‘How did you come to run like that?’ people sometimes ask me with a note of barely concealed incredulity in their voices. It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve eased off my Top Tips in relation to developing running techniques lately. This is not in the spirit or ethos of the running community, and this post is an attempt to address that by sharing some of the expertise I’ve gleaned during my almost a year on the run. You can take notes if you like, but feel free to just bookmark this page and come back any time for a refresher.
Top Tip No. 1: Incorporate Cross Training into your schedule
It’s all too easy to get into a fitness rut and lope out running at the same old speed doing the same old things. To help you really improve you need to be sure to include some strength training. As Runner’s World reminds us
Cross-training … refers to combining exercises of other disciplines, different than that of the athlete in training. In reference to running, cross-training is when a runner trains by doing another kind of fitness workout such as cycling, swimming, a fitness class or strength training, to supplement their running. It builds strength and flexibility in muscles that running doesn’t utilize. It prevents injury by correcting muscular imbalances. And the variety prevents boredom and burnout.
This can be achieved in a variety of ways, not just by enduring the tedium of the gym. You might pause to do some squats during your run (not just the once because you need a pee); some Trunce runners or triathletes like to incorporate an open water swim somewhere en route. My advice though is to use your imagination, why not plan a running route around bits of discarded sports equipment and just leap on for a bit of a workout before continuing on your way?
Top Tip No. 2: Set a personal goal – and share it!
I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it hard to motivate myself to run at times. If you find your enthusiasm flagging now and again it might help to have a specific target in mind. The conventional wisdom is that this should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.) or even SMARTER for the more competitively minded ((Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound, Evaluate, and Re-Do). That is goals should be precise and clear, rather than overly broad or ambiguous, and also personally relevant. For example, some elite runners might aim for, oh, I don’t know, being a European Standard Distance Duathlon AG Champion 2016 say, for me my goal is to secure a flattering photo of myself out running. I was chatting about this with a qualified run trainer only today, and they were able to offer some really good advice. Apparently you still do need to work on running form for this, as that is how to be snapped at your most gorgeous. It seems that if I only work a bit on my technique, it is only a matter of time before those photos are utterly transformed. Here you can see a photo of how I currently look whilst running, and a photo of how I’d like to look when framed by the lens in future. I have in the past been depressed (as well as amused) by this pic, but now I look at it again with fresh eyes I see that we would be pretty much indistinguishable as runners if I’d just been a bit more upright in my stance. Good to know!
Top Tip No. 3: Positive Self-talk
You know those voices in your head? Not the ones that churn out stuck tapes about all the excruciating things you have either done or left undone from the age of three, but the assertive positive thinking ones. Come up with a mantra that is meaningful to you and use it to your advantage. It really does work apparently. Some suggestions include ‘This is what I trained for‘, ‘I am strong‘ or, for me, ‘run now, carb later!’ Pluckier runners might even go for ‘I AM an elite runner, I CAN do this‘, personally I’d be a bit scared of the fall out in case I accidentally shouted this out loud, but you’d probably be OK yomping cross-country out in the peaks somewhere.
Top Tip No. 4: join a group!
There is nothing quite like the support and solidarity you can glean from other like-minded people. You will be able to share expertise and buddy up for more challenging training sessions. Ideally, this would be some sort of a running group, but this morning I joined up with this newt spotting one in Ecclesall Woods and honestly, the people were really lovely! We even ended up going for a run together afterwards! Who’d have thought it?
Top Tip No. 5: have some fun with Fartlek or Speed Play
So stop sniggering at the back. Fartlek is not synonymous with flatulence (though to be fair there may be a correlation in some runners), and anyway you shouldn’t worry too much about spectacularly farting away when running, as hopefully you’ll be moving away from the evidence leaving any unwelcome odours in your wake and may even benefit from some helpful jet-propulsion as you do so. However, this is not what I’m talking about here…
Fartlek is also sometimes referred to as ‘speed play’, again, don’t get too excited, this is NOT an open invitation for experimentation with illegal drugs. Rather, fartlek is a gloriously helpful way to improve the effectiveness of your work outs by incorporating a change of speed. The idea is that instead of just staying endlessly in your running comfort zone – to which your body will inevitably adapt and plateau, you mix it all up a bit. Simply put, you mix up faster and slower periods of running, interval training really. It’s a Swedish word originating from the experience of shoppers in IKEA. A typical couple or group of friends navigating the store will have different priorities, but will have to follow the projected pathway dictated by the store layout. To speed the passage through the store one half of the couple (or member of the group) will try to push on as fast as possible, the more enthusiastic shopper will continuously pause, leading to a stop/start or (more advanced) fast/slow progression through the maze of IKEA pathways. Exactly the same principle can be applied to long runs. If you like a spreadsheet, you could plan this and work out exactly where and when you will pick up your pace en route. Alternatively, you could draw on your natural environment to help. Running ‘as fast as you can’ to the next tree or suitable landmark for example and then slowing down a bit to the bench before picking up again. I must be quite an intuitive runner, as turns out I’ve been doing this unknown for years. Basically I always run at my slow and steady preferred pace (walking) and then pick up speed if I:
- spot a photographer at a race
- see another runner coming towards me
- stumble going downhill and gather a bit too much momentum
- feel like someone is about to overtake me towards the end at parkrun (I don’t like to think of myself as competitive, but sometimes I am)
Anyway, that works for me – why not think about what works for you?
