Have you ever watched a marathon and thought, “Wow, they make it look so easy…maybe I could try it”? While admittedly some runners have innate abilities to churn out the miles (and at some amazing speeds), most of the people you see on the course devoted themselves to a carefully thought-out training plan. Whether you have your sights set on a race, or just want to see how far and fast you can go with your running, there are a few things you can do to help achieve your goal.
The 10-percent rule (10PR) is a fairly universal tenet of running: Don’t increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10 percent from the previous week. Though you may feel capable of adding in more distance in a shorter timeframe, it’s important to curb that enthusiasm lest you push yourself to the point of injury. According to Runner’s World, almost all running injuries are related to or caused by overuse. By following the 10PR, you’ll allow your body to get stronger and adapt to the increased stress gradually—not only will this help you avoid injury, but the slow increase in mileage will be more manageable mentally. Think, “I did 5 miles last week; this one extra mile will be no problem!” versus, “I did 5 miles last week and now I have to do 8? That’s almost double the distance!”
Alternate Walking and Running:
If you’re new to running, don’t expect your body to magically be able to crank out the miles without some sort of build up. Even if you’re very physically fit, you need to get used to the motions of running and the muscles used. Rather than push yourself to run three miles off the bat, try running one, walking one, and then running the last. That’s the principle behind popular running app Couch to 5K. The app trains new and experienced runners alike to gradually build distance by alternating walking and running for a few weeks before going out for pure runs. The same theory can be used if you’re an experienced runner trying to take yourself to the next level, distance wise: Rather than try to run more miles at your usual pace and tire out early, alternate faster and slower miles until you’ve got the distance down.
Take Days Off:
When building your running schedule, make sure to leave at least one day in between long or intense runs, suggests the American Council of Exercise (ACE). Try swimming, biking, or focusing on low-intensity strength training. Not only will it give your body a break, but cross-training also helps build your strength, endurance, and speed by working different muscles and challenging you in different ways. The ACE also recommends incorporating an “easy” week into your training plan, whether by keeping your mileage the same as the previous week, or even doing a bit less.
Wear the Right Shoes:
Don’t skimp on shoes when it comes to running. According to the American Council of Exercise, the right running shoes can help to prevent injuries like shin splints, sore muscles, and blisters. It may be tempting to pick your running shoes based on the color or look, but you’re better off getting the help of an expert. Go to a dedicated running store and ask the employees to help fit you for a pair of running shoes—many stores will watch you run a few steps on a treadmill or outside to observe your feet and form, and suggest a pair of shoes perfect for you. The ACE recommends replacing your running shoes every 350-500 miles. Once you have the right shoes, try to keep to asphalt or dirt surfaces for your run—they’re more forgiving than concrete, and easier on your body.
READ MORE: 4 Signs It’s Time To Replace Your Running Shoes
Listen to Your Body:
If anything hurts, take time off. Yes, it’s frustrating to skip workouts when you’re trying to increase your speed or distance, or train for a race. But it’s even more frustrating to be completely sidelined by an injury. Whether your shins are aching, your feet hurt, or your knees are sore, your body is telling you something. Take time to rest and let your body heal—otherwise those minor aches and pains could be come major injuries.
Do Sprints and Intervals:
Want to run faster? Whether your ultimate speed goal is for a marathon or a 5K, sprints can help you get there. Fartlek (which means “speed play” in Swedish) training, is a type of workout in which you incorporate short bursts of speed into your workouts, according to Runner’s World. Do a brief warm-up, then challenge yourself to sprint as fast as you can for a very short distance. It doesn’t have to be structured or even number-based—think, “I’ll sprint to that tree”—just listen to your body, and make sure to follow each sprint with an easy jog or walk to recover. Want something more structured? Traditional interval training involves brief, intense speed work followed by equally long (or slightly longer) recovery periods. Run three minutes fast, jog three minutes easy; run five minutes fast, jog five minutes easy. The recovery period gives you enough time to catch your breath and run your next intense interval as strong as your previous one.
Try Tempo Training:
Tempo training is slightly different than interval and Farkel training in that you run at a pace that is hard and outside your comfort zone, but not quite as fast as your “race pace,” according to the ACE. After a warm-up, run at tempo pace for a pre-determined amount of time, and follow it up with an easy cool-down. As you get stronger, increase the amount of time and distance of your tempo pace running (the pace itself should also increase as you adapt). This method, according to the ACE, helps boost your lactate threshold, or the point when your body fatigues at a given pace.
Head for the Hills:
The ACE also recommends hill training for those who want to run faster. Running on an incline improves your lower-body strength and challenges your cardiorespiratory system. Run up the hill (or on an incline on the treadmill) fast, and go easy on the way down.
READ MORE: 8 Signs You’re Running Wrong