Anyone can run, yet so many runners do not consider themselves runners. You’ll hear the people who go for a morning jog three out of five mornings say something like, “yes I run but I’m not very fast.” If you can maintain a steady pace and break sweat, you are indeed a runner. Take it from someone who’s been there and used to think that being a novice runner ‘didn’t count.’
When you’re ready to accept the fact that you are truly a runner, here are nine tips that will help you reach the next level.
- Find a rhythm: Contrary to popular running practice, foregoing the music and headphones will actually help to improve your pace and stride. When you listen to your breathing and footsteps instead of other beats, you can hone in on your pattern and focus on upping your rhythm. You may surprise yourself once you hit this “runner’s trance.”
- Beat the pain: Some of the most common pains during running are the dreaded side stitch or shin splints. You can prepare ahead of time with proper shoes and proper nutrition to prevent these; however, they can still sneak up on you. To prevent that side cramp during a run, try exhaling as your left foot hits the ground to avoid putting pressure on your liver, which is on the right side of your body. For the shin splints, if they happen, take a break from the running in exchange for walking backwards on your toes. This active stretch will help the pain dissipate faster.
- Make it fun: You won’t be able to improve your running skills if you dread the running workout. Change that negative outlook by making it a game. Track your best times and try to beat your PR (personal record). Or find a local race or event to compete in. Having this scheduled date to reach a certain goal will let you push yourself in surprising ways.
- Fuel right: Prepare your muscles for a run by maintaining a healthy diet. Stay hydrated, but slow down on the water or sports drinks about an hour before lacing up. This will help prevent the pains from tip 2. Also, keep in mind that if your workout routine has running at its center, even if your goals are to lose weight or inches, carbs are a runner’s friend.
- Strengthen: You can still achieve new goals with your runs when you workout in non-running ways. For example, many runners turn to yoga in order to build strength, tone muscles, increase flexibility, and get an amazing stretch. Mix this with some lifting and you’ve not only added variety to your routine, but you’ve made yourself stronger.
- Break the funk: Have you ever reached a point in your running where you just can’t seem to break out of a specific time? Maybe you can’t drop from 9-minute miles into the 8-minute realm, maybe you can’t break past the 5-mile distance barrier. One great way to break the cycle is by ditching your normal distance run for a sprint workout. Find a track, set a time and distance, then attack. I’ve been able to break my time barriers by doing just 4 or 8 rounds of 200m sprints sandwiched by a mile or so jog before and after. Test out some variations to find what works best for you and you will certainly see time improvements in your runs after the sprint workout.
- Mind your H’s: The three beneficial H’s of running are your hills, hops, and hikes. Running up and down hills will give you the benefits of your typical run with the added bonus of challenging different muscles to overall improve your stride. Your calves work harder to flex ankles on inclines, while your quadriceps are challenged on declines. Hops can be done many different ways but my favorite is the good, old-fashioned jump rope. Mix in several repeats of 30 seconds jumping rope and 30 seconds rest to bring your calf strength to the next level. Lastly, hikes. Leave the track, sidewalks, and pavement for a run through a well-marked park or wooded trail. Seeing trees fly by will let you feel faster and, a change of scenery never hurts.
- Go far with a plan: Once you start running for 7 or 8 miles straight, you’ll find your body craving water and an energy burst. Plan for these long runs ahead of time by traveling your route early to drop-off water at a midway point. You should also invest in runner’s snacks to keep yourself properly nourished.
- Finish right: Finally, when you are done with a run, don’t skip on the stretch. To truly achieve a full stretch, your muscles need at least 40 seconds. This tends to be 10-20 seconds more than what most people assume is needed. Add those extra seconds to each stretch and you’ll feel amazing after every run.
These nine tips took me from a novice runner to a comfortable and confident athlete, and I’m hoping they’ll help you along your way as well. Do your own research and testing to find what works for you and remember to always have fun with it!
This guest post is by Michele Inguri. Michele is a University of Delaware graduate currently living an active lifestyle in Pittsburgh, PA. Other than running, road biking, swimming, snowboarding, and tennis, she keeps busy as a freelance marketer, designer, and writer. Michele has already run in dozens of 5ks, one half-marathon, and is starting training for a marathon next year.