Getting better at running can mean different things to different people, and the route to improvement can involve a huge range of tactics. No matter what form you want your improvement to take, these five tactics are easy ways to start down a path to improvement.
How to Get Better at Running
1. Set a Goal
Maybe you just want to improve your technique in order to avoid injuries and make life easier on your body.
Having an attainable goal is an important first step to improvement. I'll stress the word attainable. Making a New Year's resolution to qualify for the Boston Marathon or run an ultra-distance race might be a touch ambitious if you've never raced anything longer than a 5K. For many casual runners, the simple decision to enter a competitive event or race a longer distance for the first time can be a suitable goal. Experienced racers can look at their results and pick a time goal to train for. Having a goal -- no matter how modest -- is an easy way to measure progress.
2. Cross Train to Run Faster
One of the best things you can do for your running is to not run as much. Sound crazy? Hear me out. Instead of repeatedly stressing the same muscles and joints with extra miles, substitute core strengthening exercises for one of your runs.
Don't be afraid of the gym! Skip your run at least one day a week and put yourself through a regimen of core training exercises. As runners, we tend to get stuck in the mindset that more miles will make us faster. If you're looking to improve your running, strength training and cross training are going to provide dividends.
3. Run More Efficiently
While there's no one right way to run, improving your form will help you run more efficiently. This can be the key to improving your speed and achieving new goals. The easiest way to do this is to have a friend take a short video of you running, allowing you to examine your form and make improvements.
Start by analyzing your upper body; your shoulders and upper arms should be relaxed. Your lower arms should have a swing rate that matches your running speed, with your elbows close to the body. Run tall, but don't bounce; it creates unnecessary braking forces. Don't overstride, and focus on keeping your feet directly under your hips.
4. Run Farther
Long runs aren't just for marathon training. Adding one long run per week to your schedule offers numerous physiological benefits. It will not only strengthen your leg muscles and ligaments, but it will also help strengthen the heart by forcing it to work harder to boost blood flow to your core and extremities.
Long runs should be done anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds slower than your race pace, depending on how fast and experienced you are. Longer runs also teach you how to handle hydration and nutrition and how your body will react during half marathons and longer races.
5. Track Your Progress
One thing about running is that it's easy to track your progress with modern tools. Numerous free apps available on your smartphone can be used to track your pace. Popular apps like RunKeeper, Strava and Nike+ all have basic and premium features that provide tools to help you run better. In addition to tracking time, distance and pace, you can use them to keep track of your other workouts, as well. Alternately, you can wear a watch with a dedicated GPS unit.
Now that you understand how to get better at running, it's time to get to work! Good luck with your training and remember to enjoy yourself out there.