10 Ways to Be a Better Runner for Life
Benefits of running
Running just might be the perfect exercise. It’s a superefficient calorie blaster (burning well upwards of 600 calories an hour) that requires very little in the way of coordination or budget, beyond investing in a good pair of shoes and a sports bra. Plus, it’s got proven body and brain benefits. Studies show that running can boost mood, improve sleep, and lower the risk of ailments such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. New research even reveals that runners’ brains have better functional connectivity, which may help prevent age-related decline.
Convinced yet? This guide has goal-crushing inspiration for everyone from first-timers to dedicated runners looking for a brand-new challenge. Get ready to lace up and head out!
Post your race intentions
Are you training for a race? Tell your friends, family, and everyone on your Facebook feed. "The more public your proclamation, the more likely you’ll do the training and make it come true," notes Robin Arzón, an ultramarathoner and the author of Shut Up and Run. You may even consider committing to a destination race—pick a place you’ve always wanted to visit and persuade a couple of pals to join you.
Develop a mantra
There will be moments when you think it might be impossible to make it through one more mile. That’s when having a go-to phrase can help. "It’s not so much the words you pick as the meanings you associate them with," says Arzón, who uses "I am" when things get tough. "Just choose something that can evoke confidence and draw on that."
Don't start out with a sprint
Even if time is tight, it pays to ease yourself into exercise with a dynamic warm-up, notes Kari Brown Budde, a physical therapist with Endurance Athletes Physical Therapy and Sport Performance in Columbus, Ohio. "A warm-up turns on your muscles and tells them to start working, so you’ll not only reduce your risk of injury but also feel better as you run," she says. Try doing three to five minutes of leg swings, body squats, high knees, butt kicks, and grapevines before you hit the road.
Put technology to work
You’ll find lots of ways to track stats, from simple apps on your smartphone (like Runkeeper or MapMyRun) to GPS-enabled watches. We love the Garmin Vívoactive HR ($250; amazon.com), which measures your heart rate and mile splits. “Having those numbers is like getting a pat on the back for your efforts—especially as runs start to feel easier,” says Elizabeth Corkum, a senior coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City.
If you tend to blow off workouts at the slightest shift in weather or change in plans, enlist a friend to be your running partner. "There’s nothing that will make you more accountable than knowing that someone is waiting for you, especially when your alarm goes off in the morning¸" says Corkum. And don’t worry if your friend is faster (or slower!) than you. "Your hard day might be her easy one, or vice versa. Just try to get into a rhythm and adjust your pace accordingly."
"Hydration is boring, but it’s also super important," says Julia Lucas, head coach for the Nike+ Run Club and a former pro runner. When you’re dehydrated, your total blood volume goes down, so your heart is forced to work harder, she explains. Hydrate before exercising, then drink about three to eight ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes of running, especially if it’s hot or humid.
"Runners need an incredible amount of nourishment to stay healthy, since running puts stress on not only muscles but every system in our body," notes Elyse Kopecky, a chef, nutrition coach, and coauthor (with four-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan) of Run Fast. Eat Slow. "We often obsess about having the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat in our diet while forgetting about important micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, all of which can become depleted from distance training."
Her post-run smoothie to replenish muscle stores and restock nutrients: whole-milk yogurt, frozen blueberries and banana, peeled carrot, a handful of kale, ginger, coconut water (or regular water), and coconut oil.
Strengthening and stretching key body parts helps you power through every workout and ensures that your muscles and joints can move through their full range of motion. "Mobility is essential to helping you maintain form and prevent injury," says Arzón. Try foam rolling, taking a yoga class, or doing dynamic stretches. Work on boosting your mobility for a couple of minutes daily, regardless of whether you also went for a run.
Figure out if you're sore
"Soreness means something aches but you’re generally able to carry on. Injury means you’ve changed the way you move because it hurts too much," explains Jordan Metzl, MD, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "For example, shin splints can ache a bit but usually don’t change your running pattern. A stress fracture changes the way you run." Pay close attention to your body, adds Dr. Metzl: "If something hurts, get it checked out."
Follow a plan
We’ll make this super simple—start with a 5K program if you’re a beginner. Comfortable running three miles and want to up your distance? Jump to a 10K. Then consider conquering the half marathon for major bragging rights. If you want to keep building after you finish the program, remember: Don’t add more than 10 percent of distance or time per week. And recover every fourth week by decreasing your mileage by 20 percent. This will help reduce your risk of injuries.