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Here is a list of 20 “secrets” about running. I say “secrets,” not necessarily because this is classified information that is only accessible once you’ve been inducted into the super-top-secret Cool Kids Running Club, but more so because these are the little things you tend to learn along the way. Things that, if you’re just starting out you might never think to ask about, but that are extremely helpful if you’re lucky enough to be clued in beforehand.
These are all of the things that I wish a little running fairy had come and shared with me before the sport became a daily activity for me. You know, back when I was a running “newbie.” Just an average jane with a pair of old (and probably extremely inadequate for running) pair of gym shoes and the desire to reclaim my fitness. If you’re a veteran runner, you might already know most or all of these tips. (Of course, it never hurts to revisit old knowledge.) But if you’re new here and you want to learn how to run the right way, all of the secrets I’m about to share can help get you started running right!
Before I share the secrets though, I first want to define Running Success. By my book, successful running means enjoying the sport. It means running injury free. It means reaching the goals that you set for yourself. It means that you love to run.
Now that that’s out on the table. Let’s get to the good stuff.
-20 Secrets to Running Success-
1. Set a Goal: No matter where you stand as a runner, weather you’re a beginner or you’ve been running for years, it’s best to always have your eyes on some sort of “prize.” This will help keep you motivated and help you to develop a plan. (See secret #2.) If you’re a veteran runner, this might mean aiming for race PR. If you’re a beginner runner, aim for smaller goals at first, like making it to a certain distance or running for a set amount of time without stopping. Always keep setting new goals for yourself. Big or small. You are your biggest competion.
2. Make a Plan: This means setting up a schedule for your workouts, including information about distance, time, and workout style. For example, on Wednesdays you might plan a 4-mile speed interval workout that should take approximately 40 minutes. It all depends on your goals though. Beginner runners who aren’t sure where to start when working to come up with a plan, check out Cool Running’s Couch to 5K plan. If you’re more advanced, maybe you’re training for a race, organizations like New York Road Runners and Runner’s World Magazine have both free and paid training plans for a variety of different race types and runners of all different levels. Once you have a plan, schedule your workouts into your calendar. Treat them like any other important appointment to make sure you won’t bail on your training. If you want to achieve your goals, you have to put in the work. (P.S. Try including some room for spontaneity in your plan. Not every run has to be a part of a schedule. Don’t ever forget about running for the pure fun of it!)
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3. Be Patient: Progress comes slowly and it will take time for your body to adapt to a new running routine. Soreness is OK, but debilitating pain is not. The following statement will be repeated several more times but it’s always worth saying; pay attention to your body. Rest when you need to. To prevent injury (the most important aspect of all), mileage increase should be slow and gradual. Always avoid running too far and/or too fast to soon. This goes back to the importance of having a plan. If you’ve never run in your life, despite how determined your mind might be, you probably shouldn’t just get up and run 5 miles one day. That would be an example of “too much too soon.” Eventually your body will be ready to go that distance, but until it is, stay within, or just at the edge of your comfort zone. When it comes to milage, a good rule of thumb is to increase your longest distance by 1 mile every week. So if last week you were finally able to run 2.5 miles, next week gradually aim for 3.5. As for speed, you should only train near race pace, or close to your maximum heart rate (approximately 220 minus your age) for 1 or 2 short-distance workouts per week. The rest of your workouts should be significantly more moderate.
3. Be Consistent: Unless you need to rest because of injury or illness avoid long gaps of time without running, in order to maintain your strength and endurance. Stick to your plan. Remind yourself of your goals to stay motivated.
4. Eat Well: Eat to fuel your body. Just like a car needs gas to go, our bodies need food and water for energy. Whole foods are best and carbohydrates are the most ideal fuel for runners. Fuel up before you run for optimal performance and then re-fuel soon after your workout is over. (This is also an important part of the recovery process mentioned in secret #16.) There are entire books about nutrition for runners and I could go on and on about it here, but basically, know not to neglect nutrition and that a balanced diet can mean the difference between feeling awful or awesome when you run.
