1. Start slow. This one’s basic, and it works every time. Ease into your runs and pick up the pace only when you feel warmed up. Johnny Kelley, who completed 58 Boston Marathons and won two of them, starts each run by walking. You think this is a tip useful only for old-timers? Kelley has been walking to start his workouts for half a century. “It’s a secret I picked up from the Finns,” he says with a smile.
2. Ignore peer pressure. When running in a group, don’t get lured into always running a hard pace. Run your pace—-and ask them to do the same if they’re willing. Hint: If you want to run with faster runners now and then, rest the day before as a “mini-taper.” Then treat the workout almost like a race. Warm up before they arrive, then go for it.
3. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. When she finds running difficult and gets frustrated, Marie Nuzzi of Albertson, N.Y., reminds herself of people who are unable to run even as slowly as she does. “I think about people who can’t run a step,” says Nuzzi, “and it reminds me of how lucky I am to have two legs that function.” Nuzzi has dedicated countless miles to actor Christopher Reeve.
4. Pick scenic courses. Maybe it’s a sense of ennui from running the same route day after dreary day that makes running seem difficult. Find some local beauty spots. Head to the park. Run on the beach. Seek soft surfaces. A change of scenery can do wonders for your mental outlook. You’ll be so focused on the new surroundings, you won’t even notice the minutes flying by.
5. Run away from home. Vacations and business trips are excellent occasions for finding new and scenic running routes. Call ahead to locate the best areas for running. Or click on “Travel” on the Runner’s World Web site for running routes in different cities. Bill Wenmark, a coach from Deephaven, Minn., recommends carrying a bag with running gear in your car in case you want to stop for a workout whenever you come upon a scenic running spot.
6. Find an internal rhythm. Think about your favorite music while you run, whether Mozart or Metallica. Try to recall lyrics to entire songs and sing them out loud. (A standard 5-minute rock song will carry you through a half-mile or more.) One runner I know memorizes poetry before heading out so he can recite it to himself while running. (His favorite: Pushkin.)
7. Run different paces. Not only on different days, but also in the same workout. Slow down. Speed up. Moving faster sometimes forces you to concentrate on form and actually makes the run feel easier, even while your pulse rate is climbing. Taking a water-fountain break and stretching briefly can rejuvenate you as well.
8. Vary your workout times. One day, David Greenfield of Evanston, Ill., missed his usual morning run, so he ran in the evening, an hour after dinner. “It was the best run I had had in a long time,” Greenfield recalls. “It made me realize that I might have more energy in the evenings.” Or it may simply have been the change that did it for him.
9. Run without a watch. Wearing a watch can create pressure to perform on every run, which infringes on the freedom and enjoyment that running brings. You don’t have to run a set number of miles. You don’t have to run a precise pace. Once in a while, simply head out the door and run whichever way your impulses suggest.
10. Let your heart beat freely. The heart-rate monitor is a great training tool, but some runners become so dependent on it that they forget what it means to run by feel. Others compute their maximum heart rates too high, so every “monitored” run is faster than it’s supposed to be. Our point: Don’t let your heart-rate monitor control your running.
11. Avoid streaking. There are plenty of other things to obsess about (money, the job, the squirrels infiltrating your birdfeeder), so don’t go overboard with your running. (British runner Ron Hill has run every day for 33 years, but there aren’t many Ron Hills out there.) Days off are essential, particularly during super-busy periods, or when you’re not getting enough sleep.
12. Make running your oasis. Michelle Campbell of Waukesha, Wis., is the mother of three young children. “I’m constantly at their service,” says Campbell, “changing diapers, fixing meals, getting them dressed.” Running is her oasis, her time to be free. Knowing this makes every workout a joy because she knows it is “my time to do nothing but run. My mind is at ease.”
13. Run with someone. Again, this one’s so basic we almost left it off the list. But it’s so important we had to include it. Run with people who are slower; run with people who are faster. Run with your wife. Run with your boyfriend. When discussing work or the kids or the latest political news, you’ll forget about all those miles you’re covering.
14. Get a dog. Can’t find a companion willing to join you at 4:30 a.m.? Try running with a dog. My daughter, Laura Sandall, who lives in Plymouth, Minn., recently went that route. Dogs don’t wear watches, so they don’t mind getting up early for a run. (Then again, they get to go back to sleep when you have to go to work.) And they have more energy than you can shake a stick at.
15. Deck yourself out. I know it sounds vain, but it works. Looking good out there can really give you a mental boost, which is going to make the effort seem easier. So get yourself a great-looking, color-coordinated running outfit that you enjoy wearing.
