When your daily run becomes a chase toward a bigger, broader goal—a full-on pursuit for something more than checking off a workout or hitting a weekly total—suddenly every mile has intention, and every step gets you closer to reaching your full potential. You’re not just running. You’re running with purpose.
Ready to start? Choose from these six expert-backed gain plans, and you can become the runner you’ve always wanted to be—faster, stronger, tougher, more confident—and all in 30 days. Commit to a goal now, and you’ll reap the rewards all year. You’ve got nothing to lose—and everything to gain.
Crank Your Speed
If you’ve always wanted to PB a half marathon or shave seconds off your mile time but dreaded the speedwork you knew it would take to get there, fear not. Stephanie Schappert, professional runner for Hoka One One, says it only takes a little bit of oomph to get big results, no matter what distance you’re running. If you’re currently training four to five days a week, Schappert recommends incorporating drills like strides, hill repeats, and track workouts into just one or two weekly runs. Go ahead and use a timer or running watch if you want to know your exact speed, but her advice on pacing is simple: “Try to run faster than you usually do.”
Week 1 - Add 2 to 4 60-meter strides at the end of 2 weekly runs.
Week 2 - Add strides at the end of 1 weekly run, but increase to 4 to 6 repeats OR Run 2 hill intervals; start at 60% max effort and increase to 80%.
Week 3 - Find a track for “strides and turns.” Run 6 laps, or about 1.5 miles OR Push to 4 hill repeats, starting at 60% effort and increasing to 80%.
Week 4 - Repeat “strides and turns” for 8 laps, or about 2 miles OR decrease the distance of the hill, but double the repeats to 8, starting at 65% and building to 85% max effort.
Grow Your Grit
What separates the runners who train when they don’t feel like it from those who find excuses? The same thing that drives a racer to cross the finish line long after he’s hit the wall: grit—a combination of perseverance, resilience, and determination. And according to Jonathan Fader, Ph.D., sports psychologist at Sportstrata, it isn’t an innate quality that some athletes have and others don’t. With a little mental conditioning and consistent practice, anyone can gain guts.
Clarify your motivation, or the “why” behind your goals. According to Fader, athletes who are in touch with their internal motivation are better equipped to push through challenges and put difficulties into perspective. Fader suggests writing a word on your body or clothing that will trigger thoughts related to your “why” during a run.
Keep your “why” in mind, then establish a prerun routine that includes a detailed visualization of the course, complete with moments of triumph and obstacles. “Imagine yourself experiencing difficulty but still getting through it,” Fader says. That way, no stressor will be a surprise to your mind or body.
Identify self-talk phrases you can use during your run when things get tough. These can be motivational (“I can make it to the next mile marker”) or instructional (“Shoulders back, chest up”). Just be sure they’re realistic. According to Fader, every athlete has a BS meter that rejects fantastical affirmations.
Designate the postrun period as a time to reflect on what went well and what you can improve on next time. You may be tempted to analyze your run while it’s still happening, but Fader recommends pushing that urge aside and refocusing on the present moment for your best performance.
Score Stronger Core Strength
How well and easy you run is directly related to your core, explains Rachel Cosgrove, certified strength and conditioning coach and owner of Results Fitness in New Hall, California. “If our core isn’t strong, we use more energy because we’re not able to stabilize our body while we take that next step,” she says. That energy drain can slow you down and make training feel harder. And because a weak core can force unnatural movement compensations, it may also be the cause of recurring injuries.
The fix: Do exercises that, like running, require you to stabilize your core while moving your limbs. Perform this five-minute pre-run routine, and you’ll strengthen your core from every angle.
Week 1 - 2 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Week 2 - 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps
Week 3 - 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps
Week 4 - 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps
Amp Up Your Endurance
Most runners don’t entirely understand the concept of endurance, says Chris Hinshaw, endurance coach at NorCal CrossFit in the San Francisco Bay Area. Athletes of all levels come to him wondering why they haven’t improved their 5K time or why they are still struggling through the last couple miles of a half marathon, despite increasing their mileage.
