The Ten-Point Checklist for Better Running
Tips to remember when your routine starts to fail you
When running is good, it’s great. It gives you extra energy for the rest of the day and bathes your brain in happy hormones for a long time after the run.
When running is bad, it’s terrible. Every muscle in your body throbs, your head hurts from dehydration and you want to burn your running shoes.
The problem is that life can often swipe you sideways and routines can be difficult to maintain. Alternately, if you start to stick too doggedly to a set way of doing things, your fitness stops improving and your body acclimates to a certain level of exercise.
I’ve been a slow, steady runner for a decade now and have bouts of inactivity, followed by months of happy training. The following points are ones I keep coming back to as reminders when things get tough, I’m sore or my performance drops.
Tip #1: Sup that water
Let’s start with the most obvious point of hydration: you need to keep the fluids flowing before, during, and after your runs. Part of that post-run pain could be dehydration, not the DOMS.
I never normally take water with me if I’m running for less than an hour but need to break this habit in the summer when a 20-minute fast clip can leave me with a death knell headache from the sun.
Tip #2: Strength training is power
Next up is the most commonly understood, yet hard to follow advice for cardio-lovers like myself: strength training must be included in the weekly routines or injury is almost inevitable.
Common wisdom gleaned from the internet advises that two workouts a week is enough and you should focus on the major muscle groups.
Tip #3: Stretch. Then stretch some more.
Three minutes before, five minutes after. That’s the least you need to do but more is most definitely better. Hip flexors, ankles and calves are the most important muscle groups to keep flexible to improve performance, according to Runner’s World but I know this from my own experience: tight muscles here lead to poor run times and cramps for days after if I don’t stretch them out.
Tip #4: Stew in your own juices
Combine the stretching with heat if you can. That well-earned soak in a hot tub does more than warm you up after a winter dash — it helps stretch out and soothe those sore muscles. While heat can aggravate inflamed muscles, it does wonders to reduce pain in fascia muscle.
Tip #5: Support your weight with good posture
If you sit in the same poor position at your desk, you’re going to feel it each time you run. That odd leg cross you do, the kink you allow to grow at the base of your back from slouching... it all comes out on the run! Remember this the next time you sit down at your desk and try to focus on developing a natural, neutral posture.
Tip #6:Switch up your metric
If you tend to set yourself a time limit to run, switch things up and set yourself a distance challenge instead. If you normally fixate on speed, start looking at your heart rate zones instead. Alternating what you focus on will get you to push yourself in different ways, stretch your fitness, and avoid your run from becoming mundane.
Tip #7: Sweat the hills
Hill training cannot be overemphasised enough. It's great for getting you out of any routine road running, it immediately shifts you into a higher heart rate zone on the up and tests your thigh strength on the way down. Combine this with strength training and you’ll surprise yourself the next time you take on any run: you have far more power.
Tip #8: Slow down
I hate this tip but often slowing down for a few sessions each month allows you to focus on form, focus on your breathing and maintain your run routine, albeit at a lower intensity. It’s also just another way to shake things up that may work better than switching up your metrics, especially if you’re just a little tired.
Tip #9: Stay still
Rest days are just as important as supercharged ones. Everyone knows that recovery needs to be built into any exercise routine, yet it’s often hard to work out the ideal ratio. My Garmin watch, for example, tells me what my recovery time should be after every workout and I consider, then reject it every time.
Tip #10: Slim down
This is an obvious bit of physics: the less weight you’re carrying, the less work you need to do to move from A to B. If I’ve let my routine slip and gone a few months without a proper running routine, I can see it on the scales. Restarting is hard, as you remember going at a certain speed… but that isn’t attainable unless you shed a few pounds first.
This is by no means a definitive list, nor one that’s been rigorously tested by science but it does work for me.