While running itself is a gloriously simple workout, there is more to it than just putting one foot in front of the other—especially when you start lacing up for longer or more frequent runs.
After all, for an activity that’s simple in theory, there’s a lot that goes into getting better at running (and, just as importantly, enjoying it). On the mental front, it’s important to know how to stay motivated, stave off boredom, and push through tough runs. And physically, proper form and training methods that work for you can make a huge difference.
If you’ve hit a plateau in your road game (either performance-wise or motivation-wise), considering trying a few of the training tips below, from runners who have been there too.
1. Take time to walk during long runs.
“Walking during my runs has made me a better runner. It sounds silly, but when I first started serious distance running I thought it was ‘cheating’ to walk. Now, I make walking (even for a minute or two) part of my training. I find that it helps reset my body mentally and physically, and prevents slower mile times toward the end of my runs and especially my races.”
—Emma Reynolds, 25, @emmarey
“The biggest tweak that makes a difference in my running is planning short walk breaks at regular intervals. This gives my legs a chance to recover and means I can go much farther than if I were trying to run straight through—and it actually makes me faster overall!”
—Jill Angie, 50, @notyouraveragerunner
2. Leave your gear where you can see it.
“If I’m going for a run after work, I make sure to put my running shoes, clothes, and GPS running watch in the front seat of my car. That way, I can have my gear right there ready to go.”
—Leslie Farris, 30
3. Incorporate strength training.
“Once I started pursuing a certification in personal training (and had a goal of running the New York City Marathon), I learned that, for me, building speed was all in building muscle. I started squatting, lunging, and deadlifting heavy loads and was able to cut my race time significantly. I also found I was not only running faster, but because of the strength I build in my legs, I was running better and injury-free…and running was actually fun!”
—Rowan Schoales, 25, @helloiamrowan
4. Get fitted for the right shoes.
“[After my first] 10-mile race, my feet were so sore and blistered that I truly questioned if I was meant to be a runner. The next day I went to a local running store to be properly fitted for shoes. It made a world of a difference in not only my stride, but in my recovery as well. To this day, it’s the first piece of advice I give to new runners.”
—Sara Robbins, 30, @saraandhersoles
5. Change up your running route.
“One of the most awesome tips I’ve incorporated in my running is constantly changing my route. Not only is it adventurous, but I’m forever allowing myself to be challenged with the unknown, which keeps me motivated to want more. [I choose routes with] different elevations and surfaces or terrain changes, or I simply find a trail with dope views. To help me in this adventure, I’ve picked up a local map of all the trails in my area and I’m checking them off slowly but surely.”
—Ineaka Carbo, 35, @retroengineer
6. Find an app that helps keep you going.
“I went from hating the mere thought of running to finishing the NYC Half Marathon last year all thanks to the Nike+ Run Club app. World-class runners coach you through runs of all types—listening to their motivating words, I forget I’m running. There are guided runs for everyone, from the 60-minute long runs to the ‘I don’t wanna run’ runs. (I used the latter a lot.) I’ve run 112 miles on the app since January, and I could vouch for it all day.”
—Tobiah Cramer, 25
7. Try working on negative splits, where you finish the second half of your run faster than the first half.
“Focusing on negative splits—that is, starting my runs off approximately 20 to 30 seconds slower than my ideal mile time—has allowed me to complete longer distances at a more comfortable pace. Take my advice on this one: You can’t conquer your first mile at full speed and still feel good 45 minutes into your run.”
—Tess Yocom, 26, @tessanneyocom
8. Find a running buddy.
“My commitment to running with others has made training more physically and emotionally rewarding. When I don’t feel like lacing up my shoes, there is always someone encouraging me to hit the pavement or trails. When I get too comfortable, my accountability partner is always there to push the pace.”
—Breana Pitts, 27, @breezy_doesit
9. Fuel your training with healthy carbs.
“I’m an adaptive runner—I race in a racing wheelchair due to paralysis in my lower legs, so my training differs from the average runner (for example, bulking up the upper body versus the lower body). The biggest tip that’s made a huge difference in my performance was learning to eat more food and more carbohydrates. After I began eating them I noticed a huge energy spike that gave me an extra oomph when racing.”
—Jazz Stewart, 25, @keepingitjazzy27
10. Run at your own pace.
“I used to approach every run like a race: I felt like I had to run quickly, and would get discouraged whenever someone passed me on the running trail. Now I make sure to run at my own pace, whatever it is in that moment (which, for me, usually depends on the beat of my music, whether that’s Adele or Charli XCX). It’s helped me focus more on running for fun, instead of running in a way I thought I had to.”
—Jocelyn Runice, 24, @jocelynrunice
11. Curate fresh running playlists to keep you motivated.
“I love curating a playlist for running. Sometimes I go for mood, and other times I go for a playlist that helps me challenge my pace. Lately, I’ve been loving kicking off a run to ‘Kings & Queens’ by Mat Kearney.”
—Heather Morgan, @heathereleven
12. Sign up for a race.
“In 2018, I decided to sign up for my first 5K, and I trained for about a month. When I got the medal for the race I knew it was something I had to do again! I decided to sign up for two races a month just to see how I would like it, and I began to see progress, whether it was winning in my age group or PR’ing in a certain distance. In under a year, I’ve developed a love for running simply because I decided to challenge myself. It’s fun, stress-relieving, and addicting!”
