It’s not as simple as slipping into your running shoes and bolting out of the door. In an ideal world it would be just that easy. In the real world though this just isn’t the case. At best, you have a lousy time. At worst, you hurt yourself and end up out of action for a while.

The rules to a successful run are very simple to follow:

1)      Warming up and cooling down.

No matter how strong the urge, don’t just run from a cold start. A gentle 5-10 minute warm up will loosen you up, get the heart rate up, your breathing going, and lastly send blood to the muscles where it’s needed. There’s a loose rule of thumb that says the further you’re going to run, the longer your warm-up should be. Cooling down is equally as beneficial. If you finish a 5 mile run and then just stop dead, there’s a chance blood will pool in your legs and you’ll feel faint. Better to finish those 5 miles, slow down to a walk and then come to a rest gradually. Give your body a chance to realize what’s going on, otherwise it will react poorly.

2) Slow and steady.

Most coaches will agree that by going slowly and steady in terms of adding mileage, you’ll reap better benefits. Most agree that adding 10% each week to your run is a good rule of thumb. Remember that your body has to adapt to what you are putting it through. It’s the same principle as being at the gym. You wouldn’t expect to curl 20lbs on Monday and bench press 200lb on Friday, would you? It’s the same thing. Build slowly and surely.

3) Keep some back.

When jogging, leave some in the tank. That is to say 8 out of every 10 runs you do should be run at around a minute or so slower that your goal race time. If you’re breathing heavily, you’re going too fast. Your lungs and heart will adapt a lot more quickly than your muscles, tendons and bones as you up the length of your runs. Regular running at an easy pace gives your musculoskeletal system a chance to consolidate and catch up with any cardiovascular improvements you are making.

4) Hills! Hills! Hills!

Yes, sorry, but in order to get it right it’s an unfortunate quirk of fate that hills are simply the best tool there is to build muscle memory, strength, aerobic capacity and running economy. At least once a week find the hilliest route you have at your disposal and use it to build and build. The strength and stamina you build on hills and inclines will serve to make you faster and stronger later in races.

5) Rest days.

This is the “good” part. Resting is as important as training and that’s simply a matter of fact. While it’s true that pushing yourself allows you to develop and become stronger, not resting results in injury or becoming burnt out and undoing all the good work you’ve done. Flooring the accelerator in a car is all well and good, but thrash it too much and that engine is just going to go ‘pop’. That’s when the mechanic rubs his hands together while the dollar signs appear in his eyes.

Once every few weeks, cut back your distances by 20% or so and some days just rest entirely. Your body demands it. It uses this time to rebuild those torn muscles and become stronger, in turn helping you become stronger and less prone to fatigue when it comes to longer distances or running faster/harder.

6) Cross-train.

Pounding the sidewalks, tracks and trails does precisely that; it pounds on your joints and connective tissues. Taking a break away from running. Still keeping your cardiovascular system firing is important. So occasionally try out some yoga, pilates or some strength training program. Promote some upper body strength and muscle. Swimming, cycling, elliptical training, and rowing improve your aerobic fitness as well.

Swimming is an especially good tool in helping you become a better runner. When swimming you use a huge amount of all over body muscle while still keeping your cardiovascular system working hard. Best of all is the complete lack of any pounding on the joints and connective tissue.

7) Measure it all.

If you take it too easy on hard or normal runs you won’t break through that barrier and get to the next level. Go too hard on easy/rest days and you won’t build up what you need to do longer runs or speed sessions. If you have apps, use them. Failing that then talk while you are running and you’ll gauge if you are going at the right pace.

8) Increase the speed.

Even those that like to plod along at a nice, comfortable pace should consider doing some work in pace and picking up speed.

Running fast builds up cardiovascular strength by making your heart work at a higher rate to deliver oxygen to the muscles in your legs. This, in turn, makes them stronger and more efficient at extracting the oxygen in your blood. Through speed work you are raising your metabolism and increasing caloric burn, even after you have finished working out. There is also the fact that running more quickly cuts any sloppiness in your stride and in doing so you will jog or run more efficiently making it easier to run fast.

9) Race Pace.

Get used to running at race pace before you taper. When you’re at the starting line and the inevitable elbows finally finish you’ll be trotting along at a pace you realize is comfortable because it’s what you know!

10) The taper is your friend!

Around 3 weeks before your race cut your runs by 25-50%, but keep the same pace you want to run on race day. You might think this is crazy, but it’s been proven by Ball State University that those reducing the mileage but keeping the pace in their taper before race day lost no cardiovascular fitness, actually gained muscle strength, and scored improved race times!

Follow these 10 simple rules and running won’t become something that is a chore anymore.

See you at the finish line…

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