16. Eat more. Many runners—particularly women—don’t consume enough calories to support their running habit. If running seems difficult, you may not have enough fuel in your tank. Certain low-carbohydrate diets promoted for weight loss are disastrous for endurance athletes. A quick-energy snack an hour or so before you run can also help.
17. Create an incentive list. Keep this list handy and pick from it every once in a while. Some people always have incentives they’re aiming for. When you reach a certain mileage, weight or performance goal, reward yourself. Treat yourself to a night out, a massage, a manicure or a weekend getaway.
18. Get a massage. Speaking of massages, I can’t think of a better way to make running easier. I routinely schedule a sports massage every other week, and more often if something hurts, or if an important race is coming up. Massages are good for repairing sore muscles and preventing injuries. And they just plain relax you.
19. Do it yourself. Can’t fit in a once-a-week massage? Self-massage works well, too. Taking even 30 to 40 seconds to knead your feet or calf muscles before heading out the door can really make a difference. Try making this part of your warmup.
20. Strengthen those quads. The quadriceps muscles are essential for lifting your legs off the ground, and for protecting your knees against pounding. Don’t overlook the quads when you do your strength training. Lowell Weil, D.P.M., a podiatrist from Des Plaines, Ill., suggests a simple isotonic exercise you can do seated at your desk. Put one ankle over the other, then lift and straighten the lower leg 10 times. Do several sets with both legs. (You should feel the burn above the knee.)
21. Visualize your run. Skiers, bobsledders and luge athletes have this one down. They do the course in their minds before heading downhill. It helps them relax and allows them to rehearse where they’re going. Visualization also works in running—both in races and workouts. Gwen Heist of St. Charles, Mo., visualizes herself flying over the ground. “I also imagine myself racing the Kenyans,” she says, “and trying to match their smooth style.”
22. Learn yoga. Yoga is a great way to relax, stretch and get stronger. Katy Dunn of Raleigh, N.C., took a class in yoga as a way to improve her running. And it’s true, as any coach will tell you: to run well, you need to run relaxed. “I feel like I can fill my body with oxygen by sitting in a relaxed position and breathing deeply for several minutes,” says Dunn.
23. Go back to school. Enroll in a training program. Sign up for a summer running camp. Hire a coach or personal trainer. Even veteran runners can learn new lessons about their running by doing this.
24. Take a cold shower. Not after you run—before! Especially in hot weather. Studies show that a lengthy bath or shower in cold water lowers body temperature and keeps it lower during a run. This means your body’s cooling mechanisms won’t have to work as hard, and the run will feel easier.
25. Run with an agenda. Bird-watch. Identify tree or flower species you pass. Count out-of-state license plates. Look for coins. One runner in my hometown runs with a trash bag and picks up cans off the road. Not only does he remove unsightly litter and recycle the cans, but he also makes money when he turns them in.
26. Have an out-of-body experience. Hover over your own body on the running path and turn on that remote video camera. Imagine TV viewers looking at you, thinking, “Wow, she’s fast. Smooth form!” The power of suggestion goes a long way. And once you “see” yourself running, think about what you can do to run even smoother and look even better.
27. Think metric. A kilometer is slightly more than half a mile, so kilometers pass much more quickly on a run than miles do. It’s definitely time to mark off your favorite courses in kilometers rather than miles.
28. Run point to point. You see more scenery if you run from point A to point B. Plus, there’s a sense of accomplishment; you’ve actually done something more than run in a circle. Some runners run to work one day, then home the following day. Others shop with their spouses, then run home. This sort of thing takes a little planning, but it’s worth it.
29. Run a crooked course. Runner’s World editor Amby Burfoot prefers courses that twist and turn as often as possible. (Run with him, and it’s either hang on to his pace or bring a map so you can find your way home.) The big advantage here is that you never have to stare at long straightaways that seem to go on forever.
30. Stop and stretch. Stretching works best after your muscles are warmed up. So, 5 to 10 minutes into the run, stop for a stretching break. Pick a scenic spot if possible. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel invigorated once you start up again.
31. Wear the right shoes. Running will not feel easy if you’re in the wrong shoes. Plain and simple. For help in choosing the right pair, consult the quarterly RW Shoe Guides and seek out a specialty retailer, where the employees are knowledgeable about running.
32. Have a plan. Some people respond better to planning, others to spontaneity. If you’re the planning type, sit down on Sunday night with a calendar and schedule your workouts for the week. Include where and when you’ll be running, who you’ll be running with and the pace and distance you’ll be tackling. Then, when it comes time to run each day, you’ll know exactly what to do.