Help me be a better runner.
January 6, 2013 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Help me be a better runner.

After years of despising running, something has clicked within my brain and suddenly I can stomach the idea of running enough to have signed up for a 10k which I have been training for, and which I feel confident I can complete. I have done a few 5ks and a mud run before, plus I do crossfit regularly, but I've always secretly hated running.

Now, something funny is happening...I kinda look forward to my runs instead of dreading them. I'm getting stronger for sure. I'm picturing myself doing more 10ks, half marathons, even a marathon at some point, which sounds like an impossibility, but somehow as I plod the pavement, slogging up a hill, I think maybe it can happen.

What are your best tips and tricks for training? Do you ever feel yourself getting bored while on a long run, and if so how do you combat this? What phrases do you chant to yourself when you feel like your legs are made of rubber and you just want to stop but don't? And as a bonus, what is your favorite music to listen to? I use Pandora on my iPhone and listen exclusively to dubstep, which keeps me in rhythm and puts me in sort of a trance, however I am wide open to suggestions. Thanks in advance!
posted by thank you silence to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
What phrases do you chant to yourself when you feel like your legs are made of rubber and you just want to stop but don't?

I like to either enter a rhythmic loop in which I breathe in twice, then breath out twice, usually to no particular words.

And as a bonus, what is your favorite music to listen to?

I like not listening to music while running. It's peaceful and slightly safer.
posted by ignignokt at 1:48 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

No music. It interferes with your rhythm. Do you have a particular breathing pattern? Establish one. Mine is in-two-steps, out-two steps, and sometimes a deep, top off the lungs breath.

If you're bored while you're running, even if you're not listening to music, you're not paying attention to your breath and your form or your environment, which is hurting you.

Run in varied places. A new park, a new route through your neighborhood. I wander aimlessly sometimes and turn around when it seems time. If you come across something cool, go ahead and stop to look at it.

Zone out and pay attention only on your breath on that hill slog, or preferably, the whole time. Also, look at the top of the hill. When you look down, it's messing up your form and making you work harder.

As for training, don't just run as far as you can every time you run. I cycle through a short, medium and long run. I usually try to run farther than I have before in the long one, and as I do that the length of my short run creeps up.

I'm serious about cutting out the music. If you feel like you need the stimulation or the shield from the world, then the forced meditation will be good for you. It's good for you anyway. I'm a fairly advanced mid-distance runner, and don't get passed on the trail often. When I do get passed it's never by someone wearing headphones for whatever that's worth.
posted by cmoj at 2:07 PM on January 6, 2013

I get bored easily and I already swim so that's enough thought clearing in a week for me, so I listen to audiobooks while I run. Especially with a good book and on a long run day, being out there for 1.5-2 hours is a lot more bearable when I have something to listen to. If I'm doing sprints/ speed work then it's uplifting music.

As for getting myself out there:
1. I have NEVER returned from any run feeling worse than when I started. Tired, yes. Exhausted, yes. Sweaty, yes. But never bad. Remebering this fact helps me out a lot.
2. Actually, I have a pinterest board of running quotes, etc that helps me get out there (even is some of it is a little cheesy)
3. When I need a little something to keep me going, it's "focus, finish, believe." It's from the crappy football team at my Alma Mater but I like it all the same. Find something that is connected to you. (My other one is "Always steady, always kind" which was used, perfectly, to describe my grandfather at his funeral.)
posted by raccoon409 at 2:13 PM on January 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

First of all, congratulations on getting to the point where you actually enjoy running! I am training for my first half marathon (in March) so I'm working through a lot of tricks myself right now. And yes, I also prefer music with the longer distances. With the longer distances, I have surprisingly found myself listening to and helps me keep a slow(er), sustainable pace is Pink Floyd, Lorenna McKennit, Enya, sometimes Natalie Merchant and Tori Amos. Of course, YMMV. And by switching up genres, it does help keep you going and break any stretches of boredom.

