Wednesday, May 5, 2010

20 Things To Make Your Running Better Right Now!

There are times as runner we may reach a plateau or place of indifference in our running--or at least some of our fresh motivation might wane. I've struggled with that myself off and on over the past training season, I thought about ideas to share to help you refresh, renew.. and run better.. right now!

1. Run with someone a little slower. Make a personal connection with someone who was where you once were. You just might make a difference in your life in sharing some of your successes and how you got there. Besides, running is the coolest hobby on the planet, right? Share it. You just might learn something too.

2. Take Vitamin D. Lately it seems every other health article I read debunks taking vitamin supplements. But yet every one of them seem to conclude that if there is one vitamin worth taking (and I wrote about it a few months ago), it's Vitamin D.

3. Run with someone a little faster. Rather obvious, but don't discount a little pushing of yourself with a slightly faster runner once in a while. I owe several of my running pals for dragging me a bit faster than I wanted to go. Just enough that I could. And I became a better, stronger runner as a result.

4. Record your runs. If you don't write down a little bit about each run, it's hard to know your progress and make decisions about your training. Not every run will be great, and not every run will feel terrible. Write down anything significant: where you ran, the terrain, who you ran with, any important diet changes, time of day, energy level, weather. If you have a lousy run or streak of lousy runs, go back 21 days and read what you've been doing. If you've been pushing too hard, it may be why you are out of energy. If you had a sore throat last week, your body might be fighting something. Most of your "why me" running questions can be answered in your 21-day look-back.

5. Encourage an injured runner. Very few of us have risen to our current running status without a few hard bumps along the way. Injuries, sickness, some preventable, some not, are all part of growing up as a runner. If you know a faithful runner who is injured, they could probably use a boost. Offer to go for a bike ride or coffee or lunch. There's really nothing worse than not being able to run if you are a runner. (See #20.)

6. Fuel your runs. Eat a healthy breakfast with some carbs and some protein. I've been running a few years, and I still sometimes slip out for a run without eating. I just forget to eat, and then at the last minute I'm almost out of time, and so I head out anyway. More often than not, I end up bonking and having a crappy run. Have something quick on hand, but a bagel with peanut butter, or instant oatmeal with some fruit are good, quick choices. If you're struggling with a few extra pounds, pick up Eat This and Not That for some simple swap outs to help you eat better on the run.

7. Read a good book about running. Find a highly motivating book about running. My all time favorite is Once A Runner by John L. Parker. If you've read it recently, give Bart Yasso's My Life On The Run, Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, or Dean Karnazes' 50/50: Secrets I learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days a try. Stimulating your mind about inspiring running stories can give you positive reflections while you run.

8. Race a new distance. My first "race" was a 5K, where I became absolutely hooked on running. But, to be fair, my first several 5Ks were taken in with the amazement I could actually run 3.1 miles without stopping and were all about completing the event and surviving the finish line--not dead last. Eventually, I worked my way up to the marathon, where I spend most of my training focus now. Last year, I took on the 5K with some aggressive (for me) goals to actually race this distance as hard as I could and train for it specifically. It broke up my training, made running fiercely interesting again (the training is so different) and ultimately made me a better marathoner.

9. Run at a different time. Always an early morning runner? Give a nice run at sunset a try. Watching the sun slip behind the trees and possibly even the moon rise and feel the heat of the day melt away can be a beautiful experience. Always running when you get home from work? Set out at dawn and watch the sun rise.

10. Skip the Garmin. As disciplined runners, we like to record and measure every step. How fast did I run that loop this time? But sometimes, it's better to just let go. The Garmin (or other training watch / footpod) can be a ruler with which you end up beating yourself. For your easy and recovery days, just go out there and run a familiar route and distance, but don't bring the Garmin. Don't even try to fool yourself that you'll only show elapsed distance, because later you will go and judge yourself on the pace. Remember what got you into running the first time. Enjoy the freedom a couple of times per week.

11. Lose the headphones. Amazing I'd come out with this one, as I am an avid iPod user for most of my training runs. I used to avoid races that didn't allow them. But now, you'd never catch me racing with an iPod, it disrupts my concentration and dilutes the racing and social experience. But every once in a while, go hit a trail in the early morning, or some other interesting route and just listen to the beauty of nature. Hear yourself breathe; your footfalls hit the ground; the birds singing; the breeze whispering. It can not only enrich your run, but enrich your life.

12. Striders. Not to be missed, striders are a great way to introduce some fast running into your training program. As noted in this article from Running Times, "By doing striders, you’ll tend to improve your running technique and posture at all speeds and may improve your running economy." Striders are 20 seconds or so of relaxed running at about 90% speed. Tack them onto the end of an easy run a couple of times per week.

