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A runner's diary: Why I'm getting more shut-eye

Dave Emilio is preparing to run this fall's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Dave Emilio is documenting his training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 16.

This past week I have been focusing on two pieces of the training puzzle that I find really hard to achieve. No, not digging deep and running harder. My biggest gap is getting enough sleep and rest. I have never been too wise in this department. As a kid, I'd try to stay under the radar of my parents, so I could watch hockey games, and when I was sent to bed I'd use a flashlight to read until all hours.

I'm still a night owl – there are always more chores to be done, books to be read, shows to be watched, friends and family to see. But if I don't get enough shut-eye, and my runs start to feel sluggish and my performance diminishes until I need a few days off to recover. Being tired also makes you more prone to injury.

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I find, too, that the summer heat takes a toll on my body if I don't rest. Normally, my wife and I don't even think about turning out the lights until after 11 p.m. but we've made a concerted effort to shut it down earlier – we can't sleep in if we want to run and be at work on time.

Even gaining an extra hour of sleep is paying off. It's far less of a struggle to get up at 5:30 a.m. for my morning workouts; the runs feel easier and afterward I'm not as tempted to dive back into bed.

I'd like to bump my sleep up to eight hours but that's going to be tough. That would mean lights out by 9:30 p.m. – something unheard of in my life. Meanwhile, I've fallen behind in some reading, and I'm not joining in the water cooler banter at work, but my fitness is improving based on speedier times with lower heart rates.

The other part of the strategy is that on easy run days, I force myself to hang back and go at a much slower pace than normal to allow for some recovery while still gaining endurance. I save these runs for when I'm alone and not being pushed by other runners. The focus is good form, not speed.

It's working. I've knocked off some long runs with a 4:30/km pace and some pretty fast 10K runs in the 42-minute range recently, while feeling like I could keep going. The key thing is that I remain injury-free, feeling fresh and progressing toward what I hope will be my best marathon yet.

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