Feeling a little complacent in your running journey? You're not alone. Check out these 5 ways you can challenge yourself as a runner to improve your performance and have more fun along the way.
1. Don't just run (cross-train!)
If you want to become a better runner, try adding other forms of exercise into your routine other than just running. Cross-training with exercises like cycling, swimming, or strength training allow you to improve your fitness while decreasing your risk of injury. It's up to you to decide what type of cross-training works best for your needs, but I suggest finding an activity or activities that include:
- Core strengthening: your "core" compromises the muscles in your torso and hips that help you maintain good posture, create movement and power, and stay balanced. A strong core helps you run in a more upright, controlled fashion. This means you save energy by reducing excessive movement from your arms and legs. Not sure where to start? Check out our app or coaching services for a whole library of strength training workouts that target your core and the rest of your body.
- Balance: Not every cross-training workout needs to be intense, especially when paired with a high mileage or an intense week of running. Constantly pushing your body to the limit can be a recipe for injury and burnout. You can still reap the benefits of many forms of cross-training without going "all out" each session. A gentle yoga class or an easy bike ride, for example, may be exactly what your body needs.
2. Warm up and cool down
Although it might not seem that important, spending an extra 5-10 minutes to warm up and cool down before and after each workout can make a big difference in your running performance.
Warming up helps you get more out of your workout and reduce the risk of injury. While warming up, avoid static stretches that hold a position for 30 seconds or longer. Instead, opt for more dynamic stretches such as knee hugs, butt kicks, and walking lunges that move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion and slowly increase your heart rate.
Cooling down helps begin the recovery process. Bring your heart rate down with 5-10 minutes of light jogging or walking, then stretch for a few minutes. After runs, it's important to focus on stretching your hips, legs (quads, hamstrings, calves), and butt.
3. Add variety to your runs
The easiest way to get yourself in a rut is doing the same workout over and over again. Adding variety to your runs will not only add more excitement, but also help you challenge different muscles and energy systems. Here are a few ways to add more variety to your runs...
- Try a new route. Ask your running buddies or a local running group for recommendations. You can also check out websites and apps that let users publish routes, such as Strava or Great Runs (just be sure to always run where you feel safe).
- Climb some hills. Love 'em or hate 'em, hills are great for building leg strength, power, and mental stamina. If you live in a flat environment, crank up the incline on a treadmill for a few intervals, or get creative with empty parking garages and ramps (always look out for cars).
- Play with speed. Speed workouts may seem intimidating to some runners, especially when words like "fartlek" and "tempo run" are thrown around. If you're new to speed workouts, I recommend starting out with "strides." These short, swift bursts help you practice faster running and can incorporated into your everyday runs. To try these on your next run, gradually increase your speed and intensity for about 50-100m before returning to a normal, relaxed pace. Repeat several times for a great introductory speed workout!
4. Set a performance goal
In the fitness world, aesthetic goals like a "flat stomach" are very popular. While everyone is entitled to their own goals, I suggest aiming for a performance-related goal such as running a faster 5K or finishing your first half marathon.
Why set a performance goal?
- They are more objective and easier to measure
- They are easy to break into smaller, more manageable steps
- They focus on what your body is capable of doing instead of what is "wrong" with it (therefore creating a more positive mindset to train in)
- They encourage healthier habits. Instead of starving to "look" a certain way, you are encouraged to fuel your body for optimal performance.
5. Get involved with your running community
Running doesn't have to be a solo sport. Engaging with your running community can help keep you motivated and inspired on the run. A running community can also be a resource for training, support, and staying aware of current events/races. Here are some ways you can get involved...
- Join a local running club or group
- Volunteer at races
- Support your local track clubs, cross country teams, and organizations like Girls on the Run
- Shop at your local running store