We, the human primate species, are the best long-distance running mammals in the world. Our ancestors had to cover extremely painful and long distances in order to be able to source food for themselves and their family or tribe. Our internal survival techniques have been sharpened like a fine blade over centuries of DNA mapping across generations, and as such, it is literally a fact that we as humans can still run incredibly well.
But why do we daunt over putting on those running shoes and going for a long run? This might be because some of us believe we’re too overweight or because we don’t like the feeling of puffing out after 1 mile like a pack a day smoker climbing up a flight of stairs to get into their apartment.
Some of us feel like this, whilst some of us just want to hone our skills as a runner but one thing is the same for all – we need to ensure we’ve got the right knowledge and tools to be able to perform at our best when running.
The truth about it is, with a few adjustments to our technique, eating styles and how we approach running anyone can become a better runner (and enjoy it too!).
When I first started running, I couldn’t run more than a mile without sweating like a pig and I instantly wanted to give up. I kept asking myself “Why am I doing this?” and “Maybe I should just walk, I’m burning calories all the same”. One thing I did notice however, the more I ran and the more time I invested researching running I became better.
A lot better, in fact, I just recently completed my first trail marathon in January 2020 and the feeling I achieved was an overwhelming victory. Setting a goal for yourself and crushing it is one of the best feelings you can attain in this world and the feeling of not giving up is priceless.
Now we’ve collected some of the most important tips and tricks we believe will help you become a better runner, no matter if it’s a small hobby to stay fit or to prepare for your next marathon. From one runner to another, I hope this post helps you reach your goals!
1. Choose The Right Running Shoe For You
Me personally, I can’t stress this enough! When I first started running I was using the lightweight Adidas Ultra Boost sports shoes. With these shoes, whilst they were very light on my feet I could feel the excruciating pain flying up from my calves to my hamstrings. What happened next shocked me (If you can’t tell, this was all new to me back then!). I went into my local running store because I decided to get the right shoe for my foot.
I found out, after stepping on the 3D foot scanning machine that I had a very flat and narrow foot. If you’re an experienced runner you will know that this is one of the most complicated foot types for running and that there are not many shoe options!
However, I felt confident in knowing what foot type I had and I was offered a pair of Brooks Glycerin. They provided maximum cushioning, and whilst they were a bit heavy they were perfect. I instantly fell in love with them and I was able to go on longer runs whilst also protecting my feet and knees.
The problem: Running with the wrong shoe can seriously impact your running and the health of your legs.
The solution: Head to your local run store and get an expert to find the best running shoe for your foot type.
2. Change Your Shoes Regularly
It is a well-known fact that you should change your shoe every 500-600 miles if you have a high-performance shoe, some lower quality ones will need to get replaced sooner. Why is that though? Well think about it for a moment, we’re constantly pounding the pavement and wearing out the soles.
Eventually, all of that cushioning that you enjoyed will reduce to nothing more than a thin layer of protection between your precious foot and the pavement. At this point, you are prone to get injured and going out of action for a while – no one wants that.
The problem: Running shoes wear out eventually and can cause injuries if not replaced.
The solution: Invest in a new pair of running shoes.
3. Invest In Performance Sports Socks
Yes, we know that these are so expensive! Sometimes they cost up to $30.00 but I can tell you from experience that they’re well worth it. When I was running with $5.00 cotton socks that come in a pack of 5 from my local Target store I would develop side blisters within my first 3 to 4 miles of running.
Look to get quality material such as merino wool, if you use material such as 100% cotton and they get wet then they will remain wet for the remainder of your race or run. It’s also important to look for socks that have a compression element to them as this will help keep the socks from moving around too much.
The problem: Poor quality running socks WILL give you blisters!
The solution: Invest in performance running socks with high-quality material such as merino wool.
