1. Get into a routine
Resolve to run at the same time each day. In summer it might be the cool early mornings. In the colder, darker seasons it may be at lunchtime or after work or school. Pick a time that is free from interruptions, when you can relax and enjoy your running.
Once you’ve carved out slot to run, stick to it. You’ll feel better running on a regular basis rather than sporadically. In time, your mind will prepare you to run, and missing out on a run will begin to feel strange – a powerful incentive to get out there when your body is willing but your mind isn’t.
2. Keep a log
A well-kept logbook can be your greatest ally for reaching peak fitness, recording the highs and lows in your running career and being a great aid to motivation. The information you record is up to you, but normally includes training route, speed, distance, the weather and how you felt during and after the run. Some people also note what shoes they wore, their maximum heart-rate and how they compared with other runners. Women might record whether their running is influenced by their menstrual cycle.
3. Plan ahead
Get a calendar out and take some time to identify the most important part of your running and where you want to be with it in a year’s time.
Consult the race diary on this site and mark a few target events on your calendar. Then plan a training programme accordingly.
If you find scenic runs more appealing, buy an Ordnance Survey map for your area and highlight a few trails you’ve yet to explore. Even consider driving a fair way, perhaps to an area of outstanding beauty where the surroundings can inspire you to run further or faster than you’d hoped.
4. Create variety
It’s easy to get into a rut with your training, especially if you’re spending too many days running the same route at the same pace. The solution is to plan a variety of training sessions a month in advance. Plan speedwork days. Plan long-run days. Plan to run a race. Plan days for rest, cross-training or quality time with your family. With greater variety and a plan, each run will have a purpose and won’t simply be a means of satisfying your training log. You’ll soon feel fresher, stronger and faster.
5. Stay flexible
It’s great to set and achieve goals, but staying mentally flexible is just as important.
If you stay flexible you’ll be less likely to set yourself up for frustration or failure. Reassessing your goals is an important part of this.
Clever and pragmatic is often better than tough. For example, if there is a gale-force wind on the day you’d planned for your track work, reschedule it.
If you progress quickly to achieving a long-term goal, consider setting yourself a tougher objective. Likewise, if another proves to be beyond you, scale it down to one that is more obtainable. Use your goals and programme as a guide; don’t become a slave to them.
6. Make running sociable
Running solo has its place, but if you want to be running this time next year, make sure your training brings you into contact with other people as well. Join a club, find a coach, explain to your non-running partner how important running is to you. Better still, persuade them to jog the warm-up and cool-down with you. Perhaps even your dog could become a training partner.
We are social animals and like to do things together. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t run alone and neither should we.
7. Make time to run
If you use lack of time as an excuse for not running, sit down and ask yourself a few questions. Am I really working all the time I say I’m working? Can I really not get up any earlier? Do I have to potter around the shops during my lunch hour? Between one o’clock and two the RUNNER’S WORLD office is deserted, as most days we use our lunch hour to run. Once we’re back and showered we grab lunch at our desks. Remember, there always are people more busy than yourself who still manage to run every day.
8. Be proud
One barrier that keeps many would-be runners indoors is self-consciousness. If you do feel embarrassed, pick an environment where others are exercising, such as a park, bike path or fitness centre. Remember, half of all runners are over the age of 40, and a third are women. And most of them were slow and overweight when they started.
So don’t let society’s notion of what an athlete is intimidate you. Remember the words of George Sheehan: “Everyone is an athlete: the only difference is that some of us are training, and some of us are not.”
9. Expect plateaus
Your initial gains in fitness come quickly. After all, everything you do is an improvement over what you were doing when you were sedentary. But after a while – it can be as little as two or three months – you’ll hit patches in which your improvements become increasingly hard to recognise. At times, you might feel as if you’re going backwards.
Plateaus are easy to explain; don’t let them get you down. The best weapon against them is patience. But also look at things that might be impairing your progression. Are you getting enough sleep? What food are you eating? Does your running lack variety?
10. Look forward to the golden years
Running is a marvellous way to diminish the effects of ageing. But over time the body eventually begins to slow, and as you get older, certain cautions are necessary. Instead of one day’s rest after a hard speed session or long run, you may need two days or more. You should be doubly careful to warm up and cool down.
One coach asked three runners in their 60s what they considered the key to their long running careers. Their answer: consistency. They had cut out speedwork and hill sessions, instead running the same distance each day, although varying the pace. Dull? No – clever. They knew that ultimately the secret of endurance is not getting injured.