Running sounds simple – you just put one foot in front of the other and try to do it faster each time – but, there’s a lot of advice that comes with something so simple. Some of it is good, some of it is bad – and some of it improves your running forever.
The tips here aim to help do that last one and, for various reasons are among the best running tips I’ve ever heard – so I decided to put them all in one place to help you.
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They come from coaches, from books, from scientific studies from other runners and, from me.
Now, you might be wondering what background have I got to give you guys advice about running? Well, not only do I spend all day interviewing experts whose advice I’ve picked up by osmosis, before I got too injured, I ran a lot.
I’ve done 29 half marathons, two full marathons – and the Goofy Challenge which sees you run a half marathon one day and a full marathon the next – along with all the training miles that come with that.
I think that gives me the right to give a little bit of advice for myself!
The tips that follow are a mix of total beginner tips and those to help refine things for more experienced runners. If you’ve got anything to add, feel free to put them in the comments…
These are the tips to use on your training runs to make them more effective – or just more fun!
1. Don’t Start Off Too Fast/Far
You might have heard this one before, but that’s because it’s so important.
If you start your first run sprinting or go from zero to 5km overnight, you’ll likely run out of puff and/or everything will hurt.
Even if you exercise in other ways and so are fit, running uses different muscles and so, you need to build up.
Set a goal, achieve it and then add about 10 per cent time, distance or intensity onto your next run – once that gets easy, got up by another 10 per cent.
2. Always Run Up the Hills
‘You can recover going down them.’ I got this bit of advice from Karen Justice, a friend I used to run with in New Zealand.
Auckland is hilly and I’m not a fan of hills, but she’d say this as she powered up towards the top of them as I grumbled behind her.
The theory is that running uphill strengthens you mentally and physically so if you can do it, you should – the sense of achievement at the top is also pretty special.
Even though I still hate hills, it’s something I always try and do, particularly on the short sharp hills.
3. Time on Your Feet Is What Counts
Another tip from one of my New Zealand running buddies, Arian Vitali. Her theory was that even if you have to walk sometimes on a run, you’re still getting the miles in and that’s what matters.
4. Unless You Want to be out There All Day, You Have to Work on Your Speed
This one came from personal trainer Dean Hodgkin when I met him at Ragdale Health Spa (more years ago than I want to count).
Despite Dean being one of the most respected voices in the industry, admittedly, this one I haven’t managed to integrate into my own training yet and I am out there all day but it’s always stuck with me.
5. Sprint the Last 100 Metres
Or even the last ten, of every training run.
If I can do that I know I’ve got more left. That gives me the confidence to up my mileage next week.
6. Colour Code Your Runs
This tip comes from top running coach Jenny Hadfield that I like as it builds in speed without too much stress.
She suggests you divide your run into three colours – and over the week, or even individual runs mix them up so you’re getting a little of each. What are the colours?
Yellow – you can talk without difficulty
Orange – you can speak but only short sentences
Red – forget talking, you need to breathe.
7. Pick Your Feet Up
I was once lucky enough to interview two-time Olympic Marathon Runner and Commonwealth Medallist Liz Yelling (yellingperformance.com) – and she was kind enough to allow me to publish some of our conversation on here.
I was talking to her about ways to run faster – and I had said that I’d been told that I was far slower than I should be considering my genetic makeup. She suggested I, therefore, try one simple thing.
Try to lessen the amount of time my feet spent on the floor.
So, not actively try and increase my pace in any way, but instead just focus on picking up my feet a bit faster. So I did…..
And yes, it does work. In fact, everything about your stride changes when you try it. I found I was having to lift my knees higher, I couldn’t slump into my run – and yes, I did go quicker.
In fact, it was like doing a mini little intervals workout but without focusing on changing my speed – there was puffing. Quite fascinating – but there again I suppose you don’t get to win shiny medals and run in the Olympics without knowing a trick or two.
8. Pinch Your Butt if You Need to Pee
Ever had that moment where you’re out running and start to feel the need to pee try ‘pinching your bum cheek to distract you,’ says personal trainer, Anna Ferguson, from Fusion Fitness.
You’ll find this – and lots of other tips you didn’t know you needed on this post on all things to do with running and peeing!
Oh, and if you’re thinking that maybe, pinching really isn’t going to help – you’re going to want to have a look at the Modibodi range of undies above!
9. Match Your Breath to Your Stride
I picked this tip up from the book Running a Marathon For Dummies.
Apparently doing so correctly decreases the amount of energy you expend with each step – which is important over distances like a marathon where you want to conserve as much energy as possible.
They, therefore, recommend you should aim to take 3-4 steps per breath if you’re on a long slow run and decrease that to two steps per breath if you’re doing speed work. Also, aim to exhale as your foot hits the ground.
