I started working with a running coach in January 2015. Since then, I have learned a lot of useful lessons about how to be a better runner. I have also reaped the benefits of running stronger, feeling better during tough runs, as well as a streak of PB’s. Here are 7 tips I have learned so far, which have helped me progress as a runner.
1) Increasing your number of runs per week: I used to run only 3-4 days a week, and while this was fine for basic fitness, I don’t think it was enough to get the results I was after. My regular plan includes running 5-6 days a week and it is working quite well. If you do decide to increase your weekly runs, do it slowly, don’t just double your days. It can lead to a long list of issues including: injury, burnout etc.
2) Keep easy runs EASY: this was a challenging concept for me, but after a few months, I started to enjoy it. Easy runs are supposed to be performed at a pace that isn’t challenging, and is maintainable over a long run. For example, Olympian Eric Gillis tweeted a photo of his Garmin a few weeks ago showing a 4:45 pace for an easy run of 20km. For reference, his average pace during a marathon would be about 3:03/km. About 50-66% of my weekly runs are done at an easy pace, in off season, it can sometimes be all of my weekly runs, if I’m even running! So why do easy runs? They make up a significant portion of weekly mileage, you physically cannot do workouts every day of your training, and “You’re using mostly slow twitch muscle-fibers. They have a higher density of mitochondria, high levels of aerobic enzymes and greater capillary density than fast-twitch fibers, which are more involved in higher-density training..You increase mitochondria and capillaries and blood flow to those muscles,so they’re better able to utilize oxygen, without that, you can’t do the intense runs” (Runners World). It will probably feel strange at first, both physically and mentally to do an easy run, but trust me, if you give it time, you will learn to love them and understand their value.
3) Have a plan and stick to it: If you are looking for results, and have specific goals for races, you need to have a plan for how you are going to get there. The plan should be specific to your goals, training for a sub 15 minute 5km will have a different route than a marathon… I really enjoy the structure of having a set schedule and plan. I follow it as much as possible, this includes running on vacation or weekends away. This is how I train, and I enjoy it. I definitely prioritize running over most things in my life. You don’t necessarily have to be as strict as I am to see results, but a plan is still important.
4) Make fueling part of your plan: You have to train your legs and cardiovascular system to run a race, and it’s no different when it comes to your digestive system. Ingesting a surplus of sugary fuel while running at a hard effort is not easy on your body. It takes practice for it to become accustomed to this. It takes trial and error to find out what kind of fuel works best for you as well as how often to take it. Practicing fuel intake during training runs is an absolutely necessary step to avoiding GI issues on race day.
5) Trust the plan: Whether you have a coach making your plan or you are using one from a running book, or making your own, you need to trust the plan. Plans are created as they are for a variety of reasons including scientific evidence, experience and the needs of the individual athlete. You need to buy into the plan, commit to it and trust that it will help you reach your goals. When the training cycle is complete, you need to believe that you have worked hard and are ready for the challenge you have been preparing for. This leads to..
6) Obey the taper: There are mixed feelings about the taper week(s) leading up to a long-distance race, some hate tapering and some love it. Whatever your feelings are, it really is important to let the taper happen and relax during that time. Doing extra running or working out in the final weeks before a race will not improve fitness, it will more likely do damage. I think the key to dealing with a taper is mental strength, this goes with #4 trusting the plan. When I tapered before the Victoria Marathon, I felt like I was over-caffeinated almost every day, but I think this was partially nerves and partially excitement. Writing about it definitely helped me then, and entertaining yourself in other ways works too. You can’t run as much as you would like to but you can read about running or watch documentaries about it.
7) Embrace the post-race training break: After completing a long-distance race like a marathon, your body will need time off to recover. I figured it would be a week off. It was more like 3 weeks, I didn’t run for at least 10 days after the marathon and even after that my runs were sparse and short in duration. There were 15 minute runs, 20 minute runs, and then finally 30 minute runs. I didn’t do an actual “workout” until a week ago, which was 3 weeks after the marathon. Your body needs time off between a big event and the next training season to recover. “If you don’t need the recovery, you didn’t train hard enough” is what my coach told us a few weeks ago. I believe her. I did not think I would need that break, but I totally did and am happy I followed her advice. My training will not be as intense as it was leading up to the marathon until the New Year, when I start training for the Eugene marathon. I plan to enjoy these easier 2 months of running because I know my body will thank me later.
These are 7 tips that have helped me become a better runner and will continue to help me in the future. I hope they help you too!