I have been running for around 4 years now, having completed a number of marathons and ultramarathons. I am by no means an expert and feel that I am learning everyday when it comes to running.
Over time, with experience and research, I have found many ways to improve my running to the point that I now feel great when I’m doing it and my recovery is on point.
In this post I want to share the 10 ways I have found that have really improved my running over time. Here’s a quick snapshot of the improvements that can be made.
- Run Slow Most of the Time
- Cut Out The Junk Food
- Get a Heart Rate Monitor
- Plan To Train Consistently
- Have Clear Goals
- Rest and Recovery
- Make Running Fun
- Find A Running Partner If It Helps
- Try To Remove Stress Where You Can
- Improve Your Running Technique
I will be honest, it has taken me a long time to actually get to the point where I really enjoy my running. At the beginning it was about proving I could run an Ultramarathon at 50 years old, but it did come with a price.
Quite often you will find that if you don’t make improvements it can and probably will lead to injury and the possibility of just giving up.
Lets get into more detail about the 10 ways to improve your running as a beginner.
1. Run Slow Most of the Time
I have to admit, running slow for most of my training is completely new to me. I’m not the fastest runner, but I ran most of my runs pretty quickly in terms of pace during the run.
This ultimately led to a lack of improvement in my running, but also the fact that I was starting to get injured quite often as well, which really wasn’t fun at all.
If you are a beginner to running then you should most definitely start slow to build up your running endurance and also let your muscles get used to running as they will feel it, to begin with, believe me. Here’s what I would recommend for a new runner.
- Start off with a 5 to 10-minute walk as a warm-up
- Then a very slow jog for 1 minute
- Followed by a 2-minute walk
- Repeat the 1-minute jog, 2 minutes walk 5 times
- Cool down with a 5-minute walk
- Repeat this 3 times in a week
This may seem really slow at the beginning but I can assure you that you are doing the right thing by starting slowly.
As you get used to the jog/walk template, you can start to increase your running to say 2-minute jog, 1-minute walk. Then eventually a 20-minute run with 5-minutes of warm-up and cool down either side of the run.
You will start to notice as the post unfolds that running slowly most of the time will give you the biggest benefit it the long run.
2. Cut Out the Junk Food
As with any fitness goal, your diet is going to be a very important factor in your overall performance. If you want to improve, you must get your nutrition right.
By getting your nutrition right I mean cutting the junk food you might be eating too often. You might not even realise that some of it is junk, but it really is.
So I follow a Plant-Based diet, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to say you have to do the same. Below is a list of the foods you should eat often, and those you should avoid if you want to get your nutrition on point.
|Foods To Eat (example)||Foods to Avoid|
|Broccoli||All Sugar Products|
|Leafy Greens||Refined flours|
|Carrots||Whole Grain Bread|
|Squash||Whole Grain Pasta|
|Beef (grass-fed)||Energy drinks|
|Oils||Sugary sauces (ketchup)|
These are just a few examples of the foods to eat and avoid. The basic premise is that if you can grow it then eat it, but if it needs to be processed then it’s best to avoid.
I’m not saying you should go without pizza or fries all of the time, it’s just to say that we should try to eat as clean as possible most of the time.
3. Get A Heart Rate Monitor
After a number of years of training at a high heart rate, getting nowhere in terms of improvement, and continually getting injured, I came across something recently called the MAF method.
As an overview, the MAF method or Maximum Aerobic Function, looks at a different approach to health and fitness by strengthening and developing our aerobic function.
Primarly the system is designed to reduce body fat by using it as our fuel as opposed to sugar that is used on high carb diets.
The premise is that you improve your nutrition, aerobic function through exercise, and reduce your stress levels.
When it comes to aerobic function, the MAF method has an equation used to work out your ideal heart rate that you should work at to see improvements. This is simply taking your age away from 180.
So at 52, my maximum heart rate would be 128 which is 180 – 52.
Now, there are some caveats to this:
- If you are recovering from a major illness or are on regular medication, you should take a further 10 off the score – that would make me 118.
- If you are injured, have regressed or not improved in training (such as poor MAF Tests) or competition, get more than two colds, flu or other infections per year, have seasonal allergies or asthma, are overfat, are in Stage 1 or 2 of over training, or if you have been inconsistent, just starting, or just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.
