Can you cross the finish line? Can you go faster than yesterday? Don’t let running become about others. Run to challenge yourself. When you compete with yourself, it’s much more enjoyable because, let’s face it, there will always be someone better — so just be your best!

Zealot

Once you start running more than three days a week, it quickly becomes a religion. Suddenly, it will be all you can talk about. Be a running zealot and spread your religion to others!

 

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