5. Get Good Shoes: I bet you’ve heard a million times, “Oh running is so great because all you have to do is lace up your sneakers and go.” Generally speaking, that’s true. But this is also one of the biggest misconceptions about running, especially for beginners. If you don’t currently run on a regular basis (and have never been fitted for sneakers at your local running shop), the sneakers you have now are probably inadequate for running and could potentially lead to injuries. If you want to run and you want to run often, you need to invest in a good pair of sneakers that are right for you.
Notice how I bolded the phrase “that are right for you.” That’s because this tip doesn’t simply mean you should go out and buy the most expensive pair of running sneakers you can find. It means that everybody runs differently and therefore everybody needs a different type of shoe. Do yourself a favor and get fitted. There are experts out there who’s job it is to evaluate your feet and gait and then tell you what kind of shoe you need. Use their services! If you don’t have a local running shop available to you, try Kindrunner.com’s Custom Fit Process. They will recommend several pairs of shoes (that you can try with free returns) after evaluating your gait based on pictures of your current shoes and a short survey about your running habits.
6. Stretch: Stretch after every run. Most current science has shown that static stretching before exercise is not beneficial to our muscles and may even make them more prone to injury. Before you run, warm up with a light 3-5 minute jog, then perform a series of several dynamic stretches. After you’re finished with your workout, when your muscles are oxygenated and have loosened up, then you can, and SHOULD, stretch out in order to help maintain flexibility and range of motion, which will help to prevent injury.
7.Run With Music: Let your favorite songs help motivate you. Sing along out loud if you please. Whatever helps to really get you going. Whatever will help keep your run interesting and fun. The other great thing about music is that you can use it to help set your pace. Try out apps like Cruise Control or TempoRun which are programmed to play music based on a goal pace. (For running music and playlist ideas, click here.)
8. Run Without Music: Some runners don’t believe in running with music, ever. Some runners actually look down upon those who run with headphones. Some runners see it as “cheating.” I don’t necessarily agree, but I do believe that running without earphones some of the time is important. Running without headphones will help you pay more attention to your body and will encourage you to “stop and smell the roses,” if you will. Only you’re not stopping, your taking in the scenery as you zoom on by.
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9. Cross Train: Running is great for building strong legs, but it is a repetitive motion that targets the lower body muscles in a very specific way. As a runner, you’ll need to challenge and strengthen all of your leg muscles with lower body activities other than the repetitive motion of running in order to prevent injury, keep all of your muscles strong, and maintain optimal joint range of motion. Cross training can include swimming, cycling, strength training, yoga, and really any other type of exercise that is not running. Cross training also helps to spice things up by keeping your fitness routine diverse and interesting.
10. Foam Roll: You will never know how sore your muscles really are until you roll them over a sphere shaped block of foam. I know that sounds horrible and now you don’t want to do it, but trust me, if you have or want to develop a consistent running routine you need to foam roll. The foam roller will become your best friend. The practice is more technically known as “self myofacial release” and it helps to break up muscle tissue density and tightness that is often caused by repetitive motion exercises, like running.
11. Run With Friends: This is another way to spice things up and keep your workouts interesting. Eventually you might get sick of yourself, so having someone to chat with while you run will help keep you focused and motivated, and also help keep you accountable for your workouts. (You’re less likely to bail if you have a run scheduled with someone else rather than just you on your own… Unless you’re a jerk.) If none of your friends are runners and you can’t convince any to cross over to the dark side, launch an investigation and find out what types of local running clubs and teams your city or town has to offer.
12. Run Hills: This is how you get stronger, both physically and mentally, by challenging your body. You know how they say “if you want something you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done“? Well that theory seriously applies to running. If you run the same route always, especially if it’s flat, your body will adapt. At first it might be challenging, but before you know it, it will be a piece of cake. Which is great, but not if you want to get stronger and faster. Train progressively by constantly adding new challenges to your routine. (See also secret #1.)
