Endurance running is an exercise in patience if you truly want to master the art. Talk to any runner about their goals or motivations and you’ll get different answers every time, but at the heart of the runner’s desire is to be a better, healthier self. I know for me, running has become not only an outlet for stress relief but a way to invest in my wellness mentally and physically.
The health benefits of running are numerous and well-documented. And unlike many other exercise methods, it’s one of the few that’s virtually free. If you have running shoes, you can run. No gyms or memberships needed.
That said, there are tricks to the trade. While running is simple in concept, to maximize the effectiveness of your runs, reach peak performance, and prevent injury, there are some things all of us—from beginners to seasoned veterans—must learn.
6 Essential Running Tips to Enhance Your Performance
1) Sprint for It
If you want to enhance speed, which many runners prioritize leading up to a big race, one of the best strategies you can employ involves not long runs, but short ones. Rather than pushing yourself to run faster and longer, practice sprinting in short burst intervals. This is called Tabata training, and studies show that this method is highly effective for burning calories, increasing metabolism, and, for runners, increasing speed.
While endurance runners should not replace all of their runs with Tabata-style exercises, adding these exercises a few times a week can help you increase your speed. How do you do it? Run at full sprint for 20 seconds and then come to a walk or full stop for 10 seconds. Repeat. Do this for 3 to 5 sets with between 6 and 8 cycles in each set.
2) Get Enough Shuteye
I’ve written at length about the benefits of sleep on one’s mental and physical health. For runners, getting enough sleep is especially important. For many of us, rising early to run is part of our daily routine. However, we cannot neglect to adjust for those 4 and 5 AM runs by going to bed on time.
If you’re well-rested, you’ll not only have more energy and alertness, but your body will have done its job to repair overnight. You’ll have reduced inflammation and healing times. Overall, sleep is just good. If you’re in the habit of getting enough sleep, your long-term health will be in significantly better shape and running at the top of your game will be much easier.
3) In Sight, Top of Mind
Remembering to squeeze your exercise routine in can be challenging, especially if you’re new to it. Juggling a new habit on top of your professional and personal obligations is tough, so you have to take conscious steps, particularly in the beginning, to set yourself up for success. One of the things that helps is to put your workout gear in sight so that it’s harder to forget or ignore your need to run.
In endurance running, consistency is key to maximizing your performance potential. Put your gym gear in the front seat of your car, by the front door, or anywhere you’re guaranteed to see it.
4) Master Your Breath
Breathing is as important as form in endurance running. If you’re breathing wrong, you’re not running as efficiently or effectively as you could be—you’re wasting energy. Some of us make the mistake of trying to match our breathing to our gait, but in truth, we should work to match our stride to our breathing. It’s important, too, to make sure your exhale is relaxed. Breaths that are too short waste energy and can cause early fatigue.
5) Roll It Out
Foam rollers are awesome. While commonly used in yoga, they’re a great tool for runners to roll out sore and stiff muscles before a run. This prevents cramps and injuries—not to mention it feels great. Focus on your hamstrings, outer thighs, glutes, calves, and hips to get the most benefit.
6) Run Blind
You’d be hard-pressed to find a runner in this day and age who doesn’t carry something with them while they’re training. We have phones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, the works. We want the technology to measure and analyze every bit of data we can from our performance so we can chart our progress down to the last detail.
While this has merit, it can be a point of frustration and disillusionment. These devices can rob us of the joy of running in and of itself. To truly connect with your body and the experience of running, run “blind.” Leave behind your music, your GPS, your phone, your fitness trackers—at least once a week.
This is a time to just connect with your body, to think about form, and to experience running without worrying about performance. You will grow more in sync with yourself rather than pushing for an arbitrary goal.
What strategies have you employed to improve the quality of your runs? Tell me your experiences in the comments.