How to Become a Better Runner

You may remember back in June I wrote an article, How to Become a Runner in Just 10 Weeks. I must confess I did have all the intent in the world to follow through with this program myself, but unfortunately I never got around to it.

Initially, the possibility that I would collapse in an embarrassing heap in front of random strangers was enough to freak me out. But, then I decided I really don’t care!

So, since moving back to Australia I’ve made a start. I’ve been brisk walking, with short bursts of jogging in between (I know, it’s not quite ‘running’ yet). Thankfully it has actually become more enjoyable, and I don’t feel quite so silly any more. :-)

In my personal journey, I’ve discovered a few secrets in learning how to become a better runner. Here are 15 of them:

#1 Record why your running…

Having this log will be very helpful on those inevitable days when you just don’t feel like running. Record the reasons why you started running and what you enjoy about it. Here are a few examples to what you might record:

  • Boosts energy and mood
  • Burns calories
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Tones and firms the body
  • Provides quiet thinking time
  • Can encourage better eating habits

An added bonus is that exercise in general is known to help prevent disease, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

#2 Make a commitment…

Do things which show your commitment to running and becoming a better runner. Write about it in your journal, facebook, blog or whatever for accountability and then do it! Remember, if it’s just not working out, there are plenty of other exercises and sports that you can do.

#3 Eat a healthy diet…

Eating a super healthy diet will give you the energy you need to become a better runner, and will help you maintain, or reach, a healthy weight.

Also, make sure you don’t run on a full stomach – if it’s time for meal choose something light, and eat 1 1/2 to 2 hours prior to your run.

If you feel hungry before your run, have a light snack, such a small bowl of yoghurt, or a slice of toast and peanut butter.

#4 Get sufficient sleep…

Good quality sleep is essential to make sure your body can repair and recharge after an intense workout. So, aim for around 6-8 hours each night.

Check out my article on How to Improve Sleep Quality.

#5 Wear the right gear…

It’s not necessary to be kitted out like an Olympian, but you should be comfortable in what you’re wearing. I read somewhere that having good workout gear encourages us to want to wear it, and therefore we’re more likely to workout – do you think there’s any truth in this?

Whether that’s true or not, it’s important that you wear a thick pair of sports socks, and good quality trainers. This will help protect your feet from blisters, and also absorb some of the impact from running.

Wearing clothes that draw moisture away from the body will make your workout more comfortable, but it isn’t necessary. If it will help you become a better runner though, it might be worth it.

#6 Keep well hydrated…

Make sure you drink plenty of water before, and after your running session, with a little during if you need to.

Obviously you don’t want to be running with a belly full of fluid, so it’s important to drink water regularly throughout each day, whether you’re running or not, keeping your body at optimum hydration levels.

#7 Stretch before and after…

Stretching is so important to help reduce the amount of lactic acid produced by your muscles. Perhaps more importantly, it also to decreases your chance of injury, keeping the body supple, and cutting down on stiffness the following day.

Stretch your calves, hamstrings, quads, hips, triceps, etc. – yoga or pilates poses are a great option as well.

#8 Running form…

The running motion should feel quite natural to the body. But, often people develop habits which only hinder their ability to run effectively. In order to become a better runner, try to follow these guidelines:

  • Head up
  • Shoulders level
  • Straight back
  • Hands at waist level, they should not cross
  • Arms at a 90 degree angle
  • Elbows at your sides
  • Lift feet off the ground and land on the ball of your foot, and then roll through to the front of your toes
  • Also, breathe deeply

#9 Start slow…

If you’re new to running, I’d suggest you begin with a brisk 10-minute walk, then alternate 30 seconds of running, with four minutes of walking about 3 times a week.

If you’re finding it a struggle, try to run at 60% rather than 110% – it’s much better to run really slowly, than to put yourself off completely by running too hard.

Use your breathing as a guide, you should still be able to carry on a conversation while running, and your breathing shouldn’t be heavy.

If you haven’t read it already, check out my step by step guide and beginners running plan revealing how to become a runner in just 10 weeks.

#10 Increase distance each day…

Each time you run, gradually build on the distance (perhaps speed, too), pushing yourself a little more each time.

So, if you’re running in intervals, you can gradually increase the amount of time you run, and decrease the amount of time you walk, until you’ve built up to the desired amount of cardio you want to achieve.

Try using visual cues as a way of motivating you to keep going. Each day you run pick a new landmark that is past where you got to the day previous. This will be your turnaround point, and will make sure you’re pushing yourself a little further each time.

#11 Keep a training journal…

This touches a little on what I said in the first point. But, a journal is also a great place for noting down your goals, running times, heart rate, pain rating etc, and it will help you keep track of your performance, and motivate you in times when you need it most.

#12 Rate your pain…

It’s normal to have a little pain when you workout. However, you need to be able to recognise when it’s too much. I suggest using an imaginary scale from 1 – 10:

  • Mild pain ranges between 1 and 3. This is safe to run through.
  • Moderate pain ranges between 4 and 6. For the most part it is safe to continue, but you may need extra rest.
  • Severe pain ranges from 7 and 10. You should stop running, and may need to visit your doctor.

