10 things to improve your running life
What could be simpler than running?
You just put one foot in front of the other and off you go!
Not so fast Mo, there’s a little more to it than that and I’m here to overcomplicate matters so your head starts to hurt.
Well that’s how some people see take what you’re about read, but I’m sure you’re not one of ‘those’ people.
No, you look to me like the kind of person who’s keen to learn more about running.
After all you’ve found your way to a running website and are reading an article about running, so I’m just putting 2 and 2 together here, but feel free to hit the back button on your browser if I’m way off the mark…
Still here? Good stuff.
I’m sure you’ve noticed how effortless some people seem to make running look and I imagine that want a piece of the action for yourself.
In that case this article is for you, and I promise it won’t make your head hurt at all.
You see running IS simple.
Just like hitting a golf ball with the end of a stick is simple.
But if you want to learn how to play golf you understand that there’s a way to do it, and there’s a way to do it better.
Running 101 is about how to do it better.
Chances are you’re already doing some of the things I’m going to talk about in the next couple of thousand words or so and if that’s the case jolly good show.
If you’re already doing 6 out of the 10, try and implement 1 or 2 more.
Cherry pick them from the list and try them on for size. See how it affects your running and if you like it, keep doing it.
You’re an Experiment Of One.
I can’t promise it’ll improve your back swing but it might just shave a few minutes off your 10k time or reduce your chances of picking up an injury.
At the very least it’ll give you another level of satisfaction as you begin to learn more about your body and mind, and what you’re made of when the chips are down.
1) Pay attention to your technique
This is a biggie, and the details are waaaay beyond the scope of this article BUT… The first thing you need to do before you improve your technique is to become aware of it.
Just feel how you run. Listen to your body. Heck even take a look at yourself running on a treadmill in front of a mirror.
Your body is telling you a story with every foot step and once you learn how to tune into it you’ll find there’s a completely new dimension to running you never knew existed.
Your arm drive, head position, the angle you lean forwards at, how your foot strikes the ground, how relaxed you keep your muscles, your posture, breathing…
One of the best bits of advice I was ever on the receiving end of with regards technique was from Catherina McKiernan, the Irish marathon record holder.
She told me to constantly scan my body as I run.
Listen to the story it tells as you scan from top to bottom, tuning in to the signals it gives you.
Even before you make any changes, just start to tune in.
Awareness precedes change, so just focus on listening in to the specifics and we’ll go from there.
(Stay tuned, there’s a LOT more coming on technique)
2) Play with your pace
‘I only have one speed’.
If I had a penny for every time I’d heard that phrase I’d have enough to buy a first class stamp by now.
Well almost anyway.
It’s the oft-heard cry of the novice runner but I hear it from experienced runners too.
10k pace is the same as marathon pace.
‘How can that be?’ I ask.
‘Just is, can’t seem to run any faster…’, comes the response.
On further interrogation it turns out that running faster is harder work. Runners find it harder to run fast for long periods of time….
Couldn’t agree more – running faster IS harder than running slower.
But what about running just a tiny bit faster?
Or how about running slower?
Pacing is a tricky beast to tame, but without it you can only really get better at running longer distances slowly.
And if that’s your bag welcome to the world of ultra marathons (even then faster paced running has it’s part to play).Your weekly training mix should be a smorgasbord of different paces and intensities.
Throw in a healthy handful of different gradients and terrains with a smattering of progression and you’ve got yourself the beginnings of a well rounded training program.
Learning to run faster requires at least a few dollops of faster running. You don’t have to sprint flat out, just have a play.
3) Master your Mindset
Your actions control your results but your mind controls your actions.
Taking time to master your thoughts & beliefs about running is a powerful antidote to those days when you tell yourself you just can’t be bothered.
There are many ways to stay focused and keep enjoying your running.
From visualisation techniques to breaking down big challenges into smaller chunks, maintaining a positive frame of mind can make a big difference to what you get out of your running.
After all nobody is forcing you to run. It’s up to you if you’re going to haul your backside out of bed on a cold and rainy morning when the rest of the world is sleeping.
You’re in complete control so if you get into a funk and decide you don’t want to go out this morning because it looks a bit drizzly, nobody’s going to peel you off your mattress.