—Jennipher McGraw, 28, @naturallycurltastic
13. Focus on your breath, and come back to a simple mantra.
“On a recent trip to Arizona where I was running trails along the Catalina Mountains, I had a trail guide tell me, ‘Just focus on your breath.’ [After years of hearing this] I decided to finally say, ‘what do you mean?’ He said to try and make the exhale long and even, and that it relaxes your body and lets you settle into a long run. Quick, short breaths and gasps can use up your energy. It finally clicked for me that day, so instead of just listening for my breath, I worked on relaxing into my exhale. I [also] had a yoga instructor teach me a super simple mantra to say to myself when I’m about to give in: ‘I can do hard things.’ That mantra has kept me focused and allowed me to push my boundaries further and further into growth.”
—Amy Stroup, 35, @amystroup
14. Run from a place of self-love.
“I’ve been running for about four years, and [I got a spot in] the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon. Long story short, I wasn’t prepared—physically, emotionally, and mentally. I still took on the marathon with a finish time of 7:35:54, [but] I learned my lesson and I began to take my goals more seriously. This year I am preparing for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon, and my advice is to love yourself enough to make the changes you want to see, and the journey becomes that much easier. Run happy!”
—Malika Austin, 31, @theefantab1
15. Swap your music for a podcast.
“When I was training for my first half-marathon, I found that listening to podcasts on my longer runs instead of music really helped take my mind off the distance. As runs got longer and more time consuming (an hour or more), I found it was nice to have something to distract me—something that required my undivided attention. A few of my favorite include Stuff You Should Know and How I Built This.”
—Molly Donnelly, 28
16. Or, try an audiobook. (Harry Potter, anyone?)
“When I got into the NYC Marathon last year, I knew I needed something to preoccupy my mind during those long runs—music only gets you so far! So, at the suggestion of my co-workers after telling them I had never read Harry Potter growing up, I downloaded Jim Dale’s audiobook of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I absolutely loved zoning out while listening to the captivating story, and by the time the marathon came I was on audiobook number four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For any runner who needs to mentally let go, I strongly suggest giving an audio book a whirl. It could be a novel you’ve always wanted to read, or one that you can’t get enough of.”
—Nicoletta Richardson, 26, @nicolettanne
17. Make sure you’re doing easy runs.
“The running tip that has made the biggest difference for me is learning to run easy. I used to do every run as hard as possible, thinking that it would make me faster, but really it just left me feeling tired and sore all the time. Now I do three to four runs a week at an easy pace, plus two hard workouts a week, and my race times have seen a drastic improvement!”
—Kelsey Cansler, 27, @thegogirlblog
18. Run for time instead of distance.
“With a full-time job, it’s hard to balance training for a marathon on top of work…and it’s mentally draining when you wake up and look at a schedule and know that you need to run 18 miles that day when it’s pouring rain outside. With this method, I say I need to run, say, X hours per week [instead of a certain number of miles]. This has made it more manageable to work into my schedule, as well as easier mentally. For example, on a week where I [need to] run nine hours, one run could be [more than two and a half] hours, one day of rest, and then I would split up the rest of the time throughout the week on other days.”
—Kelsey Cunniff, 27, @kelseycunniff
19. Take the time to work on your form.
“I’m training for my first marathon right now and it’s really forced me to pay more attention to my form while running. I’ve been super lucky to have the chance to work with Nike+ Run Club head coach Blue Benadum throughout this journey, and one thing he’s taught me is how my body should be positioned when running. I’ve noticed that as I get tired, my form starts to fall apart—my shoulders tense up, my head starts to swing, and I strike the ground with my heel. When all of this happens, I become slower and I’m more prone to injuring myself. So when you start to feel tired, take a minute to adjust and correct your form and I guarantee you’ll feel so much better and stronger!”
—Sara Tan, 31, @saratan
20. Focus on endurance instead of speed.
“Everyone’s ‘fast’ is relative, so instead of solely focusing on building a speedy pace, I focused on building endurance, increasing my distance, and finding strength I didn’t think I once had. Once I did that, I began to run more frequently and enjoyed the amazing people I connected with in my running community. With that, my pace improved drastically, as did my distances. Each run was an opportunity to to be just a bit better than my last.”
—Natalie Robinson, 33, @nataliealish
21. Schedule a time to run that works with your lifestyle.
“The most important factor that has contributed to my success as a runner is consistency. As a wife, mother, and full-time employee, I don’t have a lot of extra time, so I’ve identified the best time of day for my workouts: 5 A.M. No one misses me that early and I’m still able to hit all of my personal workout goals, without wondering how I’m going to fit it in. I lay my clothes out the night before, along with my shoes, wallet, keys, water, etc., so all I have to do is get up and go!”
—Adrian Shepherd, 42, @skyemiles101
22. Prep for your run (and your day) the night before.
“As a woman raising a family and working, a solid night-before prep routine ensures that I can get out there for my runs! I think of every possible thing that needs to get done for the next day, from lunch prep (mine included) to setting the table for breakfast. A quick look at the forecast makes it easy to choose our clothes, and I lay out all of my running gear so I literally wake up and run. Finally, I have a look at my training plan to mentally prepare myself. It seems like a big chore to do every evening after a day at work, but with practice, it has become an efficient routine. I get a better night’s rest knowing that everything is taken care of, and [my morning run] definitely helps control the morning rush stress!”
—Lizette Zuniga, 38, @runningshoe_mami
23. Incorporate interval training—and find yourself a support system, especially when you’re facing a tough challenge.
“After losing my right foot and lower leg to sarcoma (a rare form of cancer) this year, I taught myself how to run again in six weeks and trained hard for a 5K race, which I completed just six months after my amputation. Interval training [alternating between time periods of high intensity and low intensity] made a huge difference in my running!
My support system (#moveforjenn) has also been cheering me on the whole time, and we’ve started the Move for Jenn Foundation, where we plan to offer grants to sarcoma amputees to cover the cost of running blades that are not covered by insurance.”
—Jenn Andrews, 34, @jenn0512