5 Habits of Successful Runners

Make these habits part of your weekly, and you’ll progress as a strong, healthy runner

What’s the secret to success in running? Well, there are no secret formulas or shortcuts, so it really comes down to hard work, smart training and consistency.

However, it’s important to know that successful runners often focus more on “big-picture” training principles rather than the day-to-day minutiae of running, and it’s possible to take cues from those fundamentals to form habits that will promote consistency. To help you race faster and stay healthy, follow these five fundamental points as you train each week. Over time they will help you to train successfully and more consistently, stay healthy mentally and physically, and run sustainably in the months and years ahead.

1. Set goals & track your progress

Whether you use a coach or follow an online training plan, it’s essential to set goals and track your progress in achieving them.  Goals should range from long-term accomplishments (like qualifying for Boston or lowering your half marathon PR) to monthly goals like increasing your mileage or improving your speed, and weekly goals such as consistent warm-ups and consistent strength sessions. By planning your running season, you’ll work toward the long-term goals while celebrating smaller accomplishments along the way.

While it’s essential to plan and track your training, it’s also important not to obsess over minute training details. Logging your runs each week, whether electronically or on paper, will allow you to review your workouts and see your progress. But don’t let one bad workout derail you—it’s a very small part of the big picture.

Looking back over all your workouts prior to a goal race should give you confidence that you have put in the work and are ready to roll. Make sure you take the time to enjoy the process, even the tough days. Find ways to celebrate small wins on a daily and weekly basis, and try to let your goals help you find joy in your running rather than bring you down.

2. Run fast

This may seem like a no-brainer.  But many runners tend to run fast too often, or else avoid speed work altogether. Note that “speed work” is used here as a general term to include anything from strides to fartlek workouts to track sessions. Your workouts will vary depending on the race you’re training for, as well as what phase of training you’re in, but knowing how and when to run fast is essential.

Quality is always more important than quantity when it comes to running fast, and speed work should make up no more than 20 percent of your weekly volume. Run too hard, too often, and you’re at risk of injury, but if you never push out of your comfort zone your progress will stagnate.

Running fast teaches you to handle the inevitable discomfort you’ll face when running hard on race day. By planning your workouts strategically and continuing to challenge yourself over time, you’ll prepare your body and mind to race successfully.

3. Run slow

Running fast is important, but running easy is even more essential to your success! Approximately 80 percent of your weekly training should be done at an easy, conversational pace. Contrary to what some believe, recovery miles are not “junk” miles. These easy days are when your body is able to absorb and recover from the impact of hard training.

Where many runners get into trouble is pushing too hard on easy days. This sets up a vicious cycle that prevents you from a truly hard effort in subsequent workouts. You really can’t run too slowly on your recovery days (unless your form gets sloppy), so these runs are the time to check your ego at the door and let yourself ease through your miles.

Your easy pace will vary based on external conditions such as weather and terrain, and internal conditions such as how hard you worked in a previous day’s effort. These runs are the time to leave your GPS device at home and run by feel. Your body will thank you for it!

4. Get strong

Between work and family obligations, it can be challenging to fit in all your runs. So the thought of adding in strength work on top of everything else can feel a little overwhelming. But the good news is this: Short, consistent strength routines will benefit your running more than endless hours in the gym. And it’s far easier to fit into your existing schedule!

Running is a repetitive sport, and pounding the pavement day in and day out can put you at risk of injury.  Studies show that more than 60 percent of runners get injured! The best way to combat this and prevent injury is by strengthening your body each week to handle all the miles, and running alone can’t do this.

Ideally, runners should spend about five to 10 minutes on a pre-run warm-up routine, and about 15–20 minutes after each run on strength and core work. Most exercises can be done at home with little or no equipment. If you are new to any sort of strength work, start small. Even five minutes is better than nothing. Gradually build the habit of adding strength work to your routine. Weekly strength work is a worthwhile time investment when it keeps you from being sidelined with injury and improves your running.

5. Recover well

Running an appropriate pace on your easy days is your first step toward recovery. But other types of active and passive rest should be built into your training cycle. Active rest may include lighter forms of cross-training, such as walking, swimming, yoga or an easy spin on a mountain bike, road bike or spin bike at the gym. These are perfect for a recovery day as long as you don’t push yourself too hard.

On a weekly basis, you’ll also benefit from including other types of recovery work such as foam rolling, dynamic mobility exercises or even a massage. While a weekly massage is a luxury for most, it can be an incredible tool to stay on top of tired, sore muscles in the midst of your hardest training.

While active recovery is essential in your weekly schedule, passive recovery should also be taken seriously. Days off without any sort of cross-training are essential to your mental and physical well-being. But above all else, getting more quality sleep is the best way to improve your performance! If you’re an athlete in the midst of hard training, seven to nine hours (or more) each night is key to your success.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead, make these five habits part of your routine each week, and you’ll continue to progress as a strong, healthy runner for years to come!

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner and the USATF-certified coach behind Strength Running, an award-winning blog and podcast that helps runners set personal bests. His work has appeared in Runner's World, The Washington Post, Health Magazine and many other major media publications. Follow his work on Twitter at @JasonFitz1 and at StrengthRunning.com.