Then you just beat yourself up about it for the rest of the day.
Taking control of your mindset will have you leaping out of bed when your alarm starts shouting at you, and teach you to ride the waves of motivation that naturally come and go.
4) Freedom runs
Every now and then, in particular when you’re not training for a race, add in a ‘Freedom Run’.
Leave the GPS / NASA command unit at home and run blind. No idea of how far you’ve gone or at what speed, not even a notion of how long you’ve been running for.
Speed up, slow down, stop and do some press ups… just get out there and run so you remember WHY you started to do this amazing sport in the first place.
It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of running. The detail of progress. The quantification of emotion.
Sometimes we forget to enjoy ourselves and let our inner child come out to play.
Sure you need to focus on targeted training runs that will progress you steadily towards an important goal like a race, but every now and then just get out there to feel the wind in your hair and soak up the landscape.
Just you versus the road or trail with the wind in your hair.
Remind yourself of the simplistic beauty of running every now and then and it’ll keep on recharging those batteries of yours for as long as you like.
5) Body maintenance
The only thing worse than being an injured runner is living with an injured runner, or so my wife tells me.
Just think of all those un-injured couch potatoes who could at any moment choose to get up and prance out the door on a run.
‘Look at me, I’m NOT injured’.
But they choose NOT to, damn them! You’d give anything to trade places with them right now; you have the DESIRE to run just not the fully operational body!
Best strategy is to take positive and regular action to keep yourself on the road and off the physio’s couch.
In my experience most runners are notoriously bad at taking this advice, so I’m not even going to give you anything specific.
I’m just going to underline the fact that you should be doing something to shore up your weak spots otherwise relationships are going break down.
I’ll put that first class stamp on the fact that this will be the one strategy that most runners gloss over.
Hey, you wanna run faster you just gotta get out there and run, right? Yep I’m sure that’s what Mo Farah says to his coach when it’s time for another foam rolling session…
What you put in your cake hole has a direct influence on your running performance and you don’t even need to leave the kitchen!
Sports nutrition is a funny old field as most of the research is sponsored by multi-national sports supplement manufacturers.
Combine that with some misleading statements of fact and a market of runners hungry for the lazy edge and hey presto, you have yourself a pound note printing machine.
But that doesn’t mean you should be following all the advice you’re given by the guy on the corner of the street trying to hawk Runner Crack (otherwise known as maltodextrin & pasta).
Come on runners, we can do better than this!
What you eat will have an effect on how you recover, what your energy levels are like, how you fight off colds, your levels of inflammation, and even your ability to withstand the pain of cranking up your running intensity.
There’s even a rumour that your diet and hydration habits affect how good you feel, your mood, body fat levels, sex drive, joint pain, recovery from injury… but that’s just a rumour and I might be wrong.
How much attention do YOU pay to your diet? It doesn’t have to be perfect (hell mine certainly isn’t) but it should support your goals and make you feel happy.
8) A pretty new frock
Remember a time when you bought yourself a new item of clothing that you REALLY wanted.
A new dress for the ladies or a smart suit for the chaps (interchangeable, I’m not here to judge)
How did it feel as you tried on that new outfit in the shop?
Could you picture yourself wearing it at the party / office / pub?
How good did it make you feel?
What did you say to yourself about how you looked in that outfit?
I’ll bet you couldn’t wait to get your ass into that office the next day in your new threads.
Well blow me down with a feather, that’s EXACTLY what happens when you buy yourself some new running gear.
It’s a bit of a cheat, but if you ever suffer from motivation issues (don’t we all? I sometimes go months on end without a run when my mojo is running dry) getting some shiny new running kit just makes you want to get out there and run!
You’ll be jumping out of bed in the morning like an excited puppy, raring to get out and test drive your new gear.
It’ll make you feel amazing, like you can take on any challenge.
That feeling you get when you’ve finished your ‘breaking in’ run will gush right through your body, making strangers look at you whilst they wonder why you’re grinning like a gibbon in a hot sweaty mess on your doorstep.
S’mazing what new kit can do – how often do you make a point of investing in your own running wardrobe?
Sometimes that’s all it takes to relight your fire.
Onto much more down to earth business.