- If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems mentioned in a) or b), no modification is necessary (use 180 minus age as your MAF HR).
- If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, have made progress in your MAF Tests, improved competitively and are without injury, add 5.
So as it turns out, I am training with a maximum heart rate of 133 (128 + or – 5). I can honestly say I have never felt as good before, during, or after a run.
The best way for the normal person to gauge your training level is to run with a heart rate monitor. I find that the chest strap monitor is by far the most accurate for me.
I had previously used a Suunto Spartan Sport with chest strap but the reading on the heart rate were very inconsistent (230 bpm). The Garmin is very accurate.
Now a word of note: When you start MAF and training to a heart rate, you will find that you are very slow, to begin with, even to the point you might walk some parts of your run if your heart rate gets too high.
Do not get despondent, this is natural and is part of the process. I went from running a 10k training run at 8:45 min/mile pace all the way up to 12:30 min/mile when I started running to my heart rate of 133.
The key here is to stick with it as it will improve as your aerobic function improves. I am seeing the benefits after only a few weeks in terms of how I feel, my recovery, and general speed improvements.
4. Plan to Train Consistently
One of the many reasons that people don’t see improvements in their running is that they don’t train consistently and then wonder why they can’t advance.
There is no real benefit in training like crazy for 2 weeks to then have a month off. The real downside to this sort of approach is over training, fatigue, injury, and eventually a lack of motivation when it comes to running.
If you are very new to running then try to train consistently in the beginning with say, 3 -4 twenty to thirty minute workouts per week with rest days inbetween.
By doing this you will stay consistent, avoid burn out and injury, and have more chance of staying focused with your training. As time passes you will be able to lengthen your runs and do them more often if you choose.
My other advice when starting out is to train to a time and not a distance. This keeps you more focused on your run rather than how far you have covered. Believe me, it is better to do it this way.
5. Have Clear Goals
I have to admit, I have been terrible historically when it comes to writing down my goals. However, I have just started to realise how important it is to keep a journal which helps keep track of my progress.
If this is you then do what I did and make the change today. Or if you are new to running, make a point of setting goals and keeping track of them on a regular basis.
You are far more likely to succeed if you set clear goals and review on a regular basis. These goals can be small or large, just make them achievable so you don’t lose faith in what you are doing.
Your goal can be anything. Below are some examples:
- Running Your First 5K
- Beating Your 10K PR
- Losing 20lbs
- Improve Aerobic Function by Running at Low Heart Rate
- Run Your First Marathon
- Cut Out Processed Sugary Foods from Diet
Honestly, it does work to keep track. I remember when I first started running, I ran 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, ultramarathons, and I couldn’t tell you to this day how I trained for it, how I felt on my runs, what worked, what didn’t. It’s all lost.
Since I have started my low heart rate MAF training I have made a point of keeping track of my runs, how I felt etc. and it is helping so much. Having clear goals really seems to keep me on track and I write almost everyday. Check out the snapshot below:
As you can see from the brief example, I’m keeping track and I can not only see improvements, but a note on what I did, how I felt, what I wore on my feet, etc.
My advice is to not overthink things too much in the beginning. Once you get on your shoes and start to run you have done the hardest part – now just get out there and enjoy and record those goals.
6. Rest and Recovery
One of the things I have been guilty of in the past is not recovering, resting, and getting enough sleep.
When I have a goal in mind I become focused and fail to remember that it’s not all about the running. Unfortunately, failing to do this has led to burn-out and injury in the past, as well as falling out of love with running for about 6-months.
Recovery, Rest, and Sleep are all important factors in your training that allow you to train at your best. Failure to do so will result in poor results.
If you are very new to running then aim to rest at least 2-days per week whilst your body is getting used to the impact running has on your body. Don’t be afraid to go for a walk on those days as this can be a great recovery exercise anyway.
Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night if you can. The more training, the more sleep required to help your body recover and repair ready for the next workout.
It’s also really important to listen to your body as well. If you have a run planned but have an potential injury or cold coming on, skip it and rest. It’s not the end of the world to miss a workout which will probably benefit you in the long run.
Just remember not to skip too many, as this is where your consistency will drop. However, as I said, it is important to stay in tune with what your body is telling you.