Top Tip No. 6: learn from others, don’t be afraid to ask for advice!
Now, obviously, you shouldn’t just believe any old nonsense you might pick up on a running blog say, but advice from trusted friends and experts is another thing altogether. So for example, the other week I was discussing triathletes with some more experienced athletes (represented GB that sort of thing) as you do. I’m not currently considering this as although extremely buoyant I never seem to be able to propel myself through the water, just bob about cork like. I’d never drown in open water (I don’t think) but unless towed wouldn’t make it to any particular end point either. However, this isn’t what really puts me off, the main issue for me (apart from the exercise aspect) is how on earth could you get on a bike and run after swallowing all that sea water and pond weed? Surely you’d be all dehydrated and sodden and feeling a bit nauseous from all you had unwittingly imbibed. Well, turns out (who knew), that experienced triathletes don’t really swallow water when they swim! They are in fact confident enough, strong enough and sufficiently advanced with their technique that this isn’t an issue! Well, respect. These kind of insights are surely worth their weight in gold! So this tip is about keeping an open mind and getting chatting with others, you might surprise yourself with what you pick up!
Top Tip No. 7: Think about your kit.
Having the correct running gear is really important. You will get away with some clothing choices, but you do need to invest in appropriate running shoes; a decent sports bra (gender appropriate); lucky pants (optional – well the lucky bit is, but probably best to wear something that covers your nether regions unless you can run really, really fast). These aspects of kit seem to be pretty obvious. However, an often over-looked aspect of serious running is the necessity of auditioning any prospective running clubs in terms of their designated kit. I love my running club I really do. But the white vertical stripe which stretches across my sides emphasising my less than svelte form is not the most flattering. Similarly the comic sans font splits opinion amongst my running friends. At this point I was going to upload a couple of deeply unflattering shots of me in my running vest to illustrate the point, but you know what, I’ve decided not to. It’s my blog I’ll lie if I want to. I’ll just go for the generic group shot of slim line runners if it’s all the same to you, and you can use your imagination as to how this seemingly innocuous enough vest looks on being relocated to a more rotund body shape. Clue: not like this.
Even so, I love my running club, go Smiley Paces, you do get great recognition and support out running, so the advantages of sporting it definitely outweigh the disadvantages but the vest has been a wake up call. If you have a choice of clubs to join do give this some thought. There is a local fell running club with extraordinarily talented and awesome runners, but those brown horizontal stripes. Well, it’s a shame, that’s all I’ll commit to… If you are new to running, or indeed any other sport, maybe invest in a ‘colour me beautiful’ or similar colour consultation and choose a discipline and group which has a kit design that will flatter your skin tone. It will make a massive difference to how you appear on digital photos that are ubiquitous on Facebook pages for events these days.
Top Tip No. 8: Focus on Nutrition
You can’t run without proper fuel. Different elite athletes have different approaches to nutrition. Nicky Spinks can pack away chips and curry sauce on her endurance runs apparently, and European Duathlon champ Kate Morris is on record as using gels for refuelling though after a bit she did adopt an alternative nutrition strategy which avoided some gel cons such as ‘stomach cramps…. sticky stuff smeared across my face, dribbled down my front and snail trails down my legs from where I’d stuffed the gel wrappers up my shorts‘. Note, this is also another pertinent example of how much we can learn from the elite athletes who are generous enough to share their wisdom with us mere mortals. I have learned from my Smiley Paces compatriots that when planning longer runs, it is of vital importance that you always conclude with a suitable cake-eating rendezvous, and for myself, no parkrun is complete without a breakfast club gathering afterwards. Some sports events are wising up to this more than others. Team AO have organised a pie themed event for a few years now, there is also a different events company offering a beerathon described as ‘a five mile slobstacle course, after each mile you have to neck a great British pint and chomp some great British fodder‘ addressing both nutrition and hydration in their logistical planning. This also illustrates the importance of finding out what works for you. However, if you want to avoid hitting the proverbial wall, then consider what you will do to refuel if running for any longer than around 90 minutes is the accepted wisdom.
Top Tip No. 9: Think Big!
You can probably achieve more than you realise. Nicky Spinks started her record-breaking running achievements with a 4 mile fell race, The Trunce. Don’t limit yourself, if you don’t stretch yourself you’ll never know! Surely it is better to fall from a great height than … oh hang on, maybe not the best analogy. I’m sure you know what I mean…
Top Tip No. 10: Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!
Yes, yes, I know we run because we want to get fitter; or work through our mid-life crises. We run to meditate; we run for ‘me‘ time; we run to socialise; we run ‘to be alone‘; we run to exorcise our inner demons as well as exercise our outer shell. We all run for different reasons. However, surely the unifying principle is that it is supposed to be fun (even if sometimes only in retrospect). So whatever it is you are doing, don’t forget to feel the lurve. It’s true, there will be days when ‘fun run’ is the ultimate oxymoron, but hey ho, they just help you appreciate the good runs even more. So heave on your trainers, slap on a smile and head out the door. That’s the hard bit done and dusted. Have you honestly ever regretted a run? Thought not, so get out there.. I’m right behind you.
This concludes my Top Tips and words of wisdom for today.
You’re welcome. 🙂