Easy Does It

A friend told me recently, “I don’t care about getting faster. I just want running to be a little easier for me.” I’ve known this person for years, and running has always been a chore for him. Not painful, just difficult.

What’s more, the last thing my friend wants to do is train for a marathon, or anything like that. Three or four miles a day, every other day – that’s his thing. Speedwork? Forget it. Train at the track? No way. Just make the activity a little more palatable, he asks. Please.

Maybe you feel the same. And really, even if you’re a highly competitive runner who trains hard and races every weekend, you still depend on those easy days to be just that: easy. Whether you are running purely for health and fitness or are gunning for the next Olympics, the following tips should help to make running a little more comfortable for you.

  1. Start slowly. 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 work-outs for half a century. “It’s a secret I picked up from the Finns,” he says.
  2. Ignore peer pressure. When running in a group, don’t get lured into constantly running at a hard pace. Run your pace – and ask them to do the same if they’re willing. If you want to run with faster runners now and then, rest the day before as a ‘mini-taper’. Then treat the work-out almost like a race. Warm up before they arrive, then go for it.
  3. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. When you find running difficult and get frustrated, think about people who are unable to run even as slowly as you do. Remember how lucky you are to have two functioning legs.
  4. Run when you’re away from home. Holidays and business trips are excellent occasions for finding new and scenic running routes. Call ahead to locate the best areas for running. Carry a bag with running gear in your car in case you want to stop for a work-out when you come upon a scenic spot.
  5. Find an internal rhythm. Think about your favourite music while you run, whether it’s Mozart or Metallica. Try to recall lyrics to entire songs and sing them out loud – a standard five-minute pop song will carry you through half a mile or more. One runner I know memorises poetry before heading out and recites it to himself while running.
  6. Run at different paces. Not only on different days, but also in the same session. Slow down. Speed up. Moving faster can make the run feel easier, even while your pulse rate is climbing.
  7. Vary your training times. If you usually run in the morning, try an evening session. You could find that it suits you better – or it could just be that the change does you good.
  8. Run without a watch. A watch can create pressure to perform on every run, impinging on the freedom 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.
  9. 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. You mustn’t allow your monitor to control your running.
  10. 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.
  11. Don’t get obsessed with unbroken streaks. There are plenty of other things to fret over (money, family, the England cricket team), so don’t go overboard with your running. Regular days off are essential, particularly during super-busy periods, or when you’re not getting enough sleep. More about balance.
  12. Make running your oasis. If your life seems to revolve around your children, for example, you’ll treasure your running time even more.
  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. Don’t run so fast that you can’t have a conversation – if you’re talking, you’ll forget about all those miles you’re covering.
  14. Get a dog. Can’t find a companion willing to join you at 4:30am? Try running with a dog. My daughter recently went down that route. Dogs don’t usually 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.
  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, colour-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 new pair of shoes, a manicure or a weekend getaway.
  18. Have a massage. 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 just 30 seconds to knead your feet or calf muscles before heading out the door can really make a difference. Try making this part of your warm-up.
  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. Here’s 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.
  21. Visualise your run. Skiers are experts at this. They do the course in their minds before heading downhill. It helps them to relax and allows them to rehearse where they’re going. Visualisation also works in running – both in races and training.
  22. Learn yoga. Yoga is a great way to relax, stretch and get stronger. As any coach will tell you, to run well, you need to run relaxed.
  23. Get a coach. Whether you find one at your running club or via UK Athletics, they will optimise your training, your racing and your running style. 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. Look for coins. One environmentally-minded runner I know runs with a bin bag and picks up tin cans off the road.
  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!” 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 kilometre is slightly more than half a mile, so those Ks pass much more quickly on a run than miles do. Mark off your favourite courses in kilometres rather than miles.
  28. Stop and stretch. Stretching works best after your muscles are warmed up. So, 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.
  29. 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.
  30. Run a crooked course. Many runners prefer courses that twist and turn as often as possible. The big advantage here is that you never have to stare at long, straight paths that seem to go on forever. The disadvantage is that you’re more likely to get lost.
  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 latest RW Shoe Guide and seek out a specialist shop, 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 training 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.
  33. Relax – but not too much. Coaches always tell runners to relax, but some runners relax so much that their arms and hands flap from side to side, decreasing efficiency. Don’t let your hands cross the midline of your body, run with your forearms roughly parallel to the ground, and keep your hands and fingers loose but not floppy.
  34. Keep a log. The simplest log records only your mileage or the duration of your run. Even putting this one number on the kitchen calendar is better than nothing. If you’re more committed, write about things outside of your running, such as your diet, the weather and your night life. This way, when your running goes well or poorly, you can see which non-running factors may have contributed to it.
  35. Learn to breathe. Most runners follow a 2-2 breathing pattern: two steps while breathing in, two steps while breathing out, which means you always begin the breathing cycle on the same foot, causing more force to be exerted on that side of the body. Try switching to a 3-2 pattern: three steps while breathing in and two steps while breathing out. Experiment with different ratios until you find one that seems right.