4. Consider Cross-Training
One overlooked fact by many runners is cross-training. Don’t get this confused with cross fit, I’m definitely not suggesting you pick up another sport (Unless of course, you want to). What I mean by cross-training is that you should look at strengthening other parts of your body that support your overall running.
The most important cross-training that I’ve done to improve my running is working on my core. By training your core you are providing your body the structure it needs to keep everything else in line. A strong core prevents hip injuries which can take you out of action for a while. Another muscle group I’ve focused on heavily is my training quadriceps muscles.
Why quads? Well if you’re like me and have weak knees then the one way to help with that pain is to get stronger quads. With more muscle in your quads, you are providing your knees more support which in turn puts less pressure on your calves and your feet as well. Combining quad training with core training has helped me enjoy my running more and has also made me a better runner by my own measure.
Needless to say, it doesn’t need to stop here. You can train any weaker areas of your body that support your running such as your lower back or your calves. Cross-training will also improve your overall physique if that’s of interest to you.
The solution: Training your quads and your core can help you pound the ground faster, harder and avoid overall injuries.
5. Sharpen Your Running Technique
When you first start running this may not be of much importance to you because the stress of running itself is already enough to deal with, so who would want to care about form? The fact of the matter is though the longer you go without tweaking your form then the harder it will be to change later and it can also cause injuries.
One of the most valuable pieces of advice I got from my running coach was to pretend that there’s a string that’s holding my head up in the sky and to pretend that my entire body is being pulled up by this string. This helps me keep my back straight whilst also giving me the placebo effect of feeling like a feather.
There are other important factors to consider when improving your form as well such as your cadence (The number of steps you take every minute). Taking shorter strides and faster strides instead of overextending help with overall performance and helps prevent injury.
One of my favorite online coaches that you can check out to help you improve your running technique is Sage Canaday. Below is a video from the man himself where he talks briefly about how you can improve your running technique:
The problem: Poor running technique can be harder to fix as you become a more senior runner and can cause injuries.
The solution: Spend some time researching the correct running technique and get someone to film you so you can judge yourself.
6. Elevation Is Your Friend!
Hills. Them darn hills! When I first started running the thought of running up a hill was so daunting because I knew my entire cardiovascular system would be put to the test. The moment you start pounding up that hill and the instant loss of rhythm and energy that you’ve worked so hard to maintain happens is very disheartening.
However – using me as an example, I live next to a park that has a 0.4-mile loop and two steep elevation points of around 2 meters. At first, I trained in this park because it was easy to get to and I didn’t want to get lost in my new neighborhood running in the streets. During my initial runs, I could seriously feel the pain and I kept thinking that I wasn’t improving. However, by a month’s time I’ve noticed that the hills were a lot easier.
One thing this translated to though was my improved performance running straights. When I stopped running in the park and started running more on the streets I could tell that my cardiovascular system had improved and that I was able to run longer, harder and faster.
The problem: Not running on hills could be hindering your ability to improve and become a better, faster runner.
The solution: Include some hill drills in your training schedule or take a long run in a location you know has more incline.
7. Don't Overwork Yourself
We all want to improve fast, we all want to get better, we yearn for it – I want to as well! But one mistake that we can all easily make is overworking ourselves, or rather: Overtraining.
When we overwork ourselves we put stress on our body which translates further into inflammation and something that all runners experience from time to time – especially those training for the tough races such as a marathon.
However, take it easy – we improve by staying consistent and by being injury-free. Jan Frodeno, Ironman champion has publicly said that the key to constantly improving is to essentially remain injury-free.
The problem: Overworking yourself and overtraining can cause serious injuries and result in prolonged downtime from doing what you love.
The solution: Ensure that you have adequate rest days. A good running schedule could be one day on, one day off.
8. Refuel and Eat The Right Type of Food
After your run, make sure that you take down something to replenish your electrolytes as soon as you can. This could be anything from a sports drink to a salted potato. Ensure that you hydrate yourself enough so that all of your macronutrients can enter your body efficiently.
