How To Get Better at Running…Without Running

While it seems logical that more running training equates to better race performances, this is certainly not the whole story. If we’re solely relying on our form, volume, and intensity to maximize our abilities, we’re greatly overlooking the complexity of training. Some of the most powerful upgrades in performance come when you begin to prioritize your wellness off of the roads.

Although it may sound too to be true, you can become a better runner without taking another step if you start looking at the bigger picture. Far too often, my running clients are so caught up in their programming that they forgo the easy steps to become more efficient and effective. In this post, we’ll cover 5 of these elements you need to truly become the best runner you can be. Lucky for you, these are simple solutions that you can begin implementing today.

Why wait?

5 Ways To Improve Your Running Without Lacing Up

Before we begin, please check in with your health provider before making drastic changes to your physical activity/nutritional habits. While these tips will benefit the majority of us, it’s key to be cautious if you have a history of injury and/or chronic disease.

Additionally, please be aware that this is by no means the ‘ultimate guide to maximizing performance’. Achieving your absolute highest level requires many steps, some including the help of professionals. What I’m confident in, however, is that these 5 habits will bring you closer to your desired abilities as a runner. In the process, you’ll become a healthier and more versatile athlete which will contribute to long-term wellbeing!

1) Buying Proper Footwear

The quickest and easiest way to upgrade your running is by buying a real pair of running shoes. If you’re still logging miles in trainers or sneakers, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Not only are you lacking efficiency, but you may be damaging your joints due to a lack of proper support. Regardless of what level you’re at, you deserve to run in footwear that is built for your sport.

The key here is to find the shoe that’s right for you. Go to a specialty running store and request a gait analysis. There are many types out there (neutral shoe, stability shoe, trail shoe, etc…) so ensure you put in the extra time to find the one built best for your anatomy and event.

For most situations, it’s a good idea to replace your shoes every 300–500 miles, or when they start to feel worn down. If you’re experiencing unusual aches and pains after a run, it could be due to faulty footwear. I understand that maintaining proper running equipment can become pricy, but it’s well worth it as you’ll be setting yourself up for success for years to come.

2) Mixing Up Your Training

As a personal trainer and kinesiologist, I strongly recommend that everyone completes more than one form of physical activity. Most importantly, you should implement some form of resistance training into your week. In an ideal world, you’ll perform 1–2 days of resistance training and an additional cardio activity per week (biking, swimming, etc…). If you have an ‘offseason’, it’s recommended to drop your running volume significantly and look to other modalities to maintain your cardiovascular fitness.

Not only does cross-training boost your training, but it works wonders to eliminate injury risk. Additionally, the variety in your regime will assist in avoiding burnout, all while building strength and athleticism in ways that running cannot.

3) Sleeping Like Your Life Depends on It

Whenever clients ask me whether physical activity or nutrition is more important, I virtually always say sleep. When we’re sleep-deprived, we’re at a huge performance disadvantage. If this turns into chronic sleep loss, it’s much more likely that chronic diseases and injuries will increase while our overall quality of life will take a dive.

The truth is, no one can go less than 6–7 hours of sleep and be the best version of themselves. It’s that simple. This fact is elevated when we think of the demands placed on our bodies as we train for distance running. If you’re spending all that time on the roads, please don’t let it go to waste. Create a consistent sleep schedule and keep electronics out of the bedroom. If you can commit to this over the long term, it will completely transform the quality of your training.

BONUS: If you haven’t read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, I’d highly recommend it. There is no better medicine than giving your body a full night of rest. Ideally, adults should be striving for 7–9 hours every night.

“…cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, infertility, weight gain, obesity, or immune deficiency. No facet of the human body is spared the crippling, noxious harm of sleep loss.” — Matthew Walker

4) Optimizing Hydration & Nutrition

If you’re curious about proper hydration, these guidelines on water consumption are a great starting point. The consensus is that men should drink 12–13 cups per day, and women should drink 8–9 cups per day. Of course, this is an oversimplification as everyone’s physiology, diets, and environments are different. My best advice is to carry a water bottle with you and do the ‘pee test’ every time you urinate. The goal is to always maintain a clear color. If your pee is looking a dark yellow, you’re likely dehydrated. Additionally, ensure that you drink a cup or two of fluids after a workout.

Nutrition should be a priority for everyone, but especially for athletes. Due to the many miles that runners log, it’s key to consume adequate carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to make up for all this stress. It can be easy to overcomplicate nutrition and get overwhelmed (I’m guilty of this). To circumvent this, here are 8 simple practices for good running nutrition. If you’re eating a well-balanced diet that prioritizes carbohydrates, avoids processed foods, and is consistent, you’re doing the right things. If you’re diving into longer distance work, it may be necessary to take gels during a race. This usually only becomes relevant for events beyond 2 hours, however.

5) Prioritizing Education & Individualized Programming

If you want to become efficient at training and avoid burning out, seek out a professional coach/trainer who can build you an individualized program. When I first started running, I had no idea what volume and progressions I should be using to peak performance for race day. Essentially, I was lacking a road map which cost me precious time and energy. If you cannot afford a trainer, here are a few basic tips for building your regime:

  • Pinpoint your future race day and work your way backward

  • Never increase your weekly volume/intensity by more than 10% per week

  • Always taper off your training volume in the last 1–2 weeks before your event

  • Prioritize variety by implementing a mix of long slow distance, tempo, and interval sessions

  • Ensure you have at least one day of complete rest per week (unless instructed otherwise by a coach)

In the world of exercise physiology and science, information is always changing. What was breaking news 2 years ago may be proven wrong tomorrow. To stay injury-free and maximize your performance, take time to become more educated on the best running practices (like what you’re doing right now!). The key here is to find evidence-based, reliable information. I’ve got a guide for navigating the internet for proper health advice here.

Here are three of my favorite running resources: Global Triathlon Network, The Run Experience, and Runner’s Life.

Bonus Tips:

  • Find a training buddy or running community to be a part of.

  • Fine-tune your warm-up and cool down.

  • Discover more about your ‘why’ behind running.

In Closing,

Strictly focusing on running will only get you so far. If you want to become the best you can be, it’s key to take your eyes off the road every once in a while. Perfecting the 5 habits above will not only levitate your running abilities but boost your overall health and wellness. From a performance and injury prevention standpoint, taking the time to fine-tune the other elements of training is an absolute no-brainer.

Don’t let another day go by without introducing these habits into your life!