Becoming A Better Runner

Running is something that so many of us want to be good at. But it’s hard. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not an expert on running, or fitness as a whole. I have been a “runner” for my entire life, but it has always been a mental and physical challenge. I push myself to my limit every time I run, despite the faint voice in my head that says, “you’re tired, aren’t you?” It isn’t until my face is bright red and the sweat is dripping down that I allow myself to feel somewhat satisfied.

This took years. I have always loved to run, but I didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be good at it. It took many miles, worn out pairs of sneakers, and injuries to be able to go the distance that I can. It took frustration and sore muscles, and late nights pounding the pavement.

But there are few better feelings than conquering that weak voice that wants to quit, and finding what your body is capable of. It’s when you find those things that the addiction begins, and you realize that what you thought you hated, is actually wonderful. Along the way, I learned many simple tips and tricks that can help you to improve with time and distance, and become a better runner overall.

NO MATTER HOW SLOW YOU RUN, RUN

Just because you’re last, or you feel like the least experienced, push yourself to keep going. It doesn’t matter if your mile time is 12 minutes or 6 minutes, you keep on moving. There are days when I feel like I haven’t ran in weeks for some reason, and I feel the weight of sore muscles holding me back. But I shuffle along and jog my way out of it until I feel good enough to pick up the pace. Sometimes I have a whole run like that. This will happen. But you’ll also have fantastic running days where you could go for miles! Take advantage of these, and don’t get discouraged so badly that you allow yourself to quit.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

If I had a dollar for every time I had pushed myself too far.. I have very strong legs, but they’re also a little bit beat up. I’ve had knee issues, foot issues, and everything in between, and it definitely holds me back sometimes. I wasn’t listening to my body when it gave me the subtle hints of “hey, I’m extra sore today, slow down.”

When something doesn’t feel right, walk it out until you can gauge what’s going on. These are the moments when pushing yourself to keep going is a bad idea. It’s a lot better to cut your run short by a mile than to cut your running back by a month due to injury.

TRY SOME INTERVALS

One of the best methods for improving your time and building endurance is by doing intervals. This trains your mind and your body to keep pushing when you feel like you’re out of juice. Start at an easy warm up pace (whatever you’re comfortable with, I usually do 6.0 mph to start) and every minute bump it up to 6.5. Do this for 3 minutes. Once you reach 3 minutes, leave your base speed at 6.5, and bump it to 7 every minute. Do this until you’ve reached your maximum speed, and modify the speed adjustments according to your skill level.

I practiced this for a couple weeks and found that my mile time was improving by about 10-20 seconds each time. I noticed changes in my breathing as well, and began pushing myself to do 2 miles, and then 3 and so on. Eventually my breathing was very under control, and it felt good! I could keep pushing my distance without feeling too much discomfort, and the constant change in speed kept me occupied and distracted from how long I had been running.

RUNNING OUTSIDE IS GREAT, BUT BE CAREFUL

I always prefer running outside, but there are some down sides to it as well. If you live in an area, like myself, where the only option for running outside is the side of the road, you’re often better off just going to the gym. Why? Even when we don’t realize it, the side of the road is usually tilted a bit. We don’t feel the difference unless we are running uphill, because our body automatically compensates for us. And the part that does the most of this work: our knees.

The outside of the knee has an IT band (Iliotibial Band) which stretches from our hip all the way down our leg. When we walk on uneven ground and our stability is tested, the IT band works hard to steady us from side to side. When it works too hard, it gets worn out, and we feel it. If it’s worn out too much, it can create IT Band Syndrome, which requires weekly physical therapy and may pose an issue forever. Add in stepping in some pot-holes to that road race and you might be done running forever. My advice: don’t mess with it. Find a track to run on, or the beach where the uneven ground is a bit softer and our feet aren’t pounding the pavement as much.

ALWAYS INCLUDE STRETCHING IN YOUR ROUTINE

When you push your body to new limits, whether you’re lifting weights or running, tissue fibers in your body are breaking down (soreness) and fusing back together again to eventually build muscle. By stretching, you’re allowing those muscles to heal properly, and increase blood flow to heal faster. It’s also a time for your body to relax and recuperate, as well as your mind.

Many of us forget the importance of stretching, and later suffer injuries because of it. Always take the time to stretch, even if that’s all you got done. It’ll pay off in the long run.
Running takes time, so take advantage of this process and learn more about your body. Learn what you excel at, and the areas you could improve. Running is truly a battle against yourself, so don’t compare your accomplishments to anyone else’s. Use this knowledge to better your level of fitness from all angles. And have fun!

Did you struggle with anything in particular when you first started running? What are some of your tips and tricks to being a successful runner?

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