Furthermore, as soon as you have cooled down from your run you should look at consuming a healthy source of food to replenish your energy. I won’t tell you to go and hammer down some carbs because that might not be your thing – you could be on an all fat diet and that’s fine too. Whatever your source of energy, whether it be carbohydrates or fats make sure that you adequately refuel to aid in the recovery process.
The problem: Not taking in the correct food and nutrients after a run will prevent you from recovering efficiently.
The solution: Take in some electrolytes after your run, and refuel with your favorite energy source whether they be fats or carbohydrates.
9. Consider Caffeine
Not everyone might be a fan of this one. I’ve suffered from anxiety in the past and coffee used to trigger it a lot so I avoid it now but a lot of people have a shot of black coffee before their run and it provides them with the energy that they need. It can also help if you’re an especially early runner.
Be careful not to run to the public toilets though!
The problem: Some people struggle to find the energy to run.
The solution: Give the coffee a go.
10. Take a Dip In The Pool!
One thing that I do when my legs are absolutely destroyed from running is to hit the pool. The reason why I do this is because the pool provides an awesome form of active recovery due to the zero-gravity feeling of buoyancy you get when you’re in the water.
30 minutes is more than enough and if your aquatic facility provides a sauna then that’s an awesome way to end a recovery session at the local aquatic center.
The problem:Sometimes your legs are way too destroyed to go for a run.
The solution: Try taking a dip in the pool instead of a recovery session!
11. Always Warm-Up
I think this is one is a given, you should not hit the start of your run at a race pace. Your body needs time to warm up before being under pressure. The reason why is that your heart rate is not high enough just yet to pump blood through to all of your muscles.
If you aren’t warmed up and your muscles are cold, not getting the blood flow that they need then it’s very easy to get injured. This is the process of cardiovascular conditioning.
The problem: Not warming up while your muscles are cold can cause injury and strain.
The solution: Always do a warm-up session before you start running faster. This could be a mixture of a walk/light jog for the first 5 to 10 minutes before picking up the pace.
12. Don't Forget Warming Down As Well!
If you’ve been running for 6 miles non-stop it may not be the best idea to instantly stop and start walking, rather slow down gradually until you come to walking pace level.
Once you’ve done that you should conduct some warm down drills to flush out any remaining lactic acid from your muscles which can be done by stretching. Stretching your shoulders, hamstrings, and quadriceps along with your calves is a great start.
Another video from coach Sage Canaday below which goes into depth on some great stretching techniques for runners:
The problem: Not warming down properly and stretching can cause injuries.
The solution: Consider doing a warm down drill which includes stretching to help you get back out there faster without injuries.
13. Get A Massage
Everyone loves a massage, but one thing that has helped me is getting my quadriceps, calves and lower back massaged after a strenuous month of running.
Massages definitely can be expensive, so what you could do instead is invest in a foam roller which doesn’t cost much these days and you can find them pretty much everywhere. It’s definitely painful when your muscles are already sore but getting that extra lactic acid out.
Other benefits which have been noted are that a massage can help with increased blood flow, enhanced oxygen and nutrient delivery to fatigued muscles.
The problem: Not massaging your muscles can cause a buildup of lactic acid and tight muscles.
The solution: Get a professional massage or invest in a foam roller.
14. Ensure You Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important elements of rest and recovery. If you’re anything like me and have trouble sleeping, especially after exercise then you might want to consider running earlier in the morning or cutting out caffeine which has helped me.
Regardless of what works for you, you should aim to get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep to aid your body in its recovery process. One thing that I’ve experienced is that when I overtrained (such as preparing for my trail marathon) my resting heart rate had gone up by a score of 7-8 and I knew that my body was under stress. When your body is under stress it is harder to fall asleep and this is due to the buildup of inflammation in your body.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is lookout for these small nuances that could be affecting your sleep if you’re not getting enough and aim for getting 7 hours a day. I used to think that I was fine for the 4-5 hours that I was getting. But now that I take proper steps to recovery and rest as well as running in the morning I’ve been able to get 7 hours of sleep a day again and I’ve never felt better.