10. Look for Patterns
I couldn’t work out why every so often I’d have the most awful run – and then I realised, it happened the night after I ate curry.
I don’t know what it was but I really noticed that those days my legs were heavy and it was like there was nothing in the tank.
So, when I was seriously training I swapped my curry night for after long run day.
Look at what affects your running. Do you run better in the morning or afternoon? Do you like running on an empty stomach or need fuel? Can you run on bananas or do they repeat on you the whole 2 hours you’re out there (me again)?
Oh, and does anyone else now really want a curry after seeing that pic above?
11. Check Your Shirt When You Stop
Everyone loses salt in their sweat, but, if you notice salt lines around sweat stains on your clothing – or, feel salt in your eyebrows or have sweat that stings if it gets into your eyes this is a sign that you lose a lot of salt in your sweat which could mean you dehydrate faster than other folks.
Try using electrolyte replacement rather than just water and see if you feel better.
12. Lead From the Hips
I alluded to an injury above. Four years ago I stuffed up my knee and even now we still don’t quite know how to fix it completely which has seriously messed with my running … but, during my treatment, my physio told me to try this and it completely changes how heavily you hit the ground.
The ideas is you run as if your hip bones were leading you forward rather than knees. I find it lifts my whole body up, lightens my stride and stops me slumping forward into the run.
Bonus, this creates a more upright posture that might also stop you getting stitch.
Professor Darren Morton from Australia’s Avondale College of Higher Education is the king of stitch research and he says that slumping can irritate nerves in the upper spine that then feed into the abdominal wall. And that irritation can trigger stitch. A straighter posture might stop stitch happening.
13. Pretend You’re Holding a Crisp
Another tip from New Zealand – in this case, from a Masters Runner Gary Retigan who also runs the brilliant Rat Race in Auckland and devoted many hours trying to help me (and many others) run faster.
He says the more tension there is in your body when you run the more effort you expend and the faster you’ll tire – if you’re gripping your fists as you run, you’ll create tension in your hands, arms and shoulders, so instead try and run with your thumb and forefinger together as if you were holding a crisp and didn’t want to crush it.
14. Run Back Faster
Not every time you go out, but every few runs try and do what’s known as a negative split. This is where you run the second half of your run faster than the first and it can really help you improve your times.
If that’s the first time you’ve heard that term and want to gen up on more runners lingo, then check out this Run Speak Dictionary which explains lots of terms you might hear runners use.
‘Your run is not finished until you have stretched. Your muscles get tight during and after running. Stretching after every run helps to prevent injury, and decrease muscle tightness. It also improves your running performance, flexibility and comfort,’ says regular runner Clara from the Petite Capsule blog.
One of my favourite stretches is a hamstring stretch. Stand with your right leg just in front of your left leg, and put your hands on your hips. Keeping your right leg straight and toes pointing up, bend your left leg. Bend towards your right leg, keeping your back straight. If you can, use your right hand to try to touch your toes. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the left leg.
Kit and Gadgets
They say that running is a free sport – but, for a free sport, there’s a lot of gizmos, gadgets and kit you can buy if you want to! Here are some tips to help with that…
1. Make a Note When Buying Trainers
When you buy a pair of trainers, write down the model number and size, otherwise, by the time you decide you love them – and you want to replace them, you won’t be able to work out exactly what type or size they are and you’ll have to start again finding a new pair you love.
Learned this one the hard way.
2. Buy Last Season’s Colours
You can save an absolute fortune on shoes buying last year’s colours from outlet malls or sales online.
This is also where having that model number comes in very handy as you can see what’s in stock online.
3. Learn the Lace Lock
If you can’t quite find a shoe that fits exactly, tying your trainers a different way can help. It’s called a lace lock and it uses the hole on the top of your trainers to help fit a slightly too big shoe on your foot more tightly.
4. Don’t Put Up With Squeak
If you have to wear orthotics or other inner soles in your trainers they can start to squeak.
If they do, sticking some moleskin between orthotics and the heel of your shoe can stop your insoles moving and squeaking.
You’ll find full instructions and some other ways to stop your orthotics squeaking here.
5. Shoe Shop at the End of The Day
Your feet are going to swell when you run – so, shop after you’ve walked around for a bit.
Take the socks you normally use to run in – and, actually run around the shop for a bit with the shoe on.
Shoes can feel very different when you run in them.
6. Stash Your Stuff Correctly
If you’re running holding your phone it actually changes your arm movement in a way that can slow you down.
Even the holders that attach around your arm can alter things slightly – ideally, you want to carry your phone around your waist.
There’s different ways to do this. We took a look at all of them in this post on how to run with your phone (properly).
Or, check out my review of the Flipbelt, which I love for shorter runs, here.