If you run, you breathe.
Well what do you know? Not only is breathing important there are different ways to do it!
Most runners aren’t aware of the way they breathe when they run but those who choose to discover the technique start to find things a whole lot easier.
It breaks down like this.
When you run your muscles create an energy demand. Unless you’re sprinting you’re going to be working largely with the aerobic energy system.
Aerobic means with oxygen, which means you need to suck in some serious air to keep things moving or you’re going build up levels of lactic acid that’ll make you want to cry.
Short, shallow, baby breaths aren’t going to cut it.
You need to draw it in, get it into your lungs so it can diffuse into your blood and be transported to where it can fulfill that demand.
The more oxygen there is available, the fewer beats per minute the heart has to tick along at and so the easier you’re going to find a given pace.
I know this is a written word article, but just this once can I share a video with you?
I really think it’ll help explain the technique I tech a lot clearer.
How to breathe for running << YouTube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ux81sQxuZ8
10) Warming up
The older I’ve got and the less time I seem to have & the less I like warming up.
I just want to get stuck into the session – the fun part – but I know I need to pay attention to getting my body ready for action.
So I’ve been pretty motivated these last 10 years or so to find the best (and most time efficient) ways of warming up.
The phrase ‘warming up’ itself needs a bit of work. It’s a bit misleading you see; sitting in a sauna for 10 minutes would warm you up but it’s not going to get you ready for a threshold session.
Really what we need to consider is how we can get our body ready for exercise: movement preparation.
If you’re going to run there’s little or no point in spending 10 minutes doing a heap of static stretching.
Switch on the muscles that you’re going to use, and switch off the ones that are going to prevent them from activating.
Notable areas for attention are the muscles around your hips; I don’t know if you’ve noticed but they’re kind of important for runners.
If you’ve been sat down all day you’re likely going to be bent out of shape so getting up and running a 5 miler after a quick stretch of your hammies isn’t going to cut it.
Spending 5-10 minutes working through a targeted warm up routine is going to pay dividends as you’ll put in a better performance (thanks to your muscles doing what they should be) and are less likely to injure yourself (see point 5 above)
What might appeal to you most about running is the beauty of its simplicity.
The opportunity to get out there and test yourself, to enjoy yourself, to discover more about yourself. What ever level you run at, and how ever deep you want to get into it, there are always incremental improvements you can make.
You are an Experiment Of One.
Open your mind to new strategies, be prepared to shift your paradigms and challenge the conventional.
Running can give you more than just physical fitness and it’s about more than simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Like life, it is what you make of it so enjoy the journey.
George Anderson bio
I was 8 years old when my dad said to me ‘come on son, you’re coming out with me for a run’.
He was in the army and running was a regular lunch time ritual for him.
I remember those early days and the pleasure I got from running; the progression, the freedom, the feeling of doing something a bit different to the masses…
20 odd years later and I still get the same pleasure from running and exercise, and it’s my mission to spread some of this joy to others.
After graduating from Loughborough University with a masters in engineering it was an obvious career path for me to get into coaching and personal training(!)
Since 2002 I have run a range of programs designed to help people get more out of their lives and overcome severely limiting beliefs.
Whether that’s losing a few pounds or shaving a few minutes off a half marathon time, I’ve grown to understand the power of focusing on a healthy goal and the growth that can occur whilst on the journey.
Running for me has never been purely about the destination.
I’ve always been about the process.
If I ain’t enjoying it, I’ll take a break and this often happens with my running.
Sometimes it’s a few weeks off, sometimes a few months.
But I’ll always consider myself a runner and I’ll always put myself out there to help others experience more of the joy the sport can bring.
I’ve run everything from the 400m to full marathons, making every mistake in the books along the way. My blog www.intelligentrunning.com is a smorgasbord of nutrition, training and mindset strategies, and guides runners of an inquisitive nature.
7 years ago I launched an e-commerce site selling running clothing in Ireland.
Ronhill was one of the handful of brands we sold and I came to know and love the company’s ethos and their story.
I’m thrilled to have started this relationship with Ronhill, and the opportunity it will give me to connect with you, the real superstar who’s out there testing yourself.
I’m here to serve you on whatever level you need me.