Over the last 12 years since becoming a runner, I have run a lot of races. Some have been in different countries, lots of different distances, and in a lot of different stages of my running life. I run because I love it and racing gives me the ultimate runners high. Although my intention and goal is to improve with every race, I like looking back and reflecting on exactly how I got there. Today, I want to share with you the ten things I did to make that happen, so you can hopefully learn from them too!
1. Have A Purpose For Your Runs
I love running. I always run, whether I am training for something or not. I always just get out the door and run. In the past, I didn’t have a purpose or motive behind the run with no plans for pace or speed. Now, I try to set a purpose for each run. Whether it’s a tempo run, a fartlek, a long run, or a conscious, just for fun run, I am aware of what I am seeking to accomplish on my run and the role that plays in the bigger picture. It has helped me be more aware of my running and notice when I’m not performing at my best, when my form is off, when my energy is low, and what may have contributed to that.
2. If You Want To Run Faster, Practice Running Faster
I’ve put in a conscious effort to do fartleks and tempo runs 2-3 times a week over the past 6 months. Essentially, I’ve been practicing running faster, training my body to be more efficient, and still be able to perform when it is fatigued. When it came to race day, and I needed to maintain a faster pace for the last 3 kilometers to make my time, it all paid off!
3. Run – A Lot
It sounds obvious, but just like the practicing running faster, you have to practice more running. Find/create a training plan that fits with your schedule, that is safe and with minimal risk of injury, but that increases your mileage. Just getting your body used to running more will help you on race day when you have to run lots for a long time!
4. Do Double Run Days
Similar to above, and the need to practice running more, start practicing doing double run days. When you run the second time, your body is not likely at its optimum like it was when you first ran, but you are running anyway and it trains your body to perform in a tired state. This is just like on race day! In the last ten kilometers, you need to keep going, doing double run days helps your body prepare for this and be able to do so efficiently. If you want to read more about it, check out this great article over on Competitor.
5. Run A Lot Of Hills
When I was working an office job, I would often run hills at lunch time just to get up out of the chair and to re-energize my brain for the rest of the day. It helped me more than I realized! Even one to two hill training sessions a week of 12-15 reps will be helpful for your improvement. Hills not only improve your hill time, allowing you to maintain pace on hills in a race while others lose pace, but they also improve the efficiency of your body, allowing you to run harder without having to sacrifice later and have to slow down because you are tired.
6. Do Yoga
I can’t express this enough. Yoga has had a huge impact in improving my running recovery. And better recovery = better run the next day. It has helped stretch and relax my muscles, maintain and gain flexibility, and as a great bonus, my upper body strength has also improved! Having good upper body strength is beneficial as a runner to help you maintain good running form, which helps you maintain better pace. If you need some information on yoga for runners, check out this great post on why runners should do yoga!
7. Do Core Strength Training
I have been doing an abs routine 4-5 times a week, and I have seen big improvements in my core strength. And core strength is everything! It helps stabilize your body as your form declines in long runs and it helps improve your balance as it’s what allows your torso to work smoothly with your legs and hips to be as efficient at running as possible. When it comes to improving race time, it is all about improving efficiency.
8. Work Those Glutes
When your legs start to struggle during a race, you need to know your glutes are strong enough to take over and back them up. Last weekend when I was racing, my legs started to hurt around kilometer 13 or 14. I didn’t feel anything in my glutes until near the end, when I had kicked it up a notch in the last couple of kilometers and my glutes started to compensate for my fatigued legs. But they sure did their job well, pushing me over the line in record time! Start doing some exercises and workouts that target your glutes and improve them, so you know they’ll be there when you need them.
9. Practice The Mental Game
Improving your race time isn’t all about your physical abilities. Sometimes it comes down to mind over matter and forcing yourself through. But you also need to practice this. Have a set of techniques to help you when you need the mental stability, like mantras, quotes or funny stories you can think about to distract yourself. Anything to switch your brain out of the “I am going to quit now” mode and into the “there’s no way you’re quitting now” mode.
10. Figure Out Your Nutrition Requirements
It has taken me a long time, literally years, with lots of ups and downs, but I am finally confident in how I need to eat to be at my best running form. This not only applies to race day and what I need for race fuel, but also for my everyday eating. I once read the statement in a running article on nutrition that “garbage in equals garbage out.” In other words, if you fill your body with bad food, you can’t expect to have a good performance. What this means for each person is different, but take the time to figure out what it means for you. Try different things, experiment with different foods and fueling options, and find what allows you to perform at your optimum. Don’t worry if it takes a lot of trial and error! You want to find something that you can maintain long term.