As far as safety and running with music, as long as you are on a safe path with plenty of room for those to pass (always staying to the right as much as possible is the general rule) and keeping the music on a low enough volume to hear things around you -- I personally don't see everything unsafe about it.

Also, make sure to try to keep a race on the horizon, with a training schedule. Since I am a "list" person, I see it as crossing off each training day as something accomplished, not to mention helps me mentally prepare that I'll be running a certain number of miles that day or the next day or that week. Good luck and keep it up!
posted by foxhat10 at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a bit more abstract but I started liking running a lot more after I changed my running technique. I originally ran with my heel as the first thing to hit the ground, which always hurt after a while and was really like a ungraceful plod. My track coach even told me that I ran the 'wrong' way, but I couldn't figure out what he meant.

When I started to get back into running, I heard about the other common way of running, where your forefeet hit the ground first. This is what this technique looks like. It sounds stupid, but running with my forefoot hitting first (actually difficult to accomplish in normal, heavy running shoes) is so much more comfortable, and I'm faster.

It takes a bit of training because you're using different muscles, but it is so worth it and likely results in less injury. This is all moot, of course, if you run that way in the first place, but if you don't I think it's worth a shot to try it out. /spiel over
posted by tooloudinhere at 2:48 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess your question is a little unclear to me; I am going to answer the broader 'help me be a better runner' and hope that I am not too off-base.

The biggest thing is to understand the principles of training- stress and rest. Many runners fall into a trap of doing all their runs at just just about the same intensity (some doing all their running too hard, some doing all their running too easy, but never varying the pace/intensity of their runs.) 'Run more, mostly easy, sometimes hard' is a mantra you see repeated a lot in the running community but it has a lot of value. Most of your runs should be truly easy- you should be able to hold a conversation without losing your breath. Some of your runs (1-2/week, assuming you are running at least 4 times a week; if not I would stick with no more than 1/week) should have some intensity built into them.

Some examples- (always do a warmup before and cooldown after any harder running)
A- tempo runs- Run for 20-40 minutes at the pace you can race at for an hour (for many recreational runners this is somewhere around your 10K pace). You can work up to this if it is challenging now.
B- Progression runs- Start at your normal easy pace, pick it up towards the end (you can do a lot of variations on this based on what you're training for
C- Fartlek runs- these are unstructured speedwork-- run faster to the next lamppost, then easy to the next tree, for example.
D- intervals. These are structured speedwork- 4 800m repeats, with 3 minutes of rest in between, would be one example.

Structured training plans can be helpful-- I get my motivation from choosing a race, choosing a goal, and creating a plan to achieve that goal. That way when I go out on a run I know what the purpose of the run is, and I know the consequences of staying home and not doing it. If I miss a long tempo run I know I'm going to have less stamina on race day; if I miss an interval workout I know my legs aren't going to have as much speed. I am not a huge fan of the free online plans but if you're willing to buy a book or check one out of the library, Glover, Hudson, Daniels, and Pfitzinger all have good plans, and I would particularly recommend Brad Hudson's Run Faster as a good book that covers the principles of training and has good plans for all race distances and runner levels without being overly sciencey.
posted by matcha action at 2:50 PM on January 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

For me the lightbulb turned on when I realized that all my 5Ks were really just a warm up to going farther, that it actually got easier to run once I warmed up for those 3 miles. I couldn't get to that point though until I got rid of my iPod. Without the iPod I can zone out rather than focus on the song, the length of the song, changing the song... that might just be me, but I found it impossible to not fiddle with the music. Now running is the best time for me to work out ideas, make lists, and take in the scenery.
posted by greenbean at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2013

A few things.

1) If you forefoot or midfoot strike, make sure you do calf strengthening exercises apart from running. I switched my gait at someone's suggestion, and within two weeks got a bad calf injury because I wasn't careful. I love the difference, but you have to be careful.

