Many people have dreams or goals when they first set out down a road to a healthier lifestyle. It becomes a very natural goal for many people to "lost 40 pounds and run a 5k" or "do a mini-triathlon", etc. Many people end up catching the "bug" as well, really gaining a deep interest in running and distance-type events.
I, myself have always played sports growing up and even competed in some short-distance track and field growing up, but have never considered myself to be a "runner". I have even played soccer nearly my entire life which involves quite a lot of running, but I have always felt that soccer had more of a purpose. Whether I was chasing down a ball, or sprinting to try and score a goal, there was always a purpose to running in soccer.
Distance running, on the other hand, always seemed kind of boring to me. "You mean you just run for an extended period of time...usually ending up in the same place you started at? What's the point in that?!?" It wasn't until I completed my first 5k a few years ago that I really started to feel a deeper interest in the sport.
Last summer, I spent about 15 weeks total, running 3 times a week leading up to my very first half-marathon (21km). During my training and subsequent race, I developed this love for running. Everything about it is so peaceful. Just you, the path you choose to take, and your body to take you there! As I said, I am by no means a seasoned veteran when it comes to distance running, but I can at least appreciate the love for this sport that so many have.
This year I am training for the same half-marathon again and am hoping to better my time from last year by building on my training strategies and goals from last year.
Below is a list of tips and strategies I have developed from my own experience as well as studying towards my CSCS certification that I am sure can help many of you out.
Embrace the Hills - Hill running (or sprinting) recruits many more muscle fibers and can have a drastic strength increase in your legs. Not only that, but it increases your power so that each power stroke during your stride can propel you forward further and more efficiently when running on flat terrain. Not only that, but most of the time after you run up a hill, you must then come down a hill which has its own training benefits. Your legs have to adjust and accept different force loads when jogging downhill. Also, running downhill increases your stride frequency which is also a great training tactic as well. Using hills can therefore increase your stride power and frequency improving your overall form and technique!
Under Your Center of Gravity - Many people make this mistake and it can be a tough one to shake. After each leg "pushes off" during its stride, your knee bends and your leg sets back into position for another "push". For many people, their foot lands out in front of them which can actually cause a braking effect slowing your forward momentum by having your heel drive into the ground. Instead, try and land your foot directly underneath your body as you run so that you are constantly pushing your power stroke from directly underneath you, backwards. This way, you don't compromise your forward inertia and can improve efficiency.
Bookshelf - I remember reading this tip a while back and have felt that it has helped me quite a lot. As you are running, picture a book shelf a few inches above your head. You want to try and minimize your vertical "bounce" when you are running so that you can focus your momentum and power forward in a horizontal plane. You are wasting far too much energy if you "bounce" during every stride.
Quick Feet - Another tip that I felt has improved my technique is aiming for a fast stride. This is where that downhill running comes in handy. Many people take these long, drawn-out clunky strides, when they would be much better off take shorter, quicker strides. Your muscles have natural elastic properties to them, so by shortening up your stride, you are conserving energy and allowing the natural "spring" of your muscles to do most of the work in moving you forward. Just try and think of yourself running on hot coals, you want your feet touching the ground for as little time as possible!
Stay Relaxed - Your face should be relaxed, jaw un-clenched. Your legs should be moving free throughout their range of motion. Elbows at 90 degrees, with the prime axis of rotation being through the shoulder. Your hands should also be relaxed in a loose grip. Picture yourself holding on to potato chips or something fragile in both hands. Basically, if different parts of your body are tense, that is wasted energy being expelled on holding your hands in a fist, or gritting your teeth, etc.
Tight Core Though! - On an opposite note from the previous tip, your core should be strong and rigid throughout your run. By keeping your body erect with head up high and shoulders back, you allow the lungs to be open to accept more oxygen, but you also allow your body to operate in a more harmonious way (long story).
Get Past the First Few Minutes - I hear many people saying the same thing over and over again. I am in really good shape, but I am dead after running for just a few minutes. I am the same way on every single run I go on. The first few minutes is the time when your body is just starting to get all of its machinery in motion and is usually when I feel the most fatigue and "drag". Once I get into the run for a bit though, and my body starts warming up, it truly is remarkable to feel your body go into its "auto-pilot" mode and just sort of cruise along at a steady pace!
Running may not be for everyone initially, but I promise you, the human body was meant to run, especially for fairly steady intensities over long periods of time. Give it a shot (a good effort over many weeks) and you may just surprise yourself as to how much you enjoy it...I know I did!