You can use this scale to record in your journal.

#13 Overcome inertia…

I’m pretty sure you’ll have days when you just don’t want to run (I certainly do). Often though, this feeling of inertia has been brought on by other circumstances which are playing in your mind.

This is when you may need to run most.

However, if you just can’t face running, try to go for a walk to think about things. If you walk briskly, it will allow your endorphins to kick in, clearing your mind and perhaps even helping you over the mental barrier, and giving you the desire to run.

You could also try using positive reinforcements to encourage yourself. For example, “This is important ‘me’ time,” “I’ve done this before, I can do it again this time,” “My health will benefit from this,” or whatever works for you.

#14 Think of exercise as ‘me time’…

Exercise should be a time when you allow yourself to chill out, reflect, de-stress, and get charged up for life’s events.

I really enjoy it, because I find I can think quietly, and often find inspiration being away from my computer screen! So enjoy your run, it’s your time.

And I don’t me that in a selfish way. This time you give yourself will inevitably make you more effective in all your other daily tasks.

#15 Hire a personal trainer…

If you continue to struggle, you may want to consider hiring a personal trainer for a couple of sessions.

This is a great way to get the initial confidence you need to continue in order to become a better runner. Plus, you will gain valuable tips and advice on correct running form, injury prevention, and how to reduce your training times etc, so it’s definitely worth considering.

Perhaps you won’t become an Olympic runner with these tips, but you’ll certainly be moving more. However please remember, if you do suddenly find you’re the next Usain Bolt – you heard them here first!!! ;-)

Check out my previous article on how to become a runner for more tips.

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Blake October 29, 2008 at 5:38 am

great list. i remember when i first started running…I had to do short bursts of jogging while i walked. It just takes time/discipline/patience to increase fitness level. right on with the comparison to golf. My wife used to think golf was boring (before she met me), now she loves to come with me and watch me play!

Blake’s last blog post..An Artificial Heart

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Cathy in NZ October 29, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Hey don’t knock ‘walking’ some of us will never be able to do major ‘running’…..I have just started back into fitness which is also includes a good dose of treadmill walking – slow, fast, incline up etc!

I might even attempt some 10km walking challenges next year and one day I want to be able to walk the 1/2marathon over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. You have to be on the bridge by 8.30am (if I remember rightly) but that’s achievable…..

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Melanie October 29, 2008 at 7:50 pm

Hi Blake,

Good to know I’m on the right track with the jogging bursts. Did you stick to a dedicated plan when you started out? Or was it more going on how you felt each day?

As for the golf, sorry to say, it’s still not my one of my favourites, I will have to work on that one too!!!

Hey Cathy,

Walking is one of my favourite things, and one of the best all round exercises that most people can get involved with. The only reason I’ve started jogging is to get my heart rate up etc. I hate the gym so this is a much better option for me in terms of higher intensity cardio.

It sounds like you’ve got some really great goals set for yourself, which is excellent. Have you checked out my new ebook yet? If you wanted to really set yourself a challenge and go for the 10km walk you mentioned (or the 1/2 marathon), I think the ebook would be really helpful :-)

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Elizabeth Stanfill October 30, 2008 at 5:03 am

Thank you for all of the great ideas.

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Glenn October 30, 2008 at 9:28 am

Hi Melanie!
As you know, I am going to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro in a few days time, I have heard that we must eat an average of 6000 calories a day, to have the energy to do it! Does this sound right to you! :)

Glenn’s last blog post..Kilimanjaro Expedition info

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moses October 30, 2008 at 2:30 am

Hi melanie… one thing i do while running is listening to my ipod. Yeah…it makes my run more fun! I’ve also ever read that listening to music while running can improve our performance.

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kathryn October 30, 2008 at 3:56 pm

I’ve also started running recently. First time since high school. I’ve been following a three month plan of running and walking. Where you gradually build up the running time, until you can do 5kms. And it’s going well.

The right shoes, being hydrated, stretching and monitoring my form have been the four strategies that have most helped me. Along the way I’ve felt all sorts of random aches and pains, but I’ve also learnt to trust that they’ll soon pass – and are just my body getting used to running again.

kathryn’s last blog post..How making stock helps me to eat well

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Melanie October 30, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Hey Moses,

Yes, I sometimes do that as well. You can download free workout music from iTunes. Often though I like the silence of running, but when you lack motivation, I think music can be really helpful.

Hi Elizabeth,

You’re most welcome!

Hey Glenn,

Can you believe it’s nearly here!! :-) You must be so excited!

I tried to find out some information for you on the diet and calories (although this is more in the region of sports dietetics).

One study from 1998 looked at a group of climbers at Mt. Everest. They ate an average of 2442 kcal, plus or minus 1092 kcal, at Base Camp. Then they showed a significant decline in energy consumption as the altitude increased.