13. Walk: When I first started running, I was extremely stubborn and refused to stop or walk, even at times when (if I was honestly listening to my body) I knew that I should have. Don’t be that runner. Taking breaks is not cheating. Walking if you need to is not cheating. This goes back to listening to your body and injury prevention. If you’re out on a run and something is telling you, “Hey slow down,” go ahead and slow down. Walk for a bit. Stop and stretch if you need to. When you’re ready, start back up again and see how you feel. You will still gain all of the fitness benefits from your workout.
14. Make a Mantra: Make up a few mantras for yourself. Chant one in your head (or outloud if you really want to) when you’re in need of more motivation to keep going. Use it to help keep your focus. Use it as your inspiration. Some examples include:
“Everything forward.” – Runner’s World Magazine
“Find a way.” – Sara W. on Facebook.
“You can’t be negative and awesome. Pick one”- Erica A. on Facebook
15. Keep a Log: Keep notes about what works best for you. This way, you’ll never have to second guess about any of the details. Like, what shoes work best for long runs, what foods don’t upset your stomach before a race, which routes are your favorites, how you felt running in certain weather, and information about your speed and distances. No detail is too small. Trust me, it’s no fun to eat a new, untested breakfast the morning of a race only to find out that it doesn’t agree with your tummy halfway through the run.
16. Plan Rest Days. Do Not Skip Them: It’s actually during the time that we’re recovering from a workout when our muscles grow bigger and stronger. (Nutrition also plays a huge role in this process.) So planned days off are equally as important as exercise. Okay and here I go, I’m gonna say it again, listen to your body! Know when to rest, even if it’s not planned. If something is ify, and you’re not sure, play it safe and rest anyway. Better safe than sorry. One extra day off to let your body fully heal is much better than being sidelined for weeks or months because you didn’t, what? Everybody now… LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
17. Shake It Up: This idea has already been touched upon a bit with secret #12, but again, don’t run the same routes forever. Don’t keep repeating the same plan. (See also secret #1.) Every so often switch up your routine, because no matter how much a runner loves to run, everyone gets bored and almost anyone will eventually start to groan at the prospect of doing the same thing over and over and over again. (Isn’t that what Albert Einstein defined as “crazy”? :P)
18. Never Judge a Run By the 1st Mile: Sometimes shorter runs (1, 2, 3 miles) will feel most difficult because it takes 10-20 minutes for our bodies to really warm up. This means you might not feel great about your workout until a few miles in and you’ll want to throw the towel in before it’s time. When this happens remind yourself that often times, the first few miles are the hardest. Don’t forget that it takes some time to get into the groove and feel good.
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19. Just Because You Can Run Faster, Doesn’t Mean You Should: Learn and know when it’s the appropriate time to push yourself and when it’s not. If you push far beyond your limits too often or when it’s not the right time, you’ll greatly increase your chance for injury and burn yourself out. In the September 2013 issue of Runner’s World, writer Alex Hutchinson suggests incorporating only 1 or 2 “all out” workouts in place of a regular speed workout each month. The rest of your training should be at a moderate level and should include plenty of time for rest and recovery. (See StrengthRunning.com for and endless supply of great advice regarding this topic.)
20. There’s An Exception to Every Rule: Also published in the September 2013 issue of Runner’s World, is one of my all time favorite articles about running. It’s titled “Break the Rules: Five outliers prove that to run well you don’t have to follow all the laws all the time.” It profiles one runner who runs everyday (no rest or recovery) and another who doesn’t incorporate cross-training, explaining that, “[Rules] work for most people most of the time. Often, scientific evidence backs them up. But as with almost any other endeavor in society that doesn’t involve criminal activity, running rules can sometimes be broken- or at least bent- without the world coming to an end.”
The main point is that everybody is different. In the same way that you need a specific pair of running shoes that will meet your body’s needs, you’ll continue to find different techniques and strategies that suit your goals and your personality as a runner. I bet as you continue you to run, you’ll collect 20 more new “secrets” that you can add to this list. Which is why secret #15 is pretty important and yes, I’ll say it one more time just to be a huge jerk, you always have to listen to your body.
What are your own personal successful running “secrets”?