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The One Running Tip That Changed My Life

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Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

If you’re looking for a running tip, you’re sure to find hundreds; in books, podcasts, and countless running blogs by amateur runners and professional athletes—and, of course, within the running community itself. These range from motivational tips and tangible techniques to tricks for a better mindset, the ABCs of recovery, and which nutrients are guaranteed to make you run faster.

I myself have written a lot of this advice, received even more of it myself, and—admittedly—asked myself whether much of it is still worth mentioning, or whether it’s long since become common knowledge. Even among people who just keep a pair of running shoes in their closet. And then there are those recommendations that are so specific they only work for very few runners. So, which tips are relevant?

A Passion With Many Faces

I’ve been running for over 20 years – well over half my life. What started as a way of improving my endurance for equestrian sports quickly turned into a passion. In the beginning, it was out of the joy of exercising in the fresh air as well as the need to give my head a break from my school and university work. Then it was to build basic endurance for the many sports classes I taught at the university.

Later came the races, and with them the goals: 5 km under 20 minutes? 10 km under 40 minutes? A 1:30 half marathon? And how long do you actually need for cross-country runs of around 30 km, and for the marathon? Even though I only run for fun nowadays, since I first began—with the exception of two longer injury breaks—I’ve rarely gone for more than two weeks without doing any running.

During this time as a runner, I received a lot of running tips, and I’ve passed on the best of them to my clients in personal training sessions and running courses.

3 Running Tips That Changed My Relationship With Running

The most important thing I learned during this time is that running tips need to connect with us where we are mentally. Everyone needs different types of help at different times. Even though there are many tips that are correct and important, they do not work for all the people all the time.

If you’re looking for the ultimate running tip that will change your performance, attitude, or relationship with running, then you should really focus on the advice that addresses your specific problem areas.

The following 3 tips have had a long-term impact on my attitude toward running. Even though they may not sound particularly special, they have made me a better runner.

#1 Train With a Plan In other words, do alternative and balance training

I personally have never had a serious motivation or discipline problem when it comes to running. If you want to run a certain time or distance, you have to train for it. In other words: just run. So I ran with motivation, but usually without any plan. After all—I thought—I’m young, fit, do a lot of other sports, (supposedly) know what I’m doing, certainly need less recovery than others, and can therefore also increase distance and/or intensity faster. It’ll be fine.

And, of course, it wasn’t. In my first few years of more ambitious running, I immediately picked up a stress fracture—colloquially known as an overuse fracture—in my foot, and developed a strong case of runner’s knee.

After the latter was cured, I took the advice of my running colleagues seriously and trained to achieve my goals by following proper plans. This included, above all, the somewhat unpopular strength training for runners, as well as regular alternative training. And consistently taking both of them seriously.

Since then, I haven’t sustained any injuries and can increase my performance whenever I want to. To give the full picture, stretching and mobility training for runners are also part of a good plan.

#2 Run Slower to Run Longer And also: mentally run your standard route.

In the last kilometers of one of my first long cross-country runs, I was well on my way to becoming the second woman in the standings, but mentally and physically at a point where I expected my legs to explode. So I was gradually slowing down when a training colleague caught up to me in the final sprint and said “If you slow down now, it’ll just take longer to finish.”

That hit home. It was exhausting, but it was clear to me that I could continue running in a healthy way, at a faster pace, without the risk of injury. I just didn’t feel like torturing myself. Also, I had yet to consider that legs that ran slower and longer were no less likely to explode. That motivated me in a completely different way.

The same colleague then said: “All you have to do is imagine that it’s our everyday standard route to the finish line. It’s super easy!” From then on, I ran the familiar short distance in my head—which I associate with easiness and laid-back running—with the ulterior motive of not slowing down, in order to finish the whole thing as quickly as possible. My focus shifted from exhaustion to feeling motivated and enjoying running.

These two mind hacks may be mundane, but they helped me on many a tempo run as well as in countless races. To this day, both work for me every time, and not just when I’m running.

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#3 Increase Your Cadence; In Other Words, Take Smaller Steps

It’s pretty logical really, but someone still had to point this out to me. It’s permanently changed the way I approach steep climbs or the final exhausting kilometers. Running speed is the result of stride frequency multiplied by stride length. This tempts ambitious beginners to take giant steps, which are counterproductive.

Taking smaller, more powerful steps, making sure your foot strikes under your body’s center of gravity, and maintaining a high cadence save energy, increase your pace, and reduce the risk of injury associated with large steps that result in pronounced heel striking. That’s a real game changer, especially on inclines.

And finally: the ultimate tip

These days I don’t enter any races, nor do I run that many kilometers per week. My life as a yoga teacher, fitness instructor, and editor requires other priorities than running long distances several times a week. And I always preferred long to fast. Still, running has a fixed and constant place in my life. Whether I want to go back to long-distance running or really run for speed, I don’t know. Probably yes. But it also makes no difference.

Right now I’m enjoying my 4 to 6 km runs, where I have time to work on my running technique, train my feet with barefoot shoes, give the dog a personal training session, and appreciate the park. The best tip for me right now is to give yourself the time and energy to run. Running is free time in which you don”t have to do anything, so enjoy it.

That’s why the best tip I can pass on is to figure out where you’re at, why you’re running, and what you want to get out of running right now, and then find someone who can give you the advice that will help you in your situation.

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