Whether you’re running just for recreation or you have goals to break personal bests, success (however you may define it) will require some trial and error; figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you. This applies to everything from your training program and apparel to nutrition and recovery techniques. That said, there are also some universal running truths; rules or guidelines that, for the most part, are essential for successful running. And unfortunately, many runners don’t learn these lessons until long after they’ve been involved in the sport. Ask any runner what they wish they had known before they started running and these are a few of the answers you might hear.
Whatever your goal is, it’s going to take time to get there. Especially if you’re just starting out as a new runner, you’re probably going to have to deal with some soreness and the first few weeks of running probably won’t feel so great, but don’t let it discourage you. Every runner was once in your shoes. A few things to keep in mind: increase your mileage slowly and gradually and don’t run too fast. Eventually your body will be able to handle longer distances and speedier workouts, but when you’re just getting started, taking it slow and steady is of most importance.
Speaking of building up your cardiovascular endurance, in order to do so you’ll need to be consistent with your running workouts; three to four sessions a week is a good place to start. Unless you need to rest because of an injury or illness, avoid long gaps of time without running in order to build and maintain both muscular and cardiovascular strength and endurance.
Rest is just as important as consistency, so don’t forget to build recovery days into your training plan. Aim to allow for at least 24 hours of recovery time between running workouts. It’s during the time that we’re resting when our muscles repair and grow, which means that recovery is required if you want to make improvements. Also, don’t be afraid to take an extra rest day if you feel like you need it. If something feels off or you’re feeling particularly tired you’re better off playing it safe. One extra day off to allow your body to heal is definitely better than having to take off weeks or months because of an injury.
Think of your body like a car. The food you eat is like gas. Whole foods (fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains) will serve as the best type of fuel. Supplementing your running with a nutritious and balanced diet will help to improve your performance.
Finding a pair of shoes that are comfortable will definitely make your running experience better. But don’t be fooled into thinking that an expensive pair of sneakers will instantly make you an incredible runner. A good pair of shoes is only one piece of the puzzle and performance gains will only come if you put in the work.
Once you get into the swing of things and are starting to feel more comfortable with running, it’s a good idea to add some cross training to your routine. This means including one or two weekly workouts that aren’t running. Cross training will help to increase your strength and prevent injury. Try exercises that will build muscle strength and also improve your joint range of motion, like swimming, weight lifting, or yoga.
Music is especially helpful when you’re in need of some extra motivation. In fact, some research has found that it might even help you to run faster.
On the other hand, there are benefits to running without music, too. Even if you feel like boredom would get the best of you, you should try running unplugged every now and then. It will help to improve your awareness by forcing you pay more attention to things like your breathing and your footsteps.
Other than an actual massage, nothing will relieve the pain of sore muscles better than a foam roller. It’s an essential recovery tool because it can help to increase your mobility and flexibility by breaking up tight, knotted muscle tissue.
This tip first serves as a technique for avoiding boredom. Running will get old really fast if you run the same route for every single workout. Second, it’s also a technique for avoiding injury. Stay healthy by balancing your training with different types of workouts. Aim for just one or two faster-paced sessions a week. The rest of your training should be done at a moderate or easy level of intensity.
It takes a little bit of time for your body to warm-up and on some runs it will take longer than others. Sometimes the first mile of a run will feel downright awful, so much so that you’ll probably consider giving up on the workout. Don’t throw the towel in, though. Give your body a chance to adjust. Chances are you’ll find that comfortable running groove if you just hang in there for a little while longer.
If you run too fast, too often, you greatly increase your risk for injury. Your body can only handle so much exercise at intense levels. As mentioned earlier, to improve your speed you only need one or two fast-paced workouts a week. Additionally, you should incorporate one weekly “recovery run” into your routine. This workout should be completed at a slow, easy pace.
Every runner is different. Part of the process is figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you. In their September 2013 issue Runner’s World featured a story titled, “Break the Rules: Five outliers prove that to run well you don’t have to follow all the laws all the time.” It told the stories of runners who found success even though they didn’t “follow the rules.” Like one who never incorporates cross training and another who ran every single day, never incorporating time for rest and recovery. “[Rules] work for most people most of the time,” the article explained. “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.”