2) What phrases do you chant to yourself when you feel like your legs are made of rubber and you just want to stop but don't? My words are my own, and I don't share them. But they have been incredibly powerful for me. Listen to those things around you that are positive and reinforcing, and then co-opt them for your motivation when you're tired, it's raining, etc.

3) I've found that reading others' stories about running gets me (more) excited to run. Runner's World magazine usually has a good one or two each issue, but you can also find things online.
posted by Gorgik at 3:53 PM on January 6, 2013

Running with other people (preferably someone supportive, patient, and slightly faster than you) is probably the best training tip I've found.

Instead of running an abstract distance, I prefer to run to actual locations, even if they aren't the exact distance that my training schedule says. I've done things like run to a drugstore eight miles away, buy a Snickers and eat it, then run back. Or run to a restaurant, rent a movie, do a single errand, etc. If you plan to run marathon distances, these things start becoming possible, unlike a 5K. And for marathon distances you will have to eat and drink to survive.
posted by meowzilla at 3:56 PM on January 6, 2013

A few things that have helped me:

I get bored on my longer runs (15km or more) - I have tried music, podcasts and audiobooks, but the best way to get through these runs in my experience is having some company. (I love running, but I have a problem with boredom on long runs so I'll be watching for other answers here).

Don't go out too hard and fast - let yourself get into a groove first.

Don't eat too much before running, but have something high in protein to eat immediately afterwards.

Buy a foam roller - when you start on longer runs (10k or more) you may start to develop various injuries (simply due to the repetitive nature of running). Runners knee, IT band, tight glutes, calf strains are all common and a foam roller can help with all of these.

When and if you decide to to train for a half marathon or marathon, Hal Hidgon has training schedules for all levels of experience. I liked these training plans because they are relatively straight forward.
posted by piyushnz at 3:57 PM on January 6, 2013

Amby Burfoot's book The Principles of Running is a lot of short simple chapters with training ideas/suggestions. The 2 page motivation chapter suggests: set realistic goals and achieve them, find a compatible running partner, enter occasional races, read inspirational stories, and find new places to run. He also advocates run-walk because you can go further, so probably if you are at the rubbery leg stage and not in a race, a short period of walking would let you run more than if you just push yourself to failure.
posted by tangaroo at 4:04 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

The absolute #1 thing that will prevent you from being a better runner is INJURY!

Running is an exercice in walking a fine line between training stress that makes you better, and training stress that kills you.

So here are a few preventive steps:

1) Figure out if you have the basic leg strength and flexibility for running - if not work on it. You should be able to
- dish out 8 sets of 15 reps of jumping squats with pretty good form (butt under your knees to start, no wobbling)
- sit on your heels on the floor with your toes tucked under your feet for a few minutes without too much discomfort
- have flexible hamstrings (you need to easily have your back past 90 degrees to your legs when those are straight, while sitting or standing with your back flat)
- have a loose IT band (can you do the pigeon pose?)

2) don't go crazy on your training - intervals and the like are great for ADVANCED runners - if you're not running 20-25 miles per week regularly for a few weeks, you need to focus on volume, not speed. I ran my half marathon PR almost 2mn per mile faster than 100% of my training runs, through volume only. Chances are you're running too fast during training. Volume will be the key to your improving.

3) even if you're running at the right speed for you (check out mcmillan's running calculator) - you don't want to go crazy with volume right away. You want to increase VERY VERY progressively your volume. Most magazines recommend a 10% increase per week - that's WAY too much. Take it easy or you will get injured.

4) Increase your volume through frequency, not by doing longer and longer runs. Typically 4-5 runs per week is the norm for someone who runs 20-25 miles per week. Don't dish out two 13 mile runs per week - you'll get injured!

