For some runners, the road to success is long, bumpy and choked with traffic. Others appear to find an easier, alternative route; they just cruise along. Is it sheer luck, or do these runners have a secret road map? To find out, we contacted dozens of real-life runners from Runners World readers to Runners World staff, scientific researchers to elite athletes and asked them point-blank: what training methods have worked best for you?
Their answers were as varied and imaginative as runners themselves, and weve gathered the best of them on the following pages. Among all these great tips, youre certain to find several that will help you run stronger, faster and easier.
1. Run a shorter race
Itll make you feel faster. This might sound obvious, but there is nothing like running a short, fast race to boost your confidence and make you feel better about your running. If you are used to running halfs or marathons, even a 10K can do this for you, although something shorter like a mile race or 5K is the perfect competitive vehicle, says Runners World Editor Steven Seaton.
2. Put your pain in perspective
When I start to feel desperate in a race, I remind myself that if I survived giving birth, I can do anything. That reminder got me all the way through last years London Marathon, says Patricia Davis, from Mitcham, Surrey.
3. Look in the mirror
When I first noticed my leg-muscle definition and smaller dress size, I had the desire I needed to run longer and harder, says Valerie Sweeney, from Peterborough.
4. Sprint more often
I do 200-metre sprints a couple of times a week after a normal run, to increase or maintain leg speed. These shorter sprints can be effective when you dont have the time or inclination to do longer intervals. Ive found that its also easier to do interval training on a regular basis if Ive accustomed myself to running fast in these shorter sprints, says John Stewart, a teacher and marathon runner from Southampton.
5. Define a milestone distance
Whether you aim for three miles or 26, youll feel a surge of achievement as you close in on your goal. I was always in awe of runners out there who completed three miles with such ease, says Pam Durant, who lives in Istanbul in Turkey. When I finally accomplished the three-mile loop at a local park, I was so proud of myself. I have been running ever since.
6. Sign up for a race
There is always something very special about taking part in and finishing a race, whatever the distance. You will be surprised how motivating it is to have your family or even complete strangers cheering you on and applauding your efforts, says RUNNERS WORLD Race Services Editor Steve Smythe. It really makes you feel like a true runner, whatever kind of time you do.
7. Listen to your body
Learn the value of perceived-effort work-outs. If youre doing repetitions, try leaving your watch in your car. Keep your effort consistent so you learn to feel pace, rather than just pushing buttons, says health journalist Warren Greene.
8. Run for the hills
Hills build strength, and strength results in faster running. By running all hills and by that I mean continuous gradients of up to three miles I broke 2:30 in four consecutive marathons in the early 1980s, says Welles Lobb, RUNNERS WORLD US Assistant Editor.
9. Let running build your confidence
I finally realised that the Youre no good, youll never be any good sentences branded into my memory were nothing but manipulative lies to keep me from being successful. Running has given me the courage to try anything, the power to know Ill succeed in anything I try, and the strength to continue no matter what anyone says, says Julie Hill, of Dereham in Norfolk.
10. Find a mantra
Mental strategies to coax yourself into a more relaxed state do pay off physically by making things easier. Using mantras, simple things like stick it out, stick it out have always paid dividends for me in marathons or longer challenges, says Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer and 3:30 marathon runner.
Even if it means you have to get up at 3 in the morning so that its digested by your 7 oclock long run, have breakfast. Your body is a machine, and it wont run without fuel, says Liz Applegate, RUNNERS WORLD US Nutrition Editor.
12. Train for a marathon
As the tears streamed down my face, I thought about the hundreds of miles of training and all the focus and determination it took for me to reach this place, and I was able to call myself a runner for the first time. At that moment, as I ran the last few yards, I knew this sport Id stumbled upon was something I wanted to stick with, says Laura Richardson, of Sleaford in Lincolnshire.
13. Run with faster training partners
Sometimes its hard psychologically to be 200 yards behind the fast groups last runner, but it has enabled me to push past my fears of competition, realise my potential, and set attainable goals, says Eve Kaplan, a York-based lawyer.
14. Set goals
Whether it was a desire to run faster or to run a marathon, I had to set a goal. After setting the goal, I needed to plan, train, run the race, evaluate, adjust the plan, train again, run a race, and so on, says Denise Mallory, of Leicester.
15. Face your fear
I used to hate running the last hill on my regular running route. So I trained on even bigger hills for a few weeks. That little, regular hill has been a breeze ever since, says Amy Smith, from Preston.
16. Play by your own rules
As a beginner, to keep running tell yourself, I only have to run as far and as fast as I want to, but I have to do it at least three days a week. That kept me healthy and happy as a beginner, and now I like running so much that Ive added speedwork. Not bad for a former couch potato, says Kevin Flynn, who works and trains in Cardiff.
17. Watch other people race
I went out to watch the real runners in the London Marathon. After watching so many people of different ages, shapes, and sizes conquering their own fears and limitations, I knew that no matter how hard it was going to be, I had to do this. Every time the going gets tough, I remember all of those people achieving so much at the back of the pack, and I push on, says Mark Holland, of Croydon.
18. Picture a fitter you
Last year I was training for the Manchester Marathon and needed to do long runs on Sundays. I resented the amount of time required to do these long runs until I started focusing on the calories I was burning as I ran, says Mike Dunn, of Salford.
19. Dont be limited by your mind
I used to think that I could never run more than three miles because I smoked. Then I met a smoker who ran further. Im now running five miles and I gave up smoking, too, says Olive Galiana, an IT engineer in West London.
