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Maximize Your Light Training Days: 3 Tips From Nicole Mericle

We all know that a well-rounded training regimen involves striking a balance between days when you go all out and ones where you let your body recover and rebuild. But finding that balance can be tough, even for the most experienced athletes. When your competitive edge is telling you to push yourself to the max, it’s important to remember why light training days are so important to your success and overall health. We asked OCR athlete Nicole Mericle how she maximizes her lighter training days to make sure she’s feeling strong, healthy, and race ready. Here are her three tips for making the most of easy training days.

Training Tip #1: Train with Intention

“It can be easy to get carried away on easy days, so keeping in mind the intent of the workout is very important. For a runner, the junk miles or base training – all those easy runs we do – are really the foundation of training. It’s where you have capillary development, mitochondria development, a lot of really positive changes happen, and they only happen with easy, slow running. It’s really how you see long-term progress. It’s not the flashy part of training, but it’s definitely an important aspect.”

Training Tip #2: Find the Right Training Partner

“A lighter day of training would be an easy run with a friend, if I can arrange it. I know I’m going to be running at the right effort level because I’m running with someone and will be talking with them the whole time. That’s how I like to determine my pace on easy runs and make sure that I’m running easy enough.

“My dog Benji has also been on a lot of runs and recovery hikes. He’s definitely been a good, easy training partner. I’ll even joke with my friends if we’re planning a run together and they want to take it easy. My response will be, ‘It’s going to be a Benji run day.’ That means we’re going to run, but we’ll be stopping a lot. He has to stop and sniff, and he likes to go to every little overlook and look out. His joy is palpable on walks and runs. It’s definitely something to learn from.”

Training Tip #3: Keep the Big Picture in Mind

“As someone with a background in competitive running, it’s very easy to get carried away with wanting to hit a particular mileage and thinking that it’s necessary in order to be at a certain level of competitiveness. But not everyone can sustain high mileage, and I’ve learned that my body is not one that can sustain it. I am my best when I’m healthy, and I am healthiest when I run a little bit less. So, I supplement that with cross training. I found that biking, swimming, and hiking are all very positive types of cross training for me to do because they don’t involve the consistent movement of running or the additional pounding on my body. Managing overall load of workouts and overall stress is very important in the big picture.”

On top of these three tips, make sure you’re building your training schedule in a way that helps you reach your specific fitness goals. For Nicole, it’s all about blending running speed with strength and the ability to execute obstacles. That means her lighter training day looks like an easy 60–90-minute run supplemented with aerobic cross training on the bike or in the pool. Her typical week might contain five runs, five rock climbing sessions, two strength sessions, and one full recovery day dedicated to rest and spending time with friends, family, and Benji.

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