Whether you’re lacing up your shoes for the first time or trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, there isn’t a runner who doesn’t want to be a better version of themselves tomorrow than they were today. Here are six tried-and-true tips for continual improvement.
1. Run with purpose!
Purpose fuels performance, regardless of what the latter term means for you. Purpose can come in the form of measurable goals—i.e., finishing your first half marathon, setting a 10K personal best or placing in your age-group—or it can be more inspirational in nature, such as helping a friend adopt a more healthy lifestyle, raising money for a meaningful charity or bringing awareness to an important cause. Whatever your purpose is, identify it and remind yourself of it often—it will ignite your running!
2. Find a friend. Or several.
Making improvements on your own can be hard to come by but training with a friend (or group of friends) can spur big(ger) gains. Find a training training partner(s) to chase around during long runs and key workouts. Doing so will keep you honest and help you to push a little bit harder when you might be otherwise tempted to back off. On the flip side, a good training partner will also help slow you down on recovery days (more on this in a bit) when you might otherwise be tempted to run a little too fast.
3. Run more.
If you’re currently running two days a week, start trying for three. Or better yet, four. Why? The body craves consistency. Running more frequently will send a message to your body that it needs to adapt to the stresses being placed upon it. As such, it will get more resilient. You will get more efficient. And faster. Heck, you’ll probably start enjoying running more than you already do. There’s no magic number of days that everyone should run, but for most of us, we’d likely benefit from running a little more than we are right now.
4. Run faster—and slow down!
Yes, these two instructions contradict each other at first glance but one of the biggest keys to improving as a runner is running at the right—and varied—intensities. To get faster, you need to run fast. One to two days a week, get out of your comfort zone and do a speed workout, whether it’s intervals, hill repeats or a tempo run. Your speed—and ability to hold that speed—will improve. On the other days, slow it down. In my experience coaching age-group athletes, perhaps the biggest reason for stalled improvement is running too fast on days when you should be absorbing the fruits of your harder efforts. How easy is easy? It depends, but I tell my athletes to start running at a pace that feels “easy” and then slow it down another notch. If we have to put a number on it, your recovery runs should be at least 90 seconds per mile slower than your current race 5K pace.
5. Do something different.
As runners, we’re creatures of habit. We have our favorite races and tend to follow a familiar schedule year after year. Many marathoners do just that: they run two or three marathons a year and might “tune up” with a half marathon. While this might be comforting, it’s a sure path to a plateau. If you identify as a marathoner, spend the early part of your training cycle working on your speed and running 5Ks and 10Ks. This will help you to work on your weaknesses and become more well-rounded. On the flip side, if you tend to stick to shorter events, try training for a half marathon—or even a marathon—and working on your aerobic endurance, which will help improve your ability to maintain faster speeds for longer.
6. Switch up your surfaces!
Back to that “creature of habit” thing again: runners tend to run the same roads, the same loops, or on the same treadmill most of the time. And while doing so might bring you comfort, it can also get boring or bring on injury. Just as you have variety in the intensities and paces you train at during the week, you should also have different surfaces that you run on. Depending on the workout, try mixing flatter terrain one day with hills the next, or a treadmill shakeout one day followed by a long trail run on the weekend. Or speed work on the track and a sustained tempo on the roads. This variety is not only more interesting, it will stress your body in good and different ways, making you a more resilient and well-rounded runner.