7. Do Not Use Softener on Your Kit
If you’ve got expensive running kit, fabric softener can reduce the wicking potential increasing your risk of chafing. Leave it out of your kit wash.
Check out other mistakes you might be making caring for your kit here.
8. Get a Good Sports Bra
Yes, you’ve heard that one before – but did you know that not having good boob support could lead to knee problems and even slow you down. See more here.
9. Don’t Start With Really Expensive Shoes
You might decide you hate running and then you’ve wasted cash – or, your very expensive shoes might not suit your feet.
Just start with a good simple pair of basic running shoes (my first ones were Reebok Classics, I then went up to Nike Pegasus).
But won’t I get injured you’re asking?… No. According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine runners had the same risk of injury in fancy shoes as neutral ones.
Decide if you like running, then if you do, go to a running store and talk with them about what might suit your feet and running style best.
10. Replace Your Shoes Regularly
Shoes don’t last forever – on average you should replace them every 500km.
A good sign that yours are due for retirement is if the tread on the soles looks worn out, or if when you put them on a table and look at the back of the shoe, either sole is not flat to the tabletop.
11. Consider Swapping to Bone Conduction Headphones
A good playlist can work wonders at keeping you moving, but music does block out the outside world.
These headphones offer a happy compromise.
They don’t sit over your ears but rest on your cheekbones – result, you hear the world around you AND your running playlist.
To see more about them, check out this post.
Even if you love running, there are going to be some days where you don’t want to go or can’t get into a routine – these tips help.
1. Plan Your Runs
If you only run once a week, it’ll be hard to improve. ‘Running will only help you to get fit if you go regularly and make it a habit. This is the only way to build up muscles and improve your general fitness and endurance,’ says regular runner Vicki who runs the blog, Sweetvidahome.com
‘It is, therefore, crucial that you start running as a regular or even daily routine. At the beginning of the week, you can already think about when exactly you would like to go for a run. You can also choose a running buddy with whom you meet regularly to run. So you can motivate and hold each other accountable to keep going.’
2. Get a Training Diary
Writing your daily sessions in a diary is another great way to make running a habit – but don’t just write down when you’re running.
Write where, what you want to work on – and afterwards note down how you felt, what went well (and anything you might want to work on next time).
This helps keep you focused… and for an extra power boost, check out the Daily Greatness Training Journal. It lets you plan your workouts, but also offers weekly motivational tasks to keep you on track.
3. Lay Out Your Gear in Advance
‘If you’re just building the running habit — or occasionally feel a bit lazy —putting out all your gear in advance will make it much easier to actually get out there,’ says runner Olivia who runs the blog Happy in the Hollow.
‘It’s one less bit of resistance to overcome when you’re getting up in the morning or coming out of work. Your running shoes by the door will become a trigger that signals that it’s time to go!’
4. Don’t Only Listen to Music
A running playlist can keep you motivated, but ‘you’ll be surprised how experimenting with listening to something new can help motivate you to run,’ says blogger Michelle from Bliss by Balance.
‘If you normally listen to music, try switching it up with an audiobook or podcast.
Long chapters or episodes that you don’t want to stop listening to can motivate you to run even further and make your runs feel easier.
If you enjoy music, try an audio training plan, which can layer in motivating instruction to help with your running performance.
If you haven’t tried it before, test out a short run listening to nothing. Embracing your environment, especially if it is a beautiful day, can be very reflective.’
Michelle has more running tips over at her blog, so, once you’ve finished here, check out some more running motivation tips from her here.
5. Find Your Perfect Pace
I talked a lot about improving speed in the training tips, but you don’t need to go fast to be a runner (said the person with the 6 hour marathon time) and I’m not the only runner who thinks that. Listen to this fantastic tip from Beth from Scraps of Five.
‘After being a runner all my life, I realised only recently that I didn’t actually enjoy running. So, one day, I decided to run slower. Over 1 minute slower per kilometre than I used to run.
This helped my running in multiple ways. Firstly, running felt easy as I wasn’t pushing so hard. This meant that my legs weren’t as sore and recovery was quicker. I found I started running much longer distances because it felt easier and hurt much less. It also meant I could run more often.
Secondly, I found that I dropped some of my extra weight. I think this is because I was more in my fat burning zone by running slower. So rather than running as fast as I could in the hope of losing weight, slowing down was more effective with my weight loss.’
6. Pick The Perfect Running Buddy.
Having someone to run with can be really motivating – if you find the right person.
Know yourself – do you want someone faster than you, at the same pace as you or even, slower than you but consistent.
If the two of you have the same goals, you’ll get on fine, otherwise, it might start well, but then fizzle out as one of you gets frustrated or demoralised by the other.
If that sounds familiar, then check out this post where I come up with the best way to find a new running buddy.
