What can we learn from expert runners? Four tips from the pros
Running is one of the most popular sports in the world. In the US, 64 million people went out running in 2016. This is no surprise: running is the most accessible sport there is. All you really need is a pair of running shoes and the desire to get out there and go.
Running is highly versatile too. As a beginner, you might take on a gentle jog around your local park. As you progress, you’ll probably get faster and maybe you’ll want to enter a few 5k or 10k races. Or maybe you’ll find your way to the track and take on some sprints. Perhaps you’ll find your place as a marathon runner or an off-road superstar. Whatever your physique, available training time and interests, you can find a way to make running work for you.
Whether you’re just getting started or are already somewhat of an expert, these four tips from some of the best runners the world has ever seen will help inspire you to achieve better results.
1) Fuel yourself right
If you watch any running race go by, when the pounding feet have gone you’ll see a sea of discarded gel, snack bar wrappers and sports drink bottles littering the ground. Are these sugary snacks helpful for runners? They can be, especially for those running longer distances. They send an instant energy hit to your muscles, which can really be make-or-break if you find yourself lagging during a long race. The danger is that you become too reliant on them and use them to cover gaps in your training. Ideally, you should carb-load before a run to make sure you’ve got the energy you need, and use gels or sports drinks just to give you that extra boost when you need it most.
If you’re serious about running, you should also pay attention to your everyday diet. It’s important to balance slow-release carbs with healthy fats and proteins. Essentially, eat clean. Avoid crisps and chocolate and eat lots of pulses, lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, natural yogurt and nuts.
Most of all, whether it’s race day or not, pay attention to how much water you’re drinking. Water is a major anti-fatigue weapon.
British long-distance legend Mo Farah says “Drink immediately before or after a 5K or 10K run, but not during it. Running with a bottle puts more pressure on whatever side of your body it’s weighing down, and running well is all about balance.
2) Switch up your workouts
Running is by its nature a repetitive activity, unlike ball sports such as soccer or basketball. Runners often fall into the trap of simply doing the same kind of run for every training session. This approach soon leads to a plateau and, sometimes, to the runner giving up completely, bored with their training and feeling that they’ll never be able to improve any further.
But with the right approach to training, you can keep running exciting and keep on getting better and better. Whatever type of running you love most, try other forms as part of your training. If you’re a sprinter, do the occasional longer run. If you’re a long-distance runner, work in some sprints or interval training.
Also make sure you train in other ways too. Some weight or strength training, such as squats and lunges, is really important to staying injury free and in peak condition. More gentle stretching exercises, such as yoga or pilates, can also improve your chances of avoiding injury.
We’ll leave the last word to the king of the track, Carl Lewis: “Your training should be sensible. In many cases it is more important to rest than it is to drive yourself to the point of pain. Your workout schedule should include hard, medium and easy days. Never plan two hard days in a row. You must allow for recovery between your hard workouts.
3) Remember it’s all about consistency
Runners often start off with grand plans and good intentions. Signing up for a summer marathon seems like a fantastic idea in September, but by February you’re nowhere near where your training plan says you should be and you’re starting to panic. It’s easy to give up when things don’t go according to plan or life gets in the way, but you shouldn’t.
When things get tough, as a runner, you need to be able to get yourself back on track. Part of this is routine. If you get up and run in the morning before work three days a week, and you stick to this religiously, it becomes an unbreakable habit, and you’ll do it even when you don’t want to. Find the schedule that works for you.
Also keep on reminding yourself what your goals are, and the reasons for them. Have them written down somewhere so whenever you falter, you can pick yourself back up.
Sublime sprinter Usain Bolt says: “If you’re not the athletic type,” he says, “it’s going to take more to get your body in the shape that you want. But if you really want it, it’s possible. It’s all about consistency.
4) Get the right gear
Runners don’t need much in the way of gear, but good shoes and weather-appropriate clothes are essential. If you live somewhere with long, harsh winters, you’re going to struggle to get out unless you have a warm running jacket, for example. Running can also be made more fun with music, and lots of runners swear by their TREBLAB wireless earphones, so we recommend you buy some.
But most of all, get the right shoes. Never buy running shoes without getting a proper gait analysis and recommendation from a running store. If you don’t, you’ll risk discomfort at best and injury at worst.
Marathon runner and world-record holder Paula Radcliffe says: “The most important part of you when you’re running is your foot. You can dress up the rest of you however you like but if your feet aren’t strong and supported in the right way you’re going to get problems.