To summarize: don't get injured :)

posted by Riton at 4:35 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone! I am really enjoying these suggestions. I'm a little intimidated with the whole not listening to music thing, but it seems like it may help me and not hinder me.
posted by thank you silence at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2013

I have been running for 40+ years. The best times were when I had a running partner for 5 years. it took my mind off running and allowed us to push each other . I've never read a book or done intervals but think I run fast for my age. I have never been injured despite almost daily running. My advice is listen to your body don't force it to do what it doesn't want to do. I don't stretch much either. Music is fine but I hate the weight of the phone so I don't listen often. Above all, if it's not fun, don't do it.
posted by Xurando at 5:51 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I love Podrunner for tempo-based techno beats that allow me to just run. Some of the mixes include corps-style cadence chanting which I love as it allows me to pretend I am a buff Marine running past a bunch of wannabes. Registering for future races and working toward those goals is powerful motivation and it helps make me feel like I am accomplishing something totally for myself. Many people don't do enough of that.

When you run, you can only run for you. For people with a lot of obligations dragging on their time, it's sort of subversive. On the surface, "ugh, running, yuck!" And you act like you hate it or resent it.

But guess what? It's for ME. Everything about it (almost) benefits JUST ME. Side benefit to others of me looking/feeling better, being healthy, etc. But some days, taking that hour to go run is my secret revenge on a life that often seems designed solely to run ME ragged.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Forgot to mention that after an injury a while back, I could not run for a period of years. In fact I thought I might never run again. Seeing others running made me cry. I was so bothered by this, much more than I ever would have thought. This time I am taking it slow and really appreciating the "second chance." So be careful and don't overdo it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:09 PM on January 6, 2013

Sorry to keep commenting. I need to echo what someone else said- speed does not make you a runner. Running makes you a runner. If I run 5 miles and it takes me twice as long as someone else, that does not negate my achievement. I still ran 5 miles. And I ran it with good spirits and without injury.

Music, no music... whatever works for you. Some days I don't need anything in my head but my own thoughts. Some days I need to be "helped along". Nothing wrong either way IMO. Some days when I forgot my iPod were some of my best runs. But don't worry about it. Do what you need to do.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:16 PM on January 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a new runner and recently had a breakthrough that I'd like to share.

I'd been having trouble sustaining a long run because I had my eyes on the horizon. Something about the seemingly-infinite distance left to run made me feel bored and give up quickly.

On my last couple runs I've just focused on the 5 feet of ground in front of me* and zoned out. The repetitive visual helped me get deep into my own thoughts, and I didn't really pay attention to the monotony of running anymore.

I listen to music while running (along with the Zombies, Run! app). Songs with a high bpm set a rhythm that keeps me going.

*while occasionally glancing up for traffic/hazards/other runners, of course!
posted by homodachi at 7:07 PM on January 6, 2013

Speedwork and leg muscle strengthening. Speedwork is fun for me, I basically hate running long distances so speedwork is a workout I look forward to and it also makes me faster. Which makes 10Ks go by quicker. yay for speed work.

The one thing that has most improved my enjoyment of running is doing a TON of bodyweight exercises. Like hundreds of squats of various sorts, lunges, glute (on legged deadlifts) and lower back exercises (supermans, swimmers etc). My leg muscles are stronger and more sproingy now and running is more fun, especially running downhill since I'm not stressing my joints as much.
posted by fshgrl at 7:21 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

What are your best tips and tricks for training?

Greatest, number one most important thing for long term running happiness - of all time: Do not over-train.

Injury can put your running on hold for months, years, or even forever. Always remember that your aerobic ability increases much faster than your physical endurance and tolerances. When you're cranking it, and you feel like, "hey why not crack out an extra few KM, or go a lot faster? Yeah!". That's your aerobic ability talking. Ligaments only talk under extreme duress, by which time it's too late to hear them.

The easiest way to ensure you avoid injury is finding a simple training program and sticking to it, even if you think you can do more. Hal Higdon's are a fine enough place to start - though most training programs are fine. Just steer away from the really zany, faddish ones.

