It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned runner, a professional athlete, or a rookie lacing up for the first time. It’s important to keep improving your running game and becoming a better version of yourself.
Running is like many things in life. Your initial results are rapid, and you’re spurred on by making noticeable gains. Suddenly, you hit a wall and your progress slows into a plateau. It’s more difficult to make improvements and you’re running the same pace, across the same distance, across the same route. One could call it a ‘running rut.’
I’ve experienced a running rut
Being a passionate and highly active runner who trains at least 4 times a week, I’ve experienced my fair share of running ruts. It’s not nice to know your progress has slowed to a halt, and you’re not getting any better.
A running rut sucks. It’s like being in the same job for 5 years without a promotion or practising the guitar for hours with no noticeable improvements or trying to learn a language with no recollection of what any of the foreign words are you learnt an hour ago.
Simply put, a rut is a habit or pattern of behaviour which has become dull and unproductive.
My times weren’t getting any better, I was on the same route every day, ran with the same music, and didn’t vary my routines. All common mistakes which made me slip into an unenjoyable training routine.
Getting through a running rut can be done with the right methods
Without the right methods, it can be difficult to get out of a running rut and make a proactive change. That’s why I’ve written this article, to help other runners get through a rut (like I experienced myself). I know how much it sucks, so I hope this article helps.
Without further ado, here are 13 ways to keep improving as a runner
1. Run more
It may seem quite simple, but the difference running a few extra miles each week can make is staggering. If you’re currently running 10 miles per week, try upping this to 13 miles the next week. Try upping it to 15 miles the next week, with a target of getting it to 20 miles per week. Also, if you’re running for two days a week then try to increase this to three of four days.
Running more miles will push your body, and make it adapt to longer runs. Your body will rise to the challenge and adapt to these new stresses, become more resilient, and as a result, you will have more endurance. Having more endurance is essential for effective long runs, and quicker times in races (like 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and marathons).
There’s no set number for how many more miles you should be running, it depends on how many you’re currently running per week. Try and increase the mileage, and make sure you stay consistent with the training, so your body can adapt to the greater training load efficiently.
2. Be consistent with your training
“It’s better to train for 4-5 hours a week than to do ten hours one week then nothing for two weeks. It helps your body adapt and maintains your fitness.” Alistair Brownlee, on the importance of consistency in training
When I experienced my running rut, I just couldn’t work out what was going on. I was running, and running, but didn’t seem to be getting any better. Eventually, I worked out it had something to do with my lack of consistency. I’d run 5 times one week, only to run 2 times the next week. Simply put, this was holding me back.
When you do lots of training one week, say 5 sessions, then drop this number the next week you lose lots of your progress. The body needs consistency to stay physically fit and maintain your levels of fitness. Without being a consistent runner, your body loses the conditioning benefits developed through previous training sessions and it becomes less efficient at pumping oxygen around the bloodstream. As a result, you feel easily out of breath and not as up to the challenge of a run as you know you should be.
Pick a number each week for your runs, and mileage, and stick to it. Once you have a solid running routine established, which is consistent and stable, try increasing upping the intensity of your training. Having a number to hit is good because it’s measurable and gives you a tangible target to aspire to. When you’ve run a certain number of miles, you will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Also, your overall fitness and running will improve. A win-win situation in the making.
To constantly improve your running, make sure you’re consistent with your training.
3. Get a running partner
By far, one of the most effective strategies for constantly improving as a runner is to get yourself a partner. It helps if they’re a slightly better runner than you are, so you can push yourself to aspire to their level, but this is not essential.
A running partner is a buddy who will meet you at 6 a.m. as the sun comes up and puts in a few miles with you before work. They motivate you, help you improve, stick by you, and keep your training honest. A running partner won’t let you down, they will be loyal and run by your side in your quest to become a better runner.
Having a decent running partner means you can work together to accomplish a certain mileage or speed. Also, you can engage in some friendly competition of who can run a 5K the fastest or who can pace a mile the quickest. Friendly competition keeps things interesting and keeps you on your running toes.
