Does running have to be very hard to be any good? No!
Do you really have to be completely out of breath? No!
Do your legs and back have to take a pounding? No!
By Marina Aagaard, MFE
Whether you are about to embark on your first run, or are a recreational runner, or you are an experienced runner, here are 10 top tips for optimizing your run …
1. Run healthy. Are you healthy and well, then ‘run along’ … Are you physically inactive or in poor health, then you need not stay away from running. On the contrary; exercise in many cases are better than medicine, so get going – with an easy walking or jogging program … after you have seen your doctor for a health screening.
You should not run, if you feel pain! If you have injuries, they may become aggravated by running, so have a check-up and get a proper individual running program. Ask a physiotherapist.
2. Run with internal motivation: Joy. Make running a natural healthy habit. Habit changes take time, so make things easy: Put your running in your diary and have your running shoes ready.
Increase your running motivation – run with:
– Mindfulness: Be present in the now, do not think about the past or the future. Meditate.
– Senses: Watch and listen intensely, smell nature, feel the wind against your cheek.
– Focus on your breathing; breathe deeply and slowly through the nose.
– Focus on your technique, run at a moderate pace and brush up your technique.
– A partner, without talking, chatting, playing og competing for fun.
– A heart rate monitor, so you can keep an eye on your heart rate, distance, calories, etc.
– An mp3-player with music with a fairly fast motivating beat.
3. Run in clothes fit for running. You can run in whatever clothes you like! However, your running experience is improved by:
Comfortable running clothes, close-fitting and sweat-transporting (avoid cotton).
In cold and windy weather keep warm (running underwear and windbreaker jacket); if your stomach gets cold, you may experience abdominal pain and cramps.
Good running shoes, must fit your feet. Get professional advice. Poor shoes are the cause of many injuries in the feet, lower legs and knees.
Note: Shoes can prevent some injuries, however, some shoes can also indirectly cause injuries, because of too high (lifted) heels and large drops from heel to the ball of the foot.
Alternatively run in level shoes, do barefoot running or run in FiveFingers, which protect the feet. Barefoot running requires a very gradual progression of distance and intensity.
4. Run at your own pace. If you are a beginner or overweight – or an experienced runner, who has been away from running – then a slow cautious start is crucial to avoid injuries.
If you are a fit and experienced runner, then race away (longer strides and faster)!
5. Make running doable. A good start makes all the difference: Start at your own level, and run with energy and enjoyment. Start slowly the first time (and over time): First walk, then jog, then run, then interval runs at moderate, high and intensities.
Initially start running on softer surfaces, earth or grass (not too soft, sand and gravel, and irregular, which is ‘tough’), as this is easier on the joints than concrete and asphalt.
6. Have a realistic running plan. It may take years to build a healthy distance running shape in the right way, so running is still 1) fun and 2) safe (without injuries).
Be patient and consistent.
– Start by running short distances, max. three days a week (with a day of rest in between).
– Gradually increase the running distance (and then the intensity).
– If needed, increase the number of days (alternate between shorter and longer runs).
7. Warm up before running.
This is not difficult, it only means that your should:
Start gradually; 5-10 min. of walking or jogging with gradually increasing tempo, hold back a little. An adequate warm-up is essential to running success:
One of the main reasons why many runners find running so hard, is that they start running too fast too soon – the body isn’t prepared (not enough oxygen) – and so they are out of breath (lack energy) for the duration of the run.
After running do the opposite: Cool down. Reduce the tempo and walk for 5-10 min. to lower the heart rate to resting level. Avoid stopping too abruptly and standing still (right after top speed), as you may feel dizzy.
Stretch the large muscle groups, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves as needed.
8. Run naturally:
- Run in a natural way: Start by walking, then ’fall’ slightly forward, so you ‘automatically’ start running. In this way you will land with your body weight distributed evenly across the foot (midfoot strike) instead of landing hard on the heel.
- Run with a good posture, upright, neutral spine, relaxed neck and shoulders.
- Run with a full body lean, straight line from heel to neck, do not bend forward.
- Land with a midfoot strike. Or experiment with running on the balls of your feet. Do not land with a (heavy) heel strike, as this may cause poorer form and injuries.
- Run with a natural stride length for you; do experiment with longer strides and (and shorter ones, when running on your toes).
- Breathe deeply, inhale through your nose, exhale through the mouth (or nose).
- Run light-footed; run with a light, springy step, almost as if you fly across the ground, or as if you ‘burn’ your feet, when you take a step.
- Run with tempo; do not run too slowly, so you land too heavily (more impact).
- Run with a natural arm swing forward-backward, not diagonally in front of the body.
- Run straight ahead, avoid bouncing up and down, this is a waste of energy.
9. Eat and drink right. Eat and drink the right things at the right time – this gives you more energy and reduces the risk of abdominal cramps.
Water (at room-temperature – too cold water may upset the stomach):
Before running: Drink an adequate amount of water each day:
Divide you body weight (in pounds) by two; the number of ounces of water you need to drink each day (corresponds to approx. eight 8-ounce glasses of water (8-by-8-rule).
Metric: Drink approx. 1/3 of your body weight (kg) in deciliters (0,033 x BW (kg) in liters).
During running: During shorter runs up to 6,2 miles (10 km), water intake is not necessary.
During longer runs water (with sugar/salt) may be needed, but test it before competitions.
Dehydration may result in an impaired performance, however, some runners perform better, when they do not drink water during the run.
After running: You may lose up to 67,6 fluid ounces (2 liters) of water during running, so drink plenty of water after running.
Food (do not run on a full stomach – it may cause stomach cramps or diarrhea):
Before running: Eat healthy in general, so you have enough energy. For competitive running your need to plan your diet and pre-race meal carefully.
Eat a full meal no later than three (2-4) hours before running. It is better with a low-fat, carbohydrate rich (limited amount of dietary fibres) meal without too many proteins.
If you need more energy, eat a banana or have an energy drink (water with sugar/salt) no later than one hour before running.
During running: It is not necessary/smart to eat during shorter runs (< 6,2 miles/10 km). For longer runs a sports gel (energy-jelly) may be a good choice, but not always; it depends on the distance and person.
After running: Eat a meal (carbohydrates/protein) within ½-1 hours after running. Within ½ hour of exercising/running nutrient uptake is optimal (window of opportunity) leading to a faster recovery.
10. Listen to your body. Running should feel good. You must not experience pain, not before, during or after your run. Exertion, sweating and panting is okay, but pain in your muscles and joints is a danger sign, which you must respond to. Walk instead. Afterwards find out what caused the problem. Get help from your doctor or a physiotherapist.