Ben Kaplan knows a thing or two about running; he’s got his own column about it in the National Post, he’s completed a few marathons (including Boston), and oh yeah, he wrote a book about it too. Every single page of his marathon training guidebook Feet Don’t Fail Me Now is jam-packed with expert running tips.
It’s not just his own advice though, while putting the book together he consulted a handful of running experts. From the world’s most elite and experienced runners to the top scientists at the forefront of the most recent running research, Kaplan gathered their best tips, tricks and advice and compiled the information into an easy-to-read, four-section training plan meant to guide runners of any level across the marathon finish line.
But even if you’re not striving to conquer 26.2 miles, Kaplan’s book is absolutely invaluable. The following tips are the best pieces of advice from his book, and no matter what level, every runner can benefit from the insight and inspiration that they offer.
1. “If the shoe fits, wear it.”
Don’t stress too much about what kind of sneakers to buy. Kaplan’s two best pieces of advice when it comes to snagging the perfect pair of sneaks: If you have them, bring your old shoes to the store so an employee can look at the wear and tear in order to determine your needs, and go to the store in the afternoon.
“Feet swell during the bump and grind of a typical day,” Kaplan writes. They also swell after running for a period of time. Trying shoes on after your feet have expanded a bit will ensure that your new pair won’t fit too tightly.
2. Focus on Form
Pay attention to your form and gait, but don’t change it so much that it doesn’t feel right. According to Kaplan, proper form involves “landing on the balls of your feet, leaning your torso slightly forward, aiming for your feet to land under your hips, and keeping your elbows locked at right angles.”
But remember, every runner is different. Running the way it feels right for you is more important than trying to drastically change your gait. “Form becomes innate; it’s relaxing, it’s rhythmic. It soothes. You just have to run a lot first,” Kaplan writes.
3. Forget about Fads
For the most part, running is a simple sport. It always has been and it always will be. Chances are the next “new and improved” sneaker or energy supplement is no different than the last.
“Stop buying into the hype and marketing about fads, footwear, nutritional supplements, or running styles. Follow the research, but trust your own common sense” Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary tells Kaplan.
4. Relax Before Your Race
Never show up to a race exhausted. After all the hard work you put into weeks and weeks of training, make sure not to let it go to waste by disregarding rest in the days before a big race.
Don’t worry if you aren’t able to sleep the night before a race, that’s normal. Two nights before the race is the most important time to make sure you get a good night’s rest.
Keep stress at a very low level, too. “Deena Kastor doesn’t even look at her office computer the day before a big race,” Kaplan shares of the record-breaking, Olympic runner and world renowned track coach.
5. “Train hard, race easy.”
That’s the Kenyan motto. In other words, if you give it your all in practice, when race day comes you can relax and place your confidence in knowing that your hard work will pay off. “If you want to go faster, you need to spend some time doing drills. Pay attention to lifting your knees when you feel yourself getting tired, and remember to look in the direction where you want to be,” Kaplan writes.
Another piece of training advice from Reid Coolaset, elite runner and the first Canadian male to qualify for the London Olympics: “If you follow a program and punch a clock, mindlessly doing the same thing every day, you won’t reach your potential.” If you want to get better you’ll have to go the extra distance and continue to challenge yourself.
6. Incorporate Cross Training
Running is an extremely repetitive motion, which is why runners are extremely prone to overuse injuries. Kaplan talked with Dr. Jonathan Chang, orthopedic surgeon and professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, who says that the best form of cross training is rowing because it trains your shoulders, arms and back, and allows your upper and lower body to work together without the stressful impact of running.
Sports like cycling, swimming and weight training are also good forms of cross training. “…Cross training will help you run more. It’s about not killing yourself in the beginning and strengthening everything, including your mind,” John Honerkamp, writer of the official online training plan for the New York City Marathon tells Kaplan.
7. Abide By the Runner’s Code
In other words, be kind. Wave and smile. Lend a hand when someone else is in need. Abiding by “the code” helps keep the running community a positive and welcoming place. “Whatever you do, that’s what runners do” Kaplan writes. So, don’t give runners a bad name.
Also, headphones are OK, but they don’t give anyone the right to completely tune out the rest of the world. “Becoming oblivious is not only selfish, it’s dangerous too,” Kaplan warns.
8. Don’t Forget to Rest
Runners love to run, that’s a given. But, sometimes we love it so much that we forget about the importance of taking some time off. Sure, training is important, but that part of the equation is only the stimulus. It’s when our muscles are resting and recovering that we grow stronger. So definitely don’t forget to give your body a break. “Rest will cure almost everything: rest and stretches and the occasional restorative Scotch,” Kaplan writes.