I also felt like there was a loss of performance and I felt disgruntled a lot during my runs, this is because I was just way too overworked and overtired. Get the sleep in.
The problem: Not having adequate sleep can have serious health implications as well as reducing your overall performance.
The solution: Try to get 7 hours of sleep per day, try adjusting your schedule to run in the morning or cut out caffeine if you’re not getting enough rest.
15. Challenge Yourself and Play Mind Games
This one is one of my favorites. You must’ve heard that many times before that running is more of a mental game than a physical one. Yes, there is the physical component to it where you need to stay consistent in order to improve.
However, when you start running marathons it’s an awfully long way no matter how many times you’ve done it. At some point you will start doubting yourself, doubting your technique and whether you can keep going.
In comes the mind games. If you break down a race into smaller components such as Mile 1, Mile 2, etc and challenge yourself to do one mile at a time you will eventually break down the entire marathon distance.
You will undoubtedly have a lot of unanswered questions in your head the longer you push yourself. When I ran my first trail marathon I never completed more than a 15-mile long run (With regret, you should always try to get as close to marathon distance as possible). When I ran the next 7.2 miles I kept thinking of different things in my head such as “Why am I here”, “Why am I doing this?”, “This sucks!”.
What got me through was thinking about all the training I’ve done up until that point and also thinking of my daughter and being someone that has a past that I haven’t always been proud of. It became a personal challenge for me. It was me against this race and I wasn’t going to let it win. Putting thoughts such as that in your head can really help carry you to the finish line!
The problem: Running long, and far especially in races such as marathons can get you questioning yourself and make you want to quit.
The solution: Play tricks on your mind and break down the run or the race into smaller components to help push you through. Remember why you are doing the race, remember all the training and effort you’ve put in to come this far.
16. Stay Consistent and Be Patient
Becoming a better runner comes with time. Improving your cardiovascular fitness takes time. Reducing your resting heart rate takes time. Just like anything worth fighting for in this world, running takes time to get better. The most important thing you can do to become a better runner is to remain consistent with your goals and patience.
Patience in the fact that knowing you aren’t where you want to be now but with a bit of effort and perseverance that anything is possible. The same goes for life as well.
The problem: Not sticking to a constant running routine will hinder your ability to become a better runner in the long run.
The solution: Stay consistent with your running, work out a training schedule that fits in with your busy life and stick to it.
17. Perfect Your Breathing
Megan Graff a USA Track and Field Level 1 running coach has publicly said the key is taking sufficiently deep breaths in order to maximize the oxygen fuel for the body.
From my personal experience, breathing with my teeth closed whilst pretending I have a straw in my mouth has helped me utilize my stomach in breathing. Some people prefer to breathe through their diaphragm rather than their stomachs. Whatever works for you, the key is to not take short, shallow breaths. This will hinder your cardiovascular performance as well as exert all of your energy very quickly.
One of the best ways to perfect your breathing if you’re new to running is to run at a pace where you’re still able to maintain a conversation. This is a technique that most people recommend when going for long runs. However, this same technique improves your endurance and can be utilized to improve your breathing form as you’re mentally more aware of your breathing patterns compared to when you’re going all out.
What breathing technique works for you? Don’t be afraid to comment on this post and share your knowledge.
The problem: Poor breathing techniques can hinder your performance when running.
The solution: Start paying attention to how you’re breathing and try to maintain it at a level where you can still hold a conversation if you’re new to running.
Whether you’re a beginner to running or a seasoned professional I hope some of the tips that have been collected in this post have helped you.
If you have any running tips that you’d like to share why not post in the comments section below? I’d love to hear from you.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is through constantly challenging yourself.