1 Watch your footing
‘Make sure your heel strikes the ground first, rather than the ball of your foot,’ advises Sajjad Afzal, a podiatrist to UK athletes. ‘Run smoothly and rhythmically.’ If you hit the ground with the side or the ball of your foot, it will roll. This has a domino effect on the rest of the body and can cause common running injuries such as shin splints, ‘runner’s knee’ and back pain.
2 Be style conscious
See a specialist to improve your running style. It could be a coach or a podiatrist, but even a member of staff in a good running shop will be able to analyse the way you run and offer tips.
3 Get pumping
Move your arms more. ‘If your arms go forward, your knees will go forward – that’s how our bodies are made,’ says personal trainer John Munroe. ‘If you have a bigger range of movement with your arms, your legs will have a greater movement too. And if you move your arms really quickly, your legs will move really quickly!’
4 Judge your pace
It may sound obvious but if you want to run a fast marathon or 10k race, you first have to learn how to judge your speed and maintain consistency. ‘Paula Radcliffe knows by the way her foot strikes the ground how fast she is running and will hit that mile marker at five mins 15 secs, or three to four seconds either side of that, every time,’ says Munroe. ‘Start by running three eight-minute miles in a week. The next week try to beat that. If you do this you’ll get quicker.’ Over a period of time you will learn to work out your speed.
5 Be progressive
Don’t train too hard too soon. If you do you will increase your risk of injury or plain, simple fatigue. Many newcomers give up because they’ve tried to go too far, too fast and have failed.
6 Work it!
That’s no excuse to slack. Work hard and remember that you get out of running what you put in.
7 Test yourself
Compete in races as part of a plan to gauge fitness, progression and race pace. Putting races in your calendar will also force you to train harder.
8 See the bigger picture
Don’t ignore the rest of your body. Running doesn’t just require strong legs and a good pair of lungs. To hold your body in the right running posture over the distance requires strong core stability. Do a weekly session of circuit training to make sure the whole body is getting a workout. A session should include press-ups, crunches, jump squats, burpees, reverse curls, split jumps and running on the spot with high knees.
9 Lift weights
Do resistance training, too. Machine exercises that will help your running include leg extensions, leg presses, hamstring curls, shoulder press and abduction work. Do three sets of between ten and 12 reps.
10 Shake up your training
Try Fartlek training. Developed in the 1930s, this is a less structured form of interval training, and something you can easily do while out on your runs. The idea is to run flat out, jog for a while, then sprint again. If you want something a little more structured try this programme, devised by personal coach and ex-international long jumper John Munroe. Pick two trees about 30 metres apart. Run 60 per cent of your top speed or maximum heart rate and jog back. On the second go, run at 70 per cent and jog back and then at 80 per cent and then back to 60. Do this for ten minutes.
11 Go hill running
The only way to improve your running fitness is to stress the lungs and your muscles – and there’s no better way to achieve this than on an energy-sapping hill. Run up at three-quarter pace, jog down, run up at three-quarter pace, jog down… you get the idea.
12 Be careful out there
Do everything within your power to avoid injury. Start your sessions with a light jog or a few minutes on the treadmill. Then warm up gently. Run hard during your workout and cool down fully afterwards.
13 Raise those knees
Avoid injury too by practising ‘functional mobility exercises’. Examples are high knee walking, high knee cantering and lunging. These will help your ‘running muscles’.
14 Know your heart
Work out your true maximum heart rate (MHR). The standard way to work out the rate is to subtract your age from 220 but if you’re serious about training, there’s a much better way. After a warm-up, run for three minutes as hard and as consistently as you can, then rest for two minutes, and then run again for three minutes at your max. Count your heart rate. This is your true MHR. Unless you’re a beginner and you’re still building up your fitness levels, run at between 75 and 87 per cent. ‘This will give you the greatest fitness benefits,’ says Munroe.
15 Keep a record
Be anal – start a training log, whether it’s on a notepad or a computer. It’s a good way to boost confidence because it shows a series of quantifiable gains – or it will if you’re doing everything right.
17 Partner up
Running becomes much easier when you have a friend to spur/nag you on.
Drink even if you’re not thirsty. ‘The body has a poor thirst mechanism,’ says Adam Mead, senior dietician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London. ‘When you’re thirsty it’s already too late. If there’s even a five per cent drop in hydration levels your performance will tail off.’