7. Split Your Run Up
So you don’t want to go running for half an hour. Don’t think of it as a thirty-minute run, it’s three ten minute runs – you can even have a walk in the middle if you like. Remember, time on your feet still counts.
8. Just Go for Ten Minutes
If you’re not in the mood to run, just go for ten minutes. If you’re still really hating every second at the end of the time, you can stop – most of the time though the endorphins have kicked in and all is good.
9. Run Your Route Backwards
It’s good to vary where you run – it keeps you interested and gives you different terrain to try out.
But, if you can’t go anywhere new to run – at least run your route in the other direction every now and again. Downhills turn into uphills and you see things you’ve never seen before from the other side of the road.
So you’ve decided you quite enjoy this running lark and want to take things a bit further and enter an event – here are some tips and tricks for that too.
1. Dead Last Finish Beats Did Not Finish
Which greatly trumps Did Not Start.
This is the motto of the WISH Team, a fantastic group of runners in the US who run races around the Disney Parks – and who took me under their (fairy) wings when I also decided to run Disney.
Their theory is that it’s better to show up to a race and do your best than sit on the sofa.
It’s true, I came last my first ever half marathon, but even that felt way better than the day I decided not to turn up to an event because it was raining. That sucked! I felt bad for weeks.
2. Check the Past Results
If you’re not keen on coming last this can be a good way to see if a race is suitable for you – or whether a running club is a good fit for you.
Most races and clubs publish their times somewhere online so have a look at them.
Do they sound around the time you think you can run the distance in or, are you faster or slower than the rest of the field.
3. Jeff Galloway is Your Friend.
If, like me, you’re not a natural runner or are starting totally from scratch, but you want to run a half marathon or marathon, sign up for a Jeff Galloway training plan.
He understands ‘normal’ runners and I know many, many people who have run further than they ever thought they could using his plans.
He focuses on a run, walk, run plan where you alternate running bursts with walking recovery so you never try and do too much too soon.
4. Never Do Anything New On Race Day
It’s an old tip, but it’s one that’s repeated over and over again for a reason. The day of an event is not the day to try new clothes, new food, new drinks – you could end up with upset stomachs, blisters or nothing in the tank.
When I was travelling to the US to do the Run Disney races I would always train on granola-style cereal as I knew I’d always find that in the US – and usually at the hotel breakfast buffet.
Another cereal you find pretty much anywhere in the world is Weetabix – see more here about why that’s a good healthy breakfast choice.
I also carried my own protein shake powder – nothing makes you more nervous at customs that plastic baggies full of powder in your luggage.
5. Check the Rules
Can you wear headphones, do you need a doctor’s certificate (you will if you’re running in France and some other countries), do you need ID to pick up your race pack.
You do not want to spend heaps of time training and then not be allowed to compete, or, have a playlist of power tunes you need to get to A-B and find it’s a no-music run.
6. Find Out What Drink is on The Course
See tip one – if you’re been training with Powerade and it’s Gatorade on the course it could throw you out. Either train with what’s on the course or bring your own fuel.
7. Sleep at the Right Time
You might think that the night before the race is the most important night to rest – well, I wouldn’t stay out dancing, but chances are you won’t sleep that well, especially if you have an early wake-up call.
So, according to Gary Retigan, the night to focus on your sleep is that night before, the night before!
I always, always go to bed early that night now and never stress if I wake up on the hour, every hour the night before. Because I don’t stress, I fall straight back to sleep again and get a good night’s rest anyway.
If you want some extra sleep boosting tips, check out this post on ways to fall asleep faster.
8. Pack an After Race Bag
I have to have a second set of shoes with me to put on after a long run. I HATE wearing my trainers home. I also learned that I crave peanuts at the end of a long run because of all the sugary drinks on the course and that a wet wipe in a Ziploc bag, or a flannel you can wet with water, can be a very good idea.
Think about what you might want after a long run – food? A change of clothes? A way of freshening up and pack that.
9. Take the Short Route
You’re very unlikely to find a straight race course, there’s normally curves and corners, but if you can run the straightest line possible, even taking those curves and corners into account, you can shave 3-5 minutes off your marathon time.
This is known as running the tangents, find more on how to do it here.
10. Don’t Doubt the Taper
If you’ve been using a training plan for your first marathon or half marathon, you’ll see something strange at the end, in the last week or two you cut back the mileage a lot.
Do not panic, you will not lose your fitness, just go with it.
As the race gets closer you’ll start to feel jittery and like you’re desperate to run (known as taper madness), it’s this that gets you to the end of the race.
11. Expect to do Another One
Every time I finished a run – especially if I’d lost a toenail, had a blister the size of a small country or couldn’t bend to get my socks off at the end, I said never again…. and, then I forgot and entered another one!
So what’s the best running tips you’ve even been given or want to share? There’s a lovely comment box below just waiting for you to add to it.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.