20. Do it for your kids
My breakthrough came when I realised how good it feels to be fit and hear my children say, My mum runs marathons! My friends are amazed, says Linda Simons, of Hastings.
21. Do strides once a week
Id do 100 yards on grass on the football pitch anywhere from 16 to 72 of them. After three to five weeks of once-a-week strides, I felt smoother, stronger, faster. Everything came more easily, says Amby Burfoot, RUNNERS WORLD US Executive Editor.
22. Get a role model
My husband runs marathons. When he told me that I could do it, I believed him and gave it a go. With the confidence he helped me gain, I was able to start running when I had never believed I was the type, says Linda Johansen, of Luton.
23. Get a cheerleader
As I approached the finish line of my first 5K race in 1997, I heard my six-year-old son and my husband yelling Go, mummy, go! I was crying and, I later found out they were, too. After a four-stone weight loss, that was my shining moment, says Jenny Chapman, of Stoke.
24. Buy some real running clothes
The latest technical T-shirts and clothes make a big difference in performance and comfort. Believe me. When I trained for my first marathon wearing a normal cotton T-shirts and old rugby shorts, I felt as though I was carrying along an extra couple of pounds of sweat in my clothes, says sub-three-hour marathon runner John Barnard.
25. Lengthen your repetitions
Go beyond the standard 400- and 800-metre repetitions. Mix in 2000s and 3000s as well. They do wonders for your endurance, says John Bowman, of Birmingham.
26. Have a plan
If I dont have a training schedule for a goal race, I find it harder to motivate myself. But if I have a training plan, Ill be out running on good days and bad days, says Mike Collyer, of Newcastle.
27. Be happy
A positive attitude means everything, says Bart Yasso, RUNNERS WORLD US Race Promotions Director. When I was running 146 miles through Death Valley, I kept thinking about the big celebration I would have when I finished. I didnt let the word if enter my mind.
28. Take a day off
I try to incorporate one day off from running a week. Sometimes I go to the gym and lift weights; other days I dont do anything. Easy three- to five-mile runs can be restful, too, but if Im feeling really tired, Ill just as easily write a zero in my training diary. I used to believe you had to run every day, but the higher mileage of marathon training taught me otherwise, says Sam Doyle, a London-based Australian.
29. Find training partners
I used to train alone, then through putting a notice up at the university where I work I put together a training group and the difference has been staggering. The competition motivates me, pushes me harder and has made training easier and more enjoyable, says Dr Mark Hewison, a research scientist and ultra runner.
30. Do it for charity
After two friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided to raise money for charity at the London Marathon. Whenever I struggled to get up early in the morning or had doubts about stepping out for a damp 20-miler in March, I thought about the people my efforts would help, says Patricia Kilham, from Battersea in London.
31. Strength train
Earlier in my running career, I thought running would take care of whatever muscle-building was necessary. I also had lots of knee injuries back then. It took a while to figure out that consistent weight training would stave off knee injuries. I havent had any serious knee problems since I started leg weight work, says Andrew Allen, of St Albans.
32. Practice goal-less running
I know this will probably contradict someone elses advice, but if you find your running is no longer enjoyable, take the goal out of your running. Once I stopped running to complete the next marathon, running became fun again. I stopped worrying about having to run. Instead, I learned to run for the sheer pleasure of running. I learned to enjoy what running can do for me today. And you know what? Im running more now than I did before, says Christopher Peck, of Blackpool.
33. Rev it up
After I started doing speedwork sessions, my pace suddenly improved on my easy and medium-effort runs, says Nick Troop, RUNNERS WORLD Publisher.
34. Give yourself permission to slow down
When I became aware that endurance was what I was after not speed I slowed down and ran my first mile without walking. Im now up to four miles, and I run a 5K every six weeks, says Arnold Moore, of Wilmslow, Cheshire.
35. Push yourself
I achieved my goal of running a sub-three-hour marathon when I ran with a training partner who pushed me on my long runs. We ran our 20-milers only 30 to 40 seconds slower per mile than our marathon goal pace. These runs werent easy, but I made sure I ran easy a few days before and after the runs. That year I finished the New York City Marathon in 2:55, 23 minutes faster than my previous best, says Eileen Portz-Shovlin, RUNNERS WORLD US Senior Editor.
36. Train like you race and race like you train
Good racing performances have a lot to do with training specificity. Too frequently, I see runners who train to go out comfortably and finish strong, yet they do the complete opposite in a race situation, and then wonder why they arent running up to their potential, says Scott Fisher, a runner and coach.
37. Try to get your name in the paper
In 1998, I saw all the Flora London Marathon finishers names in the The Times and thought, Wouldnt it be great if I could be listed next year? Id just started running casually, and this was the push I needed to try to improve every week, says Matt Heins, of Chepstow.
38. Race often
Running was the only sport that worked for me, but I never felt totally connected to it. Then I entered races first a 5K, then a 10K, then a half-marathon. What else was left? I didnt give myself time to think about it; I logged onto the internet and entered a marathon. Setting goals provided the discipline to keep me running regularly, says Kathy Robinson, of Washington, County Durham.
39. Hang in there
When the going gets tough in a race, concentrate on hanging onto your pace. Just relax, and youll finish strong, says Jeff Galloway, former Olympic marathon runner and coach.
If you dont, you might as well just go home, says Budd Coates, elite veteran runner and fitness director at Rodale.