How to (Almost) Painlessly Improve Your Running
Running is an enjoyable, exciting way to stay healthy, to help maintain the weight and shape you want, and to escape a pursuing polar bear, pickpocket, or rather-slowly-collapsing building. (Polar bears hit top speed at around 18.5 miles per hour, FYI, so go ahead and sprint at your own top speed if you see one.*) But while millions of people take to the sidewalks, trails, and roads for a run each and every day, many of us are doing it wrong.
Related: Trail Running
If you want to improve your running, increasing your speed and endurance and reducing the chance of injury, then you need to take these simple tips to heart. Or you could go get yourself a running coach, I guess. I hear they know all about this stuff too.
Keep in mind this is not a “how to” guide for teaching you to run; these are a few tips and pointers to improve your running. If you are totally new to regular running, you might actually want to talk to a trainer, because lots of people injure themselves by trying to jump right into an activity!
Choose The Right Shoes
I’m no fan of those “toe” shoe things, but not because I’m necessarily opposed to the science behind them; I just think they look ridiculous, that’s all. The real key to choosing the right running shoe is getting one that fits your foot well, creating no friction or pressure points. Your running shoe does not have to be wildly comfortable, it has to help protect your foot. Besides, you shouldn’t get that attached to them anyway, as you should replace running shoes after approximately 400 miles of use.
Shorten Your Stride
Chances are that most strides you take when moving at faster speeds are longer than they need to be. Overly long strides needlessly tire you out and increase the possibility of an injury. Your natural stride length can be determined by leaning forward until you need to stick out one leg to arrest your fall. Think of it like this: if that’s the length of each stride, then gravity is doing much of the work. Stretch much past that, and you’re burning energy and tiring your muscles. This adjustment can take some time, but stick with it. (Shorter strides are faster than longer ones, so you won’t lose overall speed.)
Do Interval Sprints
At least three times a week, you need to hit your top speed five or six times during your run. Or actually, you should shoot for 95% output, saving that last 5% for the whole polar bear escape thing. The best way to sprint is not from a standing start, but from a jog. Increase your speed steadily until you hit that proverbial high gear, and then maintain your speed for… about three seconds. Maybe five. Then slow down and walk or jog it out, giving yourself a least a minute before you speed up again. Repeat these speed bursts several times a few days a week, and you will get faster, it’s as simple as that. (Remember to never start your workout with sprints; you need to be loose and warm, or you will hurt a muscle, pretty much guaranteed.)
Don’t Skip Those Other Workouts
The stronger your core is, the better support the rest of your body gets. The stronger your legs are, the more power they’ll deliver and the less energy they’ll consume. It’s simple stuff, really: don’t skip the squats, the crunches, or any of the rest of it. Even if you aren’t looking to get ripped and really just love running, occasional strength training exercise is worth the time and effort.
Coming In For a Landing…
Your heel should not be the first part of your foot to hit the ground as you run. That needlessly shocks bones and joints with each step and is a great way to get both acute and chronic injuries. You should land on the middle of your foot, which helps distribute the “strike” evenly and also helps propel you into the next stride. Keep your feet under you to ensure proper landings; your new, shorter stride will help with this.
News Flash: the more you weigh, the more work it takes for your body to move you around. If you are already at a BMI that makes you happy, then disregard this point. If, however, you are relatively fit but also a bit hefty, cut calories for a while. Cutting calories is much more effective than working out harder or longer when it comes to weight loss, and once you lose some weight, your run will naturally improve because, hey, less you to carry on those legs of yours!
*Want to know something only tangentially related but totally terrifying? The Black Mamba, one of the world’s largest and deadliest snakes, can hit speeds of more than 20 miles per hour, which is faster than most humans can reach at a full sprint. Except for Usain Bolt, who once hit 27.79 MPH.