7. Make Running Fun
This is so important when it comes to running, or any exercise. I believe I had my 6-month break from running because I just wasn’t enjoying it any more.
Constantly getting injured, feeling tired, aching after a run, were all making me feel like it was a chore rather than something I enjoyed.
At this point I took a step back and re-assessed why I wanted to run in the first place. I realised that at my age I wasn’t going to break any records in running, I just wanted to stay fit, healthy, and enjoy my runs 9and train for more ultras).
This is the main reason I started the MAF training – my body feels great, I don’t get injured any more, I feel like I can run all day long, and I’m just happy with the way things are going.
One way I have found to really enjoy my running is to get out on the trails. There is nothing better in my opinion as getting out into nature and seeing it in all of it’s glory.
I can run for miles just taking in all the beauty, switching off from the stress of the real world, and really just give myself some time mentally – there is nothing better for me.
So, whoever you are, whatever your level, find your way of making it fun and enjoyable and you will be surprised just how far that can take you.
8. Find a Running Partner if it Helps
Now, I have to say from the beginning, I’m not someone who like to run with other people. Not because I don’t like people, it’s just that I like being in my own head space when I run, it’s my own happy place.
However, I know that many people love to run with others and there are advantages to doing this:
- It’s less boring for some runners
- It can be motivating to run with others
- Some people enjoy and need the social element
- They can be great pace setters
- They might actually get you out on your run when you don’t feel like it
- A training partner can also provide feedback on running form etc.
So as you can see, there are many benefits to having a running partner. Do what you need to do to get started.
9. Try to Remove Stress Where You Can
Stress can play a big part in our running performance. I know that it’s certainly had am impact on my running at times. I’ve even let something as simple as forgetting my headphones completely ruin a run in the past because I couldn’t listen to a podcast.
Nowadays I just don’t let it get to me at all – if I’ve had a bad day at work, or something hasn’t gone right during the run, I just don’t let it get to me any more – I’ve learnt to switch it off when I’m training.
Of course, not everyone can just flick a switch and feel ok. It took me a long time to get to the point where I didn’t let the little things affect me before, during, or after my run.
During my MAF training, I have learnt that there are 3 types of stress:
- Physical Stress – overworked muscles, joint pain, headaches, etc.
- Biochemical Stress – fatigue, insomnia, gut issues, dietary and nutritional imbalance.
- Mental-Emotional Stress – Tension, anxiety, depression.
The way I have learnt to deal with some of this stress is to write out a stress list with everything I can think of that impacts me within the 3 stress categories.
I then work on those that I can reduce or eliminate – for instance, you might cut out junk food, caffeine, not exercising correctly, resting, etc.
As you start to eliminate the stress you can control you will start to feel so much better about yourself. For those stresses that are out of your control, such as work or the weather, you just need to find a way to control how you feel about that.
I have heard, although I haven’t tried it yet, the meditation is a wonderful way of helping to reduce stress in your life. This is something I’m thinking about getting into soon so I will do a write up when I do.
10. Don’t Stress About The Gear
There seems to be so much focus on running gear nowadays it’s just information overload to the point it’s difficult to understand what is best. I have tried many running shoes, both road and trail, and lots of gear to boot.
My advice is don’t stress about your gear at all. This is what I would advise you to use when you first start:
- The right running shoes – don’t overthink it. I use Altra Zero-Drop shoes with wide fitting. It feels like a more natural run and your toes can spread out naturally.
- Buy running socks – Your sock is as important as your shoe. You can read my post on running socks here.
- Shorts – just try and buy some that don’t chafe, or wear some compression shorts underneath.
- Shirt – something that wicks away sweat. Nothing fancy needed.
- Hydration – if your out for more than an hour then consider a handheld bottle to help stay hydrated.
- A Watch – not completely necessary for a beginner, but if you are getting serious, or running to heart rate, then a decent watch will be your best friend. My personal choice is the Garmin Forerunner 735XT.
I hope you found this post of some use and it showed that running can be fun and productive for new runners.
For me it’s simple:
- Enjoy what you do
- Don’t stress about the bad days
- Get your nutrition on track
- Find an enjoyable plan like MAF training
- Set goals and journal them
- Find some shoes that are comfortable and keep you injury free
- Don’t forget recovery, rest, and sleep.
Now get out there and start enjoying life.
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