13. Find a new trail. Trails abound in the U.S., and chances are, there's one within driving distance of you. During a recent visit to a Nature Conservatory near my home, I picked up a hiking trails book in the gift shop. I instantly discovered four brand new trails that I never knew existed within a 30 minute drive. I now frequent one of the loops. If you've already scouted out every trail nearby, expand your net. Put together a couple of your best running buds, and go for a longer drive some weekend or Holiday.

14. Run your easy days easy. This is a less obvious fact that I struggled with when I first became serious about running. This Running Tips site said it better than I could: "make your hard days as hard as possible and your easy days as easy as possible." The idea is that if your easy days are taking away from your hard days, you will merely run mediocre every day and not do the work necessary to become faster. It is the hard workouts that make you a faster runner, not the easy ones.

15. Sponsor a charity runner. Surely, one of your running buddies, co-workers, family members or friends will be running a race on behalf of a charity. This is a great opportunity to encourage another runner, and make you feel good about running in the process. Don't just write a check, be interactive. Ask about their training progress. Find out how they did when they finished. Share in their joy when you congratulate them for sticking to a goal, finishing it, and benefiting others in the process.

16. Run More. While this may not apply to everyone, if you are running more than forty percent of your weekly mileage in your long run, or if you are running less than forty miles per week, you could well benefit from running more miles. I am barraged on a daily basis with "run less, run faster" dogma, but as a general rule, if you want to be better at something, you do more of it (to a point of course). Running more miles can increase your fitness and efficiency and improve your form. Pete Pfitzinger covers this topic well, along with some tempered advice on how to safely increase your mileage. Greg McMillan writes about how increasing mileage strategically can help you by Fixing the [Late Marathon] Fade.

17. Volunteer at a local race. Face it--races wouldn't happen if it weren't for volunteers. What better way to stay motivated and get excited about running than handing water, sports drink, etc. out to hundreds if not thousands of runners in a local race? Fast or slow, it's inspiring to watch and help others. And bring your child with you--get them excited about running too.

18. Train Core. OK, I admit it. I'm a runner and I hate strength training. It's just a chore to me, and often find it hard to get motivated to do anything besides run. However, one area I never neglect is my core. I even have a secret sign [maybe some day I'll confess to what it says] printed above my ab bench to remind me how important core is. "The stronger your core, the more solid you are as you hit the ground," explains Jack Daniels, Ph.D., former exercise physiologist for the Nike Farm Team and now with Run SMART (where I train under Vince Sherry). "That reduces your need for unnecessary stabilization, and allows you to be a more economical runner." Check out the rest of this Runner's World article about core strengthening for runners.

19. Listen to your body. Last weekend, I had seven miles on my schedule but within two I found myself distracted, feeling lousy, stressed about finishing in time for my next appointment and generally having a really crappy run. I decided to end the run and go for seven the next day. I was rewarded the following day with one of the best runs I've had in a while--I felt great and celebrated the choice I'd made to listen. Know your body as a runner; trust it. Know the difference between when to push hard--and when to back off. Don't insist on finishing a terrible run just because you are a robot and it's on your schedule.

20. Give thanks that you can run. I saved this one for last because it's all too often we get so hung up on our goals, that we simply forget what a blessing it is to be able to get out there and run. Many of us run because we overcame something else. There's quite possibly a good reason you are a runner, because if you weren't, you'd be something else. Something less. For me, running gave me a new, healthy life I never expected. There was a time when I couldn't read a bed time story to my kids from a chair without being out of breath. And in the past twelve months, I qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon. So, if your running isn't perfect, and you feel like you are in a rut, wondering why you are doing this day after day--stop for a minute. Rejoice that you can run.


  1. thanks for all the pointers .. :)


  2. Jacky, Thanks for the visit :-) I hope one or two of them are useful. I know I thought about a couple on my own run today. How is your training going? --Alex

  3. Great post, Alex. Lots of good advice. Thanks!

  4. Lots of great tips in here, Alex. Thanks for doing that.

  5. Rick, Thanks for the compliment. Hope you are not a #5 for much longer and can do #20 very soon :-) --Alex

  6. Hey, Jesse! Thanks for the visit. Just read your blog on the breathing. Interesting stuff, and I am wondering what I do... --Alex

  7. I have a FM coming up at the end of the month. Its a night race. These few weekends have been doing midnight runs.

    They changed the route this year so its generally flat throughout. Will try to cross sub 4 .. :)

  8. Jacky, Wow! I checked out the course map / video. Very cool. I would love a night race, I am so not a morning person. Best wishes to you, hope you do break 4! -Alex

  9. Such a well-rounded, insightful post! This is a motivating article I'll be sharing! Thanks