If you run, you’re a runner. No matter the distance, the pace, or how many years you’ve been at it, if you lace up and put one foot in front of the other, you’re a runner.
Chances are good, though, that you’re not an elite runner. Not saying that you’re not good at what you do, but unless you’re competing with people like Dean Karnazes or Shalane Flanagan, there’s probably a couple of things you can do to up your game.
When it comes to becoming a better runner, small changes can make a big difference. In the same way going out too strongly at the start of a race affects your later performance, making a few positive changes regarding your training and lifestyle can proportionately improve your running.
Whether you want to admit it or not, your high school gym teacher was on to something here. If you plan on being active, then you need to dress the part. Not only are tech fabrics better for movement and staying cool while pounding the pavement, they can also make you more mentally prepared for what you’re about to do.
The fabric that athletic gear is made from helps minimize the runner’s worst enemy: chafing. At some point in every runner’s career, you’re going to be rubbed raw from too much friction in your unmentionable places. Or maybe your nipples are going to bleed because of how your shirt fits. Regardless, wearing clothes that are made for the job can turn a good run into a great one.
Plus, for the same reasons you’re told to “dress for the job you want,” putting on a lightweight running top instead of a ratty old T-shirt just sets the tone for the session. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been to any races where the first-place finisher crossed the line in a Joe’s Crab Shack souvenir tee.
Like putting gasoline in a diesel engine, if you’re fueling yourself (read: eating) incorrectly, you can’t expect to go very far. Sure, you’ll putter around for a few miles, but they’ll be shaky, uncomfortable, and likely to end with you stuck on the side of the road somewhere waiting for help.
The best advice I ever got regarding how to eat as a runner was incredibly simple: garbage in, garbage out.
Despite working yourself out of the calorie debt your runs put you into, when you eat a diet full of cheeseburgers and fries, your runs will suffer. If you look at not only caloric value, but also nutrient density, you’ll learn that you need a balanced mixture of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and amino acids to perform at your peak. Despite the tiring and overused label superfood, adding even small amounts of nutrient-dense foods like sweet potatoes, avocados, strawberries, and oatmeal to your diet can make a huge difference.
Not only that, but a diet full of a mix of nutritious foods can help fight inflammation and promote healing, which can keep you from relying on pain relievers like NSAIDs to keep you in running shape.
Just make sure you still eat them all in moderation--even though you need carbohydrates to fuel your runs, carb-loading the wrong way can even increase weight gain during intense periods of training.
You’re probably really tired of hearing that running is as much a mental sport as a physical one. However, the reason you hear it so much is because it’s so incredibly true. If you’re not in the right headspace, your run will suffer.
But being mindful about your run is more than just being mentally prepared for the run. It’s about being aware of yourself as you put one foot in front of the other. If you can train yourself to take a mental inventory of yourself every so often, you’ll see that even small changes can have a big effect.
For instance, as you run, think about your body position. It’s easy to lose proper running form if you’re not paying attention. Every few minutes or so (there’s no perfect interval), give your body a once over. Are your shoulders slumping? Are you shuffling your feet? Are you swinging your arms past the median of your chest? If so, make the small alterations in your body to bring yourself back to peak efficiency.
Eventually, these kinds of checks will become second nature. Instead of having to take a purposeful inventory, you’ll just notice when your body is out of sync with itself, make the necessary adjustments naturally. All it takes is a few seconds of noticing what position your body is in.
If you do these three simple things, you’ll be the runner you’ve always wanted to be in no time.
B.J. is a certified personal trainer from the American Fitness Institute and holds a Master’s degree in English. He is currently training for his first marathon. He’s also a geek who has lost 155 pounds. He wants to teach other geeks and nerds how to live healthy, fitness-oriented lives. You can find more of his work on his blog Geek Fitness.
Main Photo Credit & Fourth Photo Credit: Maridav/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: GaudiLab/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Joloei/shutterstock.com