What can be done to improve your running? Many things involve significant effort and investment: interval workouts, tempo workouts, high(er) mileage, better nutrion, and recruiting a coach.
Sometimes we just look for something simple and easily understood to improve ourselves. If that's you, here's what you should consider.
If there was only one thing you could pick to become a better runner, pick this! Running consistency is crucial.
How do you achieve running consistency? Run more often. Instead of running 8 miles 3 days a week, try running 4 miles 6 times a week.
We start to lose our fitness after 2 days off from running. It only gets worse each subsequent day you take off.
Instead of battling regression of progress with runs, provide your body with a steady stream of runs from which it can recover and steadily improve.
Think of it like this: if you were trying to fill a large container of water, one bucket at a time, would you rather have a big heavy bucket, but there is a hole in the container -- or would you prefer a smaller bucket and a container which doesn't leak?
I'll take the smaller bucket. Easier trips and no waste!
If you're already consistent with your running schedule, you still have room for improvement. Run doubles (running twice a day) if you can, even if one run is just 2 miles. This gives your body twice as many opportunities per day to heal.
Recovery Food. After a run, you should plan to consume carbohydrates and protein as soon as possible, ideally within 30-45 minutes. Muscles rely on carbs for fuel. They rely on protein w/the carbs to stimulate faster glycogen replacement and optimize muscular repair.
You can get very specific with that grams of carbs and protein you should consume based on your weight and effort, however it's best to start simple. If you're not used to eating after a run, start by just having a healthy snack after the run which you know has carbs and protein in it.
If you want to dig deeper into nutrion, check out Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. This is a comprehensive guide on sports and food.
Recovery Duration. If you're beating your body up through quality workouts, you need to ensure proper recovery time between the quality bouts.
If you still feel sore or tired going into a scheduled "hard" workout, make it an easy day. You may not gain anything by forcing yourself through a mediocre workout but you risk quite a bit.
Take an extra easy day and let your body rebuild -- after all, you get better at running when you heal, not when you break down.
3. Strides, added at the end of an easy run
Pick it up ( 1 mile to 5k pace) at the end of an easy run by running 4-8 quick strides, 30-45 seconds each. Make sure you jog easily between each stride to recovery fully.
Strides help keep the fast twitch fibers recruited even when you're in a regimen of running easy every day. Strides also improve your running efficiency and form by stretching out your stride length.
As you run, focus on turning your legs over quickly (do not overstride), feeling relaxed (don't clench your whole body like you're going to impact a brick wall), and standing tall (you shouldn't be hunched over).
4. 180 Steps Per Minute
Keep your stride rate at approximately 180 steps per minute. This is a simple method to determine if you are turning over your legs too slowly.
Regardless of how fast or slow you are running, you should be taking approximately 180 steps per minute. It is your stride length that should change, not the number of steps you're taking for a given set of time.
To check, keep track of how many times your right foot hits the ground in a 30 second period and multiply it by two. If you're not in the 85-90 range your leg turnover is too slow and you should improve it.
5. Mix up the surfaces you run on.
If you usually pound the pavement, find your way to a trail, if for only part of your run.
Do you insist on always seeing the forest surrounding you while you run? Try running on the roads to your favorite trail spot.
Your body adapts well to a single types of terrain. Changing up the terrain can improve your strength and flexibility while reducing the chance of getting injured (as long as you step over that tree root!)
What simple advice do you have for others to improve their running?