If you want proof that running partners work, look no further than accomplished Olympic athletes like the Brownlee Brothers. Alistair and Jonny Brownlee compete in the triathlon and have won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Olympic games.
When training in their running, swimming and cycling disciplines, they train alongside each other. They report in interviews that they encourage and spur each other on, pushing themselves to achieve more as a duo.
Their partnered approach to their training means they’re constantly pushing each other further which is why they’ve been so successful in their event. Get a running partner to improve your speed and form. You’ll notice the difference in no time.
For more information on why a running partner is a great idea, check out the following blog post:
4. Join a local running club
A running club is a group of runners who meet once or twice a week to train together. Usually, one run is long distance, whilst the other is a targeted workout (like interval or tempo runs). Involving yourself in a running club is a fantastic way to improve your running game.
You make new friends, train regularly, find variety in training, become more knowledgeable about gadgets and nutrition, and enjoy friendly competition. Also, you’ll have access to some coaches who are passionate about helping you improve your running by working to optimise your form and technique.
Being in a running club allows you to capitalise on a whole host of benefits, and will make you a better runner in no time.
If you need more convincing to join a running club, check out the blog post here:
5. Mix up the terrain
If you’re running the same routes, on the same surfaces, all the time the chances of you improving are small. Say you run on a fairly flat road, your body will adapt to the surface after a couple of minutes and won’t feel challenged. As a result, you won’t develop your endurance and won’t become a conditioned runner. You simply won’t progress quickly.
However, those runners who mix it up and vary their terrain understand the difference it can make in their running ability. Running on mixed terrains, like a challenging trail or a brand-new route in a different direction, is a good way to expose your body to different terrains. Changing elevation, rough patches of trail, twists and turns, are all examples of mixing up the terrain.
When you vary the surfaces you run on, your body works harder to adapt to these new situations and as a result, it becomes more conditioned to deal with challenging runs. When you run on a normal flat surface, like a typical road, you will notice a huge improvement in your speed and overall endurance.
Try mixing up the terrain to become a better runner. It’s a fantastic way to ensure you constantly improve.
For inspiration on where to mix up the terrain, read the following post:
6. Try running with more upbeat music
There’s lots of research which shows that running with music can make you faster. When we listen to music, we naturally try and match the rhythm of the song. If you’re listening to slow and emotional ballads, you’re going to run slower and more chilled out.
Think about it. If you’re listening to ‘Home’ by Michael Bublé or Halleluiah by Jeff Buckley, there’s good chance your running style and speed will reflect that of the songs. Slow, chilled and relaxed. Hardly uplifting music to improve your running. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these two songs, or any other slow and emotional songs. However, they have a time and a place, and trying to improve your running isn’t one of them.
Instead, try listening to upbeat music with a fast tempo to match. When you run faster, you’ll be upping the intensity and putting your body through its paces. If you start to feel uncomfortable, try to keep it up and match the beat. It might not feel amazing at the time, but it will pay off with a future of better running.
Try listening to some upbeat music today to improve your running.
For my top 10 rock songs for running, and the best running headphones available, check out the following blog posts:
7. Use a running GPS running watch to your advantage
If there’s one thing runners love, it’s a good GPS watch. These handy devices track your location, data on your run, monitor your heart rate, and tell the time. GPS watches are a staple in runners’ arsenal for good reason. Using one can make you a better runner.
Whether you’re a casual jogger, a seasoned runner, or even a professional athlete, having and using a GPS watch can be one of the wisest decisions you make. Not only do they accompany you on every run, but they also provide useful functions and track important data.
After using a GPS watch for a few workouts, runners often wonder how they coped without one before. There are lots of benefits to these handy watches. You don’t have to carry your phone, you can record lots of useful data, they look stylish, can be used for triathletes, and some even offer advice on recovery.
The key feature of running watches I want to highlight, for this article, is that most come with training modes. Some modes are pre-set into the watch, and some allow you to customise them meaning you can personalise your workout.
For instance, if you find you’re lagging behind and not hitting your target pace you could set your watch to beep and vibrate when you’re going to slow. This will keep you running to a pace you’re happy with, which will improve your running.
