Just like healthy and sustainable weight loss there’s no secret formula when it comes to running faster or longer. However, there are a handful of simple things you can do to improve your running — and they all add up. Luckily, it’s less complicated than you think.
While there are myriad ways to tweak your running for improvement, most of them fit into five categories: supplementary strength work, running volume, consistency, variation and non-running activities. While there is overlap among each of these categories, it’s best to address all five in some capacity to get the most out of your training.
Here are five common mishaps that can keep you from realizing your running potential:
1. YOU’RE NOT SUPPLEMENTING YOUR RUNNING
Runners are a frequently injured bunch. Some studies show injury rates for runners as high as 60–65% annually. Running consistently is more than half the battle, but to be consistent, you need to prevent injuries by supplementing running with strength and core work.
Running is a demanding and repetitive sport, and it can be hard on your body if you don’t take the time to strengthen the muscles that support you. As you progress and start to get faster, there’s a tendency for your aerobic fitness to outpace your structural fitness. That means you’re heart and lungs may be ready for more work than your strength can handle, which can result in injury.
Since many of us are largely sedentary outside of our workouts, our bodies aren’t always prepared to handle the stress of running. Fortunately, even a small amount of regular strength training improves our structural fitness and allows our bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles to support us and stay healthy while running.
Simple Solution: Perform 5 minutes of active warm up before each run.
2. YOU’RE NOT RUNNING ENOUGH
Runners who tend to get injured the most are the ones who stop and start often, or take frequent weeks or even months off. They are constantly in a cycle of trying to rebuild, which puts them at a greater risk for injury. If there is any magic bullet to running, it’s that running consistently will help you improve.
Simple Solution: Stay consistent with how many days you run each week, even when you’re not training for something specific. It’s all too easy to get off track when you start skipping runs on a regular basis.
3. YOUR TRAINING IS INCONSISTENT
Inconsistency will thwart even the best intentions and can be your worst enemy when it comes to improving your running. Consistency, on the other hand, is your best friend. Running is cumulative over months and years of training, and consistency is what allows you to weave together a sustainable running career.
Inconsistency can crop up in several areas — from mileage and number of runs per week to speed workouts. Sometimes it’s due to an unavoidable overload in other areas of your life, but a lot of the time it’s simply a result of losing focus or motivation, or not following a quality training plan.
Stay consistent by focusing on the little things that motivate you to get out on a regular basis, whether it’s a goal race, fundraising and training for a cause, catching up with a friend or just enjoying the energy that comes from starting your day with a run.
Simple Solution: Find a plan that works for you, and stick with it! A coach will provide the most personalized schedules, but there are plenty of great resources and training plans available to keep you on track.
4. YOU NEED MORE VARIATION
First consistency, now variation? Yes, you need them both. Although this may sound contradictory, the key is knowing when to apply each principle. Here are some areas of running where you want variation:
- Types of runs: Easy, moderate and hard running all have their place. If you want to keep improving, you don’t want to run the same pace and distance every day. My marathon training plan incorporated each type in just three focused runs per week.
- Running surface: Many of us spend a lot of time on the road, but the constant pounding can be tough on your body. Vary the surface you run on each week, and include trails and softer surfaces. Your feet and legs will thank you.
- Shoes: It’s ideal to rotate among 2–3 types of shoes each week. This is yet another way to minimize the repetitive nature of running. You may want to try a lighter, more minimal shoe for speed sessions and a more supportive shoe for longer or recovery runs.
Simple Solution: Make each run have a purpose. When your run is supposed to be easy, don’t be tempted to push hard. And when you have a key workout, give it your all. Avoid constantly staying in that “too-hard-to-be-easy-but-too-easy-to-be-hard” zone that provides minimal benefit.
5. THE REST OF YOUR LIFE IS HOLDING YOU BACK
The life of an elite runner is set up to provide the greatest possibility for improvement and success. They often run twice daily, get 8-plus hours of sleep along with a midday nap, have regular massages and bodywork — and spend hours on core and strength sessions in addition to their running. But that schedule is impossible for 99.9% of us.
We can’t replicate their schedules, but we can certainly incorporate some of their habits into our own training. Here are several things that may be affecting your ability to improve:
- Get enough sleep: This is your body’s prime time for repair and recovery. If you’re training hard, you aren’t going to recover well if you don’t get enough rest. Sometimes I’ll take some Beachbody Performance Recharge before bed to help me sleep and repair my sore muscles. It really helps!
- Pay attention to your nutrition: Simply focus on eating more real, whole foods. If you put your energy toward adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet and minimizing sugar and processed foods, you’ll have a fantastic “whole-food” diet. This becomes increasingly important as your mileage builds. You know my go-to resource is 90/10 Nutrition. Learn how to clean up your diet without starving, counting calories or points, or taking some chemical concoction.
- Limit life stress: Build a schedule that works with your life. Try to plan your training and races in a way that works with your current schedule and reduces stress. When major life events happen, let running be an outlet rather than an added stress. For me, running can be a “mental health break” as well as a great workout.
- Keep up with body maintenance: Maybe you can’t get a massage every week like the elites do, but you can certainly book one on occasion and keep up with self-maintenance, like foam rolling, at home.
Simple Solution: Don’t try to change too many things at once. Make simple, sustainable changes, like getting to bed 15 minutes earlier each week or adding more vegetables to one meal each day. It’s all about Baby Steps!
Don’t let any of these reasons keep you from running your best. If you’re looking to improve, addressing these options is a great place to start.
Special thanks to Jason Fitzgerald and the mapmyrun blog for doing the heavy lifting on this article.