Failing that, run slower than you think you should. Number one biggest tip. Other advice:

1. Get your shoes recommended by a podiatrist that specialises in runners preferably, or a proper and respected running store.

2. You can do some intervals or whatever, just keep them short.

3. Stretching before has shown no benefit in many studies, stretching after has.

4. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks of your training/running style/shoes etc. There is no one proper way to run.

5. View any fads regarding running style/gear with extreme prejudice.

6. That said, goodish form = high cadence (lots of small steps as opposed to large gallops); feet landing under your body not in front of it; head up (as if someone was pulling a string attached to the top of your head); slight tilt forward from the hips - keep that spine straight!; arms going back and forwards more than left and right.

7. Let your thirst guide you - there's no rule for hydration, but if you drink when you're thirsty, you should be right.

8. Don't be a lunatic running the heat of the day. It's dangerous.

9. I like Podrunner and groovelectric to listen to.

10. I don't have any inspirational words, but I do like to imagine I'm on Survivor and there's a running challenge, lol.

11. Run slower than you think you should, increase mileage and intensity slower than you think you should. That's the biggest thing.
posted by smoke at 7:31 PM on January 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Long story short: Ignore all the stuff about changing your stride, etc. Get to where you are running a ton of slow miles--at a pace at which you could comfortably carry on a conversation.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 9:00 PM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I run a lot despite not loving it. Here's what I do:

I switch between long, slow runs and very short, very fast runs.

When I go on long runs, I go for time out rather than distance. Run for 40 minutes, and you've probably done 5k.

I tell myself I only really have to go out for 15 minutes.

I listen to podcasts that are interesting (because I think running is boring).

I do HIIT - 40 seconds sprint, 20 seconds jog. I can't possibly think of anything but my lungs and legs. When i'm done I feel ALIVE (and like vomiting).

I change routes.

I run on dirt and grass whenever I can (which is not often, because I live in a city)

I register for the ocasional 5k (and am amazed at how easy they are!)

Finally, I do other physical activities that have nothing to do with running. I lift, I walk to work with a heavy bag on my back, I have romantic encounters. I find I like running a lot better when it's just one option on a list of activities to keep me healthy and strong.
posted by jander03 at 12:16 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Smoke has some great advice up-thread. I have to nth that a certain speed or form or what-have-you does not make you a more bona fide runner, and that it's probably best to just stick to doing whatever the hell is working for you. And I can't stress this next thing enough: always keep in mind that "being a better runner" (or a better ANYTHING, really) means different things to different people, and what works for them might not work for you.

(So let's cut straight to telling you what works for me now, shall we? Yes, we shall! Yay!)

My favorite personal example of this principle in practice: when I first started running a decade or so ago and was verrrry slowly working my way up to regular recreational 5K runs, I would pretty regularly get nudged off the trail by people pounding past way faster, or massive groups of joggers in kind of aggressive and competitive training-for-a-marathon packs. I liked running alone in the quiet, but I got lots of invites for jogging partnerships and clubs so that we could "push each other". I also got a whole lot of unsolicited but well-meaning advice on what I 'should' be doing to get 'better'. And I often found myself feeling completely deflated by runners who obviously really valued running in marathons, or achieving 8-minute miles, or pushing for ever-increasing distances, and who clearly thought I should too, because that's what running was all about. For them. Now, any of these things may or may not be what you want running to be for you. For my part, I didn't and still don't particularly care about any of that shit - personally, I want to run recreationally, by myself, in silence, at whatever damn speed or distance I feel like running that particular day, with zero pressure and maximum enjoyment, and I want to run for the rest of my life or until I can't run anymore. Running, for me, is cheap, healthy stress-and-depression relief: it's my excellent zen-like escape from the REST of my life with its lists and chatter and noise and manuals and goal-oriented everything that I 'should' be doing.

