How to get better at running

Majell Backhausen is an Endurance Coach and Elite Athlete for Salomon, Suunto and Compressport, and an an advocate for simplicity, patience and longevity in the sport of trail running and outdoor pursuits. He has coached such names as Martina Valmassoi, Alexis Berg, Dinesh Tamang, and Don Channon.

If you're training for a race or taking on a physical challenge, you need to improve your fitness through consistent, well structured and healthy training methods. But once you've done all you can to increase your fitness, consider these tips to get better at running and reach new goals.

The following running tips are broken up into three sections. 

1. The Change. This is the step you have to make to get better at running. It will often highlight a difference between your current routine or practice. We often have negative or unhelpful practices or thought-processes without realising it. The Change is a glass of water to the face to show you where you need to step up. 

2. The Reason. Knowing why is just as important as making the change. It can't just be 'to get better at running'. The why has to be specific to the change you make and will drive your motivation in the longterm. 

3. The Caution. Just as in any sport, such as swimming or golf, there is a multitude of changes you can make that will potentially improve your running. The key is not to take on too many at once and to take things slowly. Baby steps now will have you making giant leaps in your running style later. 

Increase your running training through distance or time in a low aerobic state

  • The Change: run more kilometres in training or include extra low-aerobic work such as cycling, swimming, or low impact movement. Consider swapping one run for low impact aerobic work.
  • The Reason: upping your time training is the best way to improve your aerobic capacity, which increases running stamina (a fancy way to say how long you can sustain race pace).
  • Caution: be patient and measured in the increase. Do not make large rapid increases. To get better at running, aim for two or three extra kilometres per week (or 10–20 minutes extra) to begin with.

Add time to your run rather than shaving it off

  • The Change: strive to make your easy runs feel very easy. In fact, take an additional 30 seconds to a minute per kilometre off your current easy run pace and relax.
  • The Reason: taking it even easier on your current easy runs will allow you to recover better. In turn, you'll be able to run harder on your hard training days, and encourage a bigger adaptation in your strength and fitness.
  • Caution: be confident in your recovery practice and don't let social competitiveness force you to do otherwise.
An easy run is an important run.An easy run is an important run.
An easy run is an important run.

Prioritise recovery and sleep more

  • The Change: achieve at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Mindfulness training or even just listening to an audiobook is a great way to help you clear your mind and drift off to sleep. The old adage that the hours before midnight count for double may be a myth, but it definitely feels better getting to bed early than rising later. 
  • The Reason: sleep is when your body can recover the best. Simple. During the deepest part of our sleep, blood flow increases to our muscles which helps them to repair, while hormones such as the human growth hormone are released.
  • Caution: besides heightened attention, better core body temperature regulation, better moods...nothing!

Watch ultra-marathon runner Jacqui Bell's journey to be the youngest woman to finish the 4 Deserts Grand Slam.

Finding Frontiers

Introduce a strength routine

  • The Change: look to include two or three simple 30-minute, whole-body strength circuits to your weekly training.
  • The Reason: strength training can help to prevent injuries, provides new stimuli for your body to adapt to, and helps break up your usual running routine, which fights off mental fatigue.
  • Caution: ensure any strength training routine is done with perfect technique. Opt to learn from a personal trainer for the first few sessions to make sure good form is adopted. As always, start off slowly and build up.

Assess your diet

  • The Change: review your diet and find areas where you can include more whole foods, nutrient-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds) and cut out processed foods.
  • The Reason: whole nutrient-dense foods can help aid recovery, introduce more fibre to your diet, improve cardiovascular health, protect you from illness, and aid more consistent energy levels.
  • Caution: processed foods can be well marketed, convenient, and us runners can find good excuses to eat them. Be disciplined and opt for the smarter option. One of the best running tips? Carry a banana with you at all times.
Introduce strength training exercises into your routineIntroduce strength training exercises into your routine
Introduce strength training exercises into your routine

Embrace a positive attitude

  • The Change: when people ask how to get better at running, there is a risk they have forgotten the most important thing: to enjoy the process of running, not just its outcomes.
  • The Reason: when we enjoy the bad runs as much as the good ones we instantly increase our satisfaction for running. Having a positive mindset will usually allow you to perform better.
  • Caution: be selective with your competitive attitude, leave it for race day. Ignoring the numbers can sometimes be stressful, so be aware of this and understand, numbers aren't everything in running.

Be persistent and consistent

  • The Change: even if it's a short one, get out and go for that run. Or at least take 20 minutes out of your day to do some additional exercise of any type.
  • The Reason: adopting running or exercising as a habitual part of your life will have dramatic effects on your fitness and ability. This process and consistent practice will improve your mental strength, commitment, physical abilities, and hopefully, love for the sport.
  • Caution: don't ignore the need to rest and recover. Always have at least one rest day per week in your training schedule.

Diversify your running styles

  • The Change: an important running tip to get better at running, both in your fitness and your running style, is to diversify your playing field. Change up from the pavement to the trail by exploring trail running. Hit up the local athletics track and talk to other runners. Find a hill with a view and do some hill sprints. Drive down to the beach and scale some sandstone. 
  • The Reason: different running environments will make a dramatic impact on your running stamina and running style. It will help you to enjoy running, rather than focusing on the numbers, while testing and strengthening less-utilised muscle groups (i.e. your joints). 
  • Caution: trail running requires a completely different mindset and completely different running style to what you might practice on the athletics track. Check out these 20 trail running tips for beginners to avoid injury. 

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