In an anonymous article (1938) Shipton stated that “at 27,000 ft on Mt. Everest, it is “impossible to induce an appetite of any sort. All solid food is nauseating.” Let’s hope you don’t experience this!

Will food be provided for you?

From the study they conclude, “energy-dense foods along with the easily prepared, high carbohydrate foods (are) needed for endurance. Items such as cheese, canned fish in oil, retort sausages, and chocolate bars, among others, meet these criteria for the high fat foods. Provision and modest consumption of such energy-dense foods may help provide the extra energy necessary to ensure climbing success and, perhaps, survival.”

It seems your body can burn up to about 6,000 calories, however I’ve read variations on this, so I would say it’s somewhere between 4,000 – 6,000 (depending on your own muscle mass, body weight etc).

Regardless, it’s important to consume as many calories as you can, particularly for the higher altitudes when you don’t feel like eating.

When do you leave? I could potentially write a post on this, depending on when you leave. I couldn’t find much info on it, so I assume it would be a useful post for others like yourself.

Hi Kathryn,

Good to hear from you. I do like the idea of a 3 month plan, that would be manageable, and I imagine you could monitor your progress easily as you go through the weeks.

Was it a book or a plan you created for yourself?

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Glenn October 30, 2008 at 8:42 pm

Well…we leave tomorrow!!! Slightly late for you to write an appropriate post :(
From what I can gather, loss of appetite is a very real symptom of high altitude, and it is vital to force yourself to eat, to have any chance of reaching the summit.
Food will be provided, but we are encouraged to bring energy-rich snacks/bars, to supplement our diet.
I was speaking to a man who had been to Kili, one day we were training in the Mourne Mountains, and he advised taking as much food that we knew we liked, as we can, as it is hard to eat anything and slightly easier to eat food we like.
I will keep you posted, about “Food requirements at Altitude” (from a purely non-professional point of view, of course!)

Glenn’s last blog post..Kilimanjaro Expedition info

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Melanie October 31, 2008 at 7:03 am

Hi Glenn,

TOMORROW!!! :-) Are you all set?

I look forward to hearing how you get on…can’t wait! God bless and take care!

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kathryn October 31, 2008 at 7:05 am

I’m doing the Cool Runnings Couch Potato to 5km running plan. They say you can do it in 2 months, but I’ve repeated a couple of the weeks, where I struggled to make the next step up – hence for me it’s going to be a 3 month plan.

kathryn’s last blog post..How making stock helps me to eat well

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Glenn October 31, 2008 at 10:01 am

Hi Melanie! It is 00:25 here with us, and I still have not packed! I think sub-consciously I don’t want to get right down to it, as it will seem as if I am leaving home even sooner, than I am!
We saw Margaret Russell tonight, and watched the Kenyan BCFC dvd, and it was quite strange, to think that God willing, we are going to Africa tomorrow!
I will keep you posted!
PS: We have been given some Viper Extreme energy bars to take! I wonder if they do “what it says on the tin”!

Glenn’s last blog post..Kilimanjaro Expedition info

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Melanie October 31, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Hi Kathryn,

Thanks for sending through the link, I will definitely check out this plan.

Hi Glenn,

I’m sure that was very strange, good timing! I hope you’ve packed by now, and are getting some zzzzZZ!!!!

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Cathy in NZ October 31, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Kathyrn
One of the things about exercise, diet etc is that if you fall off the wagon you get ‘right back on’ and just continue onwards and upwards…..I have that can work even when I don’t want to continue doing xyz!
Sometimes, you NEED TO, otherwise you fall off permanently…..I recently re-jigged what I was eating to bring the ‘calories’ down but once a week I have gooey double chocolate brownie otherwise I might well find myself ‘pining’ after it more regularily…

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Melanie November 1, 2008 at 7:30 am

Hey Cathy,

Yes, I think you are absolutely right. Getting back into it ASAP is the key, it always seems so much more difficult when you’ve been inactive for some time.

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Dave June 26, 2010 at 7:34 pm

This is the first time I’ve read that running can help with healthier eating and I agree wholeheartedly.
For me, I believe the healthy eating and exercise have a sort of chicken an egg relationship. I find that better nutrition helps training performance, however I feel that I am motivated to eat better by the fact that I’m exercising.

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Melanie June 28, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Dave,
I know what you mean. I too feel the same way when I exercise, it’s kind of like you don’t want to undo your good work by eating unhealthy food. I think I will write an article on this… you have inspired some thoughts in my mind!!

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Samuel June 19, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi.

In step 7 you mention that you should land on the balls of your feet and roll forward to your toes. I have always been told you should roll from your heels to the toe, does landing on the balls of your feet help to reduce the pressure on your calf muscles?

I also sometimes get shin splints.

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Melanie July 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Hi Samuel,
I’m not a running expert, but here is a good article on correct running form: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/health_and_fitness/4286146.stm

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