Alternatively, some watches come with interval training functionality which guides you to run flat out for a set time period before beeping to signal a recovery jog. The watch continues this cycle until you reach the desired number of reps for that training session.
These incredible watches have lots of functions, we’ve only covered a few of them here. If you need something to help you up your running game, it might be time to consider getting a decent GPS running watch.
They are a bit costly, I know, but think of them as an investment. Purchase it once and reap the benefits for many months (or even years). If you can’t afford one right now, try to save a bit of money from each night out or cut down on eating out as often. Make a little saving fund for your running watch, and once you have enough to make your purchase you can wear it with pride and turn your running life around.
For more information on GPS running watches, check out the following articles:
8. Have a strong reason for why you’re running in the first place
If you’ve found yourself in a running rut, chances are you’ve lost motivation to run as often and as hard as you used to. You’ve been running for a few months, and the sport isn’t as exciting as it once was. No need to get worried or start re-considering if this sport for you, this can happen to the best of us. You’ve just forgotten your reason for running.
Remember, purpose fuels performance. You need to have a tangible and easily identifiable reason for why you’re running in the first place to fire you up, so you lace up with excitement for a workout. Common reasons for running are to lose weight, raise money for charity, explore nature, become more active, wake up earlier, become a more interesting person, connecting with a friend. Lots of people want to embrace a challenge, like running a sub 1:45 half-marathon or 20-minute 5K. The list is endless.
We each have a slightly different reason for running, and it really doesn’t matter what that reason is. As long as you have one. That’s what is important.
Remind yourself of your reason for running and think about it long and hard. Write it down and familiarise yourself with it. Remind yourself of the goal as often as possible to ignite your running passion. Suddenly you won’t be procrastinating, tempted to skip your workout. You’ll run as often as possible.
Whatever your reason for running, make sure you know what it is and remind yourself of it regularly. You’ll become a better runner, who rarely misses training for anything.
For more information on finding motivation and avoiding procrastinating, check out the following articles:
9 Ways to Maintain Running Motivation
How to Overcome Running Procrastination
9. Try cross training
If you’re a triathlete, you don’t need to worry about this one. However, for all the just runners for are looking to improve then keep reading. A simple and effective way to run better is to cross train.
Cross training means dabbling in other sports, like swimming or cycling, to strengthen other parts of your body and experience new exercises. For example, swimming can strengthen your back and arm muscles whilst cycling can improve your overall body conditioning. Both of these benefits will transfer into your running life, and you’ll see noticeable improvements.
Also, doing another sport like cycling or swimming can be a needed break from running. Because running is a high-intensity sport, with our feet hitting the ground hard, it means we’re more susceptible to injuries like shin splints or Achilles Tendinitis. Ouch. Delving into swimming or cycling occasionally means you can give your legs a much-needed rest so they can recover from the tense physical exertion.
Though running will be your main sport, you could try another sport once a week. I go swimming one evening a week, for example. Have running as your main source of training, with another sport as the icing on top. Delving in other sports will make you a more well-rounded athlete, and your running will improve drastically as a result.
You don’t just have to do swimming or cycling. You can do any sport you like, as long as it’s active and something you enjoy. Good examples include cricket, football and tennis.
For more information on what sports you can cross train with, read the following article:
10. Eat a proper diet
Ever heard the phrase, ‘you are what you eat?’ It’s completely true, what you put inside you will reflect on how you perform when running. Junk food, like fast food and sweets, is high in sugar and processed ingredients. These unhealthy foods are difficult to digest, are bad for your health, increase the risk of disease, and can make you overweight.
Because of the unnecessarily high sugar content in fatty foods, your blood sugar often spikes after eating something sugary only to quickly crash. This leaves you tired, groggy and unmotivated. Not a recipe for quick and efficient running, by any stretch of the imagination.
Eat whole grains and complex carbohydrates before a run, which provide you with long-lasting energy without the crash. A source of energy you can depend on for a constant and controlled supply of glycogen (muscle fuel) to power a quicker, better run.
