Running is more popular than ever – in our increasingly cluttered lives it’s a quick, accessible way to burn fat and build fitness. However, if you want to improve, a 20-minute plod twice a week just isn’t going to cut it. Running may seem simple, but if any of the following points apply to you, you’re likely to be hampering your chances of any real fitness gains, so we’ve found the solutions to get you fitter, faster.
1. You’re Wearing The Wrong Trainers Your battered old Nikes will do the job for your first few outings, but constantly running in ill-fitting, old or unsuitable shoes will increase your risk of injury. Your running shoes don’t have to be expensive (although they often are), but they should reflect the type of runner you are – namely, whether you land on your heel, your midfoot or your forefoot, and whether your foot rolls excessively inwards upon landing (overpronation). To find that out, you’ll need what’s called a ‘gait analysis’.
‘I would definitely advise that all new runners have a gait analysis done and a shoe type recommended,’ says Garth De Roux, UK Athletics coach in running fitness, and We Run coach for Leeds and the surrounding area. ‘All specialist running shops will do this, but it might be a better idea to have it done with a physio or running coach, where you won’t have the hard sell afterwards, and you can go away to buy your shoes at the best price.’
2. You’re Overstriding To the untrained eye, the Mo Farahs and David Rudishas of this world have incredibly long, rangy strides. In actual fact, the speed that elite runners travel at belies a crucial fact: they land with their feet underneath their bodies. Doing so maintains momentum and protects your joints – particularly your knees – from excessive landing force.
‘When you overstride your foot lands in front of your body, effectively acting like a break,’ says De Roux. ‘Huge forces will travel from the impact with the ground through your joints, increasing the risk of injury. It is better for your foot to land under your hips. This is the optimum position for you to be able to push off on your next stride with the most power, therefore enabling you to travel faster.’
Push yourself out of your comfort zone and your body will adapt to the stress
3. You’re Not Doing Speed Work A gentle jog can be a wonderful thing, and even meditative in the headspace it affords. Long, slow runs are the cornerstones of any long-distance routine for a reason: they’re proven to boost endurance, according to a 2016 study run by Professor Leif Inge Tjelta at the University of Stavanger. However, if you want quicker times, high-intensity sessions need to play their part, too.
‘Speedwork can benefit all runners,’ says De Roux. ‘If you consistently push yourself out of your comfort zone, your body will adapt to the extra stress being placed on it and you will get faster. Find a local park that you can run around several times or plan a circuit that is about 4km in length,’ De Roux continues. ‘Try and hit the same distance for each effort. They should be hard efforts but pace it so your last one is as fast and as strong as your first.’
Do a warm-up jog for 5 mins… then do 3 x 90 secs hard effort with 60 secs recovery and jog between each effort.
Jog easy for 2 mins… Then do a second set of 3 x 90 secs hard effort with 60 secs recovery and jog between each effort.
Jog easy for 2 mins… Then do a final set of 3 x 90 secs hard effort with 60 secs recovery and jog between each effort.
Finally, do a warm-down jog for 5 minutes.
4. You’re Running The Same Old Route A common complaint put to runners, by non-runners, is that it’s boring. And they’d be right… if all you did was pound the same stretch of pavement every time you set out. Varying the routes you run not only keeps your training fresh and exciting, but hillier, muddier, longer outings will also make you a stronger runner capable of adapting to different settings.
As a professional ultra marathon runner, Robbie Britton thrives on getting off the beaten track. ‘The brain and body both love a different stimulus to keep improving,’ he says. ‘A new trail brings new challenges and will help you keep improving. Turning left instead of right once in a while might take you to a whole new place that is a joy to run… or you might end up at a dead end in an industrial estate. No bother, just keep exploring.’
5. You Don’t Have A Coach Hiring a coach may seem excessive if you’re aiming for a parkrun PB, rather than Olympic Gold, but having an expert on hand will improve your overall running experience, as well as your chances of quicker times.
‘Coaching covers everything from the physiological to the psychological areas of improving your running,’ says Britton. ‘One of the things I enjoy most about having a coach is that it takes the responsibility away from deciding what to do each day. Left to my own devices, as a coach myself, I'm always second guessing if I'm doing too much or too little. With a good coach I know I just have to do what they have set me and I will improve.’
To find a running coach near you, head to We Run.
Good recovery is as important to your training as hard sessions
6. You’re Not Resting Up ‘Train insane or remain the same’ rings true, to a certain extent – although it should perhaps be caveated with the admittedly less catchy: ‘but don’t forget to ensure adequate recovery time between sessions’. In running terms, it’s often advised to avoid doing two hard runs on consecutive days. If, for example, you do a high-intensity speed session on Tuesday, Wednesday should either involve a complete day of rest or a low-intensity run – think ‘conversational’ pace.
‘Recovery is equally important to your training as hard sessions are,’ says De Roux. ‘You stress your muscles during a hard run. When you recover, your muscles repair themselves stronger in order to deal with the stress better next time. This is how you improve. If you always ran hard you would never have time to recover and you would begin to see the effects of overtraining.’
7. You Don’t Have Enough Fuel In The Tank Running torches calories like few other sports. But even if you’re running to lose weight or trim some fat, it’s important to make sure you’re not in too much of a calorie deficit. Calories equal energy and if your body doesn’t have the energy it needs, running isn’t going to be much fun, or even beneficial to fitness.
8. You Haven’t Run A Race In his bestselling book Born to Run, Christopher McDougall writes: ‘The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other… but to be with each other.’ If you’ve never raced, you’re missing out on meeting an entire community of like-minded people – not to mention the electric atmosphere of a start line and the euphoria of finishing.
‘Races are a great way to check your progress, like doing your local Parkrun once a month to see if you get faster,’ says Britton. ‘But they’re also essential for motivation. They help provide a tangible goal for your training, and may help you discover new limits, new friends and new places.’
‘In order to really benefit from your training plan, it’s important that you plan ahead so you know what to eat and when,’ explains performance nutrition Renee McGregor. ‘Nutrient-dense carbohydrates such as oats, wholegrains and sweet potato are very useful for fuelling up before high-intensity sessions. A serving size will differ from individual to individual, but as a basic guideline aim for a minimum of one-third of your plate as carbohydrate, and eat one or two high-carb snacks throughout the day, such as oatcakes with mashed banana and nut butter, or an oat-based cereal bar.’
Parkruns are completely free, timed 5K runs that take place every weekend across the world. Alternatively this [website]https://www.runbritain.com/races) has an extensive list of UK races, from miles, marathons and beyond.
WHAT NEXT? Watch the funny and frank confessions made by these London runners as they’re interviewed mid-run.
Photos: UTMB MCC, Natalie White, Mick Kenyon, Racing Snakes
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.