I was getting increasingly frustrated by and yet somewhat wrapped up in this seemingly ubiquitous goal-oriented dynamic of being a runner. Then one day, out for a jog, I noticed a woman who had obviously had a rather devastating stroke that had left her right side from around the waist up very stiff and contorted. And then I saw her again the next night. And the next. She ran slowly but steadily, with a loping gait, sideways-twisted torso with right shoulder leading, right arm and hand curled inward and immobile to her chest, her head hanging down, chin tilted off to the left. Every time I passed her, I was near-bursting with admiration for this woman for just being out there, doing this, again and again. And then I'd put in my second lap and go home. Then one night I stuck around after my run and walked a few more loops. And I noticed that this woman kept going for miles and miles and miles - long after my fully able-bodied self would've been SCREAMING to call it quits, and my whole personal attitude toward running was somehow solidified and deeply affirmed. She was no spring chicken a decade ago, but I still see her out there sometimes, with her slow, sideways gate and stiffened right side. She's still going. And she's still tremendously slow, and she can still run way, way farther than me. In short: I think this woman kicks my ass as a runner. I don't think of speedy marathon runners or some bolting Adonis when I think of some sort of uber-archetype of 'Runners' - I think of her. She is both my ultimate inspiration and my constant reminder to not get caught up in anything but maintaining my lucky good health and doing nothing that might endanger my continuing enjoyment of just... running. In my humble opinion, if you enjoy running, that's all you really need to do to be a better runner. Just keep running. Pay close attention to your body, and quietly keep in mind what you want out of doing this - no matter what that is, from running marathons to a quick mile with a friend. The rest really kinda sorts itself out. Just keep running. Keep feeling your body, trucking along on its own steam. Keep enjoying yourself. You're already doing great.
posted by involution at 12:51 AM on January 7, 2013 [8 favorites]

Track your runs. RunKeeper is great.

I need music to keep myself interested. I find that steady-tempo continuous mixes are best. Steady130 has some awesome ones designed specifically for runners.
posted by schmod at 7:51 AM on January 7, 2013

Core strength is key to running, as is balance. Adding in simple daily exercises will improve your form. Also, I never listen to music while I run, but when I do, I prefer Girl Talk.
posted by grateful at 8:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I listen to a ton of podcasts while running. Radiolab, Backstory, Here's the Thing, Longform, The Moth, The Nerdist, Fresh Air, On the Media, 99% Invisible, The Bugle, Bullseye, The Memory Palace, This American Life, Crime City Central, A History of the World in 100 Objects, etc.

In addition, I think that music is just fine if it works for you. When I first started running, I couldn't listen to fast-paced music because it would make me run too fast. Now I seem to be able to self-regulate a bit. Kicking on some techno music gets me through the last 30 minutes of a 2 hour, 30 minute run. I also think it helps in marathons to get me into the "fast mode" that I want to be in during the races. I would recommend Tiesto's Club Life Podcast and Paul Van Dyk's Vonic Sessions for those.

If you're running with an iPhone, I like using Downcast because it has the ability to create custom playlists. Like the poster above, I also use and recommend Runkeeper.
posted by montag2k at 12:20 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find that reading about running and watching running docs gets me excited, which helps get out there and train and become a better runner. I may not do what the people in the movies do (ie. run the Badwater), but I find it inspirational to read/watch what others have pushed themselves to.

Currently I'm reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is a pretty quick read and not at all a training guide. Just Murakami talking about running and how it relates to being a novelist.
posted by vansly at 1:32 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

A cool thing: when you're doing speedwork, look at the horizon, and imagine your inhalation is drawing it nearer. Trippy, and it gives you a few ten seconds of distraction.
posted by disconnect at 1:23 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've run for a long time, but this year I'm training with a heart rate monitor. Staying within a heart rate zone feels like being granted permission to run slow. And at this slower pace, I'm going through distances early in the season easily that would have seemed painful late last season.
posted by garlic at 12:36 PM on June 21, 2013

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