For more information on the best foods to eat before a 5K run, check out the following blog post:
11. Add a weekly speed session to your training to become quicker
Incorporating a weekly speed session to your running schedule will make you a faster runner. A weekly dose of speed in your workouts can increase your fitness threshold, get your body used to quicker paces, and allow you to maintain speed and performance.
If all your runs are relaxed, light and done at a speed that simply isn’t challenging, you won’t develop as a runner. It’s simple as that. That’s why a speed session is vital.
Go for a run on a familiar route, ideally no more than 5K. Run at a quick pace, above what you’re comfortable with, for 1 minute straight. Power walk for a minute to recover, then repeat for at least 7 reps. This develops your speed efficiently.
If you can, try and measure what your personal quick pace is with a running watch. This way you will know what pace is right and challenging for you. It will be tough at first, but it will soon get easier. When you get quicker and find a certain pace easier to maintain, increase either your pace or the time (to 1 minute 30). Doing this exercise conditions your body to hold a quicker speed for longer.
It will be hard work, I’m not going to lie. When I started doing this, I felt knackered when stumbling into my front door. It was all worth it though when I started blitzing my personal bests at the 5K and half-marathon. If you put in the work with speed sessions, you will get the result you’re looking for. The result, of course, will be a faster runner.
For more information on running faster, check out the blog post here:
12. Consider replacing your running shoes
Your shoes can make a massive impact on your performance. I recently replaced my old and worn running shoes with Asics Phoenix 8 shoes, and my times shot through the roof.
Running shoes are designed to help you run as efficiently as possible, and as they become older they lose their functionality. When you run, your feet constantly pound the floor which wears down a running shoe. If the shoes are worn it will have reduced cushioning, lose some its structural benefits (like helping overpronators), and so on.
As a rule of thumb, it’s good to replace them every 400-500 miles. Some signs you need new running shoes include noticeable wear and tear defects. developing aches and pains, a noticeable reduction in performance, getting blisters out of the blue, and noticing other shoes feel much better.
My old shoes were incredibly worn, and wear giving me aches and pains. After each run, my legs had sharp pains and running became less enjoyable. I changed my shoes, and instantly running is ten times more comfortable and I’m getting quicker speeds.
If you want to run faster and better, it might be time to replace your running shoes. Some runners are put off by the price tag, but it really is worth making the investment on a new pair. Trust me, as soon as I parted with some cash the improvements I noticed were huge.
For more information on running shoes, check out the articles here:
- 7 Signals You Need New Running Shoes
- Top 5 Men’s Running Shoes For 2018
- Top 5 Brands For Running Shoes
13. Try something totally different
Runners are creatures of habit and tend to like doing what they’re comfortable with. Some runners like doing 5K races on a Saturday morning with parkrun, whilst others like training for long distance events like the marathon or half-marathon. Some are just casual joggers and have no races to train for but want to achieve a weekly mileage or lose a certain amount of weight.
Whatever you’ve been doing for a while, try something totally different. Mix things up. If you’re a 5K runner, book yourself in for a half-marathon. Suddenly, your training regime will change dramatically, and you’ll have a brand-new challenge to gear up for.
Not only is trying something different good for your body to adapt to varying training situations, but it also keeps running fresh and exciting for you. For example, my brother considered himself a casual Saturday morning parkrun runner and soon lost motivation. However, after booking himself into 2 half marathons he quickly rediscovered his passion for running due to the mix up in his training schedule.
If you’ve been running the same event and distances for a while, try changing it up. Try something completely different and throw your body a new set of challenges to adapt to.
Good luck, and I hope you look forward to becoming a better runner
There you have it. 13 ways to keep improving as a runner. These methods have come from personal experience, research, asking professional athlete friends, and general fellow runners.
Running is my favourite sport and it can be enjoyed by everyone. Whatever you do, make sure you’re enjoying your running and it isn’t a chore. When you feel like it’s a chore and you’re running for the sake of it, it’s not a good sign and it might be time to reconsider if the sport is for you. Hopefully, you never get to that stage and enjoy running for many years to come.