We all have an entire spectrum of muscle fibers available for work, from the fastest of the fast-twitch fibers to the slowest of the slow, Hinshaw explains. Runners, he says, have a tendency to train in one “gear.” Either they don’t like distance running, so they stick to short sprints, or they’re more comfortable at a steady pace, so they never run fast. As a result, one type of muscle fiber often remains untrained and passive. No matter your preferred distance, you need to have both types available for firing, he says. To gain endurance, Hinshaw’s plan will help you train every one of your available speeds, from breakneck-fast to slow and steady.
Long Run - Halfway through your run, do 10 minutes of 5-second surges (accelerate as fast as you can) every minute on the minute. After 5 seconds, recover at normal pace.
Interval Run - Alternate between 2 minutes of fast running and 1 minute of rest. (You can jog or walk during the rest intervals.) Complete 10 rounds total.
Long Run - Repeat 10 minutes of surges, but increase the surge duration to 10 seconds and use 50 seconds to recover.
Interval Run - Run 3 minutes at a fast pace and rest for 1 minute. Complete 8 rounds total.
Long Run - Stick to 10 surges every minute, but lengthen each surge to 15 seconds.
Interval Run - Run 4 minutes at a fast pace and rest for 90 seconds. Complete 6 rounds total.
Long Run - Increase to 20-second surges every minute on the minute for 10 minutes.
Interval Run - Run 5 minutes at a fast pace and rest for 2 minutes. Complete 5 rounds total.
Increase Your Cold Tolerance
Winter training runs build the foundation for summer PBs. But that also means you’re bound to find yourself facing a few frigid miles. While some runners’ motivation understandably dips with the thermostat, others will tell you they simply cannot train in cold temperatures. That’s avoiding opportunity, according to Brian Mackenzie, founder of Power Speed Endurance (PSE), an online programming and coaching platform for athletes.
“It’s just an adverse sympathetic reaction,” Mackenzie says of the typical cold-weather freak-out marked by a racing heart, short breaths, and clenched muscles. If you’re mentally and physically unprepared for the cold, your nervous system will tell you to flee for more comfortable conditions. Follow this at-home version of Mackenzie’s training program, and you’ll gradually expose yourself to cold temps and learn to control breathing so your body adapts physiologically, and you can finally beat the freeze.
Week 1 - In the shower, turn water to cold for 10 seconds. As you count, focus on deep, steady breaths through your nose. Turn water warm for 30 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times.
Week 2 - Repeat cold-water intervals, but use a 10-breath cycle instead of 10 seconds. Focus on slow breaths. End with cold water to see if you can warm up within 5 to 10 minutes. If not, end with warm water.
Week 3- Extend your time under the cold water by holding your breath after each inhalation and exhalation. See how long you can make a 10-breath cycle last. If ready, end your shower with cold water.
Week 4 - Transition to 3- to 5-minute cold intervals without warm-water breaks. If you can’t warm up on your own, or if you start to shiver, you’ve progressed too quickly. Go back to cold-water intervals with warm breaks.
Master Your Mindfulness
“Mindfulness is the quality of being in the present moment, free from distraction,” explains Andy Puddicombe, cofounder of Headspace and the voice of the app’s guided-meditation tracks. But between playlists, audiobooks, podcasts, and our own churning brains, runners have essentially mastered the art of distraction.
Train in mindfulness, though, and you’ll automatically put yourself ahead of the pack. Puddicombe often sees this advantage among elite athletes. “The difference on race day is their mind-set,” he says. “Some people might even be better than others, but they just don’t bring the right mind-set on that day, so they don’t perform as well.”
Outside of competition, mindfulness affords runners increased body awareness, which encourages better posture and technique. Postrun, it can even enhance recovery, lead to better sleep, or keep your head in the game when you’re sidelined with an injury.
Week 1 - Use the technique (right) for just 3 minutes during each run, bookending it with a 1-minute prerun body scan and a 1-minute postrun period of quiet.
Week 2 - Increase your mindful running practice to 5 minutes, with 1-minute check-ins before and after your run. Maintain your practice even on days you don’t run.
Week 3 - Continue increasing both your running practice and silent meditation to 10 minutes. Tack on an additional minute to your prerun and postrun check-ins.
Week 4 - Maintain your 2-minute prerun and postrun check-ins, but progress to 15 minutes of mindful running and rest-day meditation.