In this franchise, we’re digging deeper into the activities Pacers might use to hit their streak—and offering tips from the pros to help beginner and experienced exercisers alike master them. First up: What makes a strong runner?
Running sounds simple enough, right? Put one foot in front of the other, try to do it faster. But thinking of it as a more holistic experience—one where what you eat, how you think, and what gear you use matters just as much as the miles you log—is what’s going to actually make you a better runner over time. Below, tips to help you with all these aspects of running.
The key to making running effortless (or at least feel easier) is efficiency. And that begins with proper form. “Each step forward should start with picking up your knees, having a slight tilt forward from the waist, and relaxing your shoulders,” says Jessie Zapotechne, a performance coach for Adidas Runners in New York City, and a licensed creative arts therapist. P.S.: Your feet should always land under your body, not in front of it (that’s called overstriding, which can lead to injuries).
But don’t freak out if you don’t think you look like the pros. Generally, “our bodies want to move in a pattern that makes the most economical sense based on our individual structure,” says Heather Hart, an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist and RRCA- and UESCA-certified running coach. And that can look different for every runner.
Once you’ve got form dialed in, speed will come. But don’t force it—running is based on the principle of overload, says Hart: In order to improve, you need to keep challenging the body in gradual increments, which is impossible to do if you’re always going at 110 percent. A good training plan varies your running workouts, and includes speedwork, “easy” runs, and longer runs.
There’s a saying that “running is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.” That comes down to the fact that only you can choose to keep propelling yourself forward. It helps to have a good reason why you’re doing that: “Your ‘why’ can be specific to a particular goal, like wanting to run your first 5K, or something life-related, like using running to manage day-to-day stress,” says Zapotechne. “Being clear on your why will help when it’s hard to get out of bed for that morning run, or when you feel like skipping a workout, or when you’re getting into a run and it feels tough.”
There are also tricks to help you get more comfortable with the discomfort of running. Positive self-talk may make your workout feel less intense, according to research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. And “bringing awareness to your breath can be very helpful when negative thoughts arise,” says Zapotechne. Practicing mindfulness techniques for just 15 minutes a day can also help you go further before exhaustion hits, a study published in Neural Plasticity found.
Proper fueling is as important to running as training. Your body requires energy, i.e. calories, to function; the more active you are, the more calories you need (when you don’t eat enough, exercise feels harder, you’ll lose your endurance ability, and your body won’t be able to repair itself post-workout).
A good rule of thumb is the longer you have to digest before a run, the bigger the meal can be, says Hart. And if you’re running longer than 90 minutes, “endurance runners should aim to consume between 60 and 90 grams of portable carbohydrates per hour,” she adds. Carbs provide your body with the most immediately accessible form of fuel, and since you’re constantly burning them as you run, you need to replenish those stores during longer efforts. Afterwards, try to eat a combination of protein and carbs within 30 minutes to help your body kick start the recovery process, says Zapotechne.
The beauty of running is it doesn’t require a huge investment to start: All you need is a good pair of shoes (and FYI, the average spend per pair is $103, according to a survey conducted by Running Shoes Guru). Just because a shoe has a higher price tag—or a ton of social media hype—doesn’t mean it’s the best shoe for you, though. If you can, head to a local run specialty store for a gait analysis, or try shoes on an in-store treadmill. “The best shoe for you is one that fits your foot properly and gives you the support you need to train consistently,” says Hart.
Also, your activity tracker can help you stay on top of progress. If you’re looking to invest in a new one, Apple Watch can help you track distance and pace—and Paceline Card members can earn back the cost of the latest Apple Watch (up to a $429 value).2 Remember, though: You know yourself best, so always listen to your body. Another great way to invest in running is with a coach. “Hiring a pro—whether it’s a running, nutrition, mindset, or strength coach—can help you take your performance to a new level,” says Zapotechne. “They can provide a more personalized experience and help hold you accountable to your goals.” And don’t think you need to be an elite athlete to splurge on this if it’s in your budget; anyone can benefit from a coach, says Hart—as long as you’re willing to put in the work.