How to Improve Your Running for Beginners

How to Improve Your Running forI’ve been running for about five years, and I still feel like a beginner a lot of the time. But I can also see how far I’ve come over the years. My first 5k, in early 2010, was finished with a time of 9:51 per mile; my most recent 5k personal record (PR), in July 2014, was finished at 7:46 per mile. And somewhere in the middle, I ran a marathon.

When I started, part of my motivation was how hard it was for me to run. I hated the idea of being so bad at something that seemed so easy for so many people. I also thought of myself as a relatively fit person so it was frustrating to suck wind before reaching even a half mile.

Of course, at some point I did get better. Looking back, here are the top things I think got me there, at least at the start:

  • Set a goal that’s just a little beyond your comfort zone. I started with a walk-run combo, which is the basis behind popular running programs like Couch to 5k. Each time I went out, I pushed myself to run just a little bit further than I wanted to, even if it was just to the next telephone pole or corner. Going slightly beyond your comfort zone is how you get stronger.
  • Use music or other distractors to keep moving. I used my music to push beyond my comfort zone as well; I’d make a deal with myself that I had to keep running until the end of the song. As I got better, if a new song started before I found myself in a comfortable place to stop, well, I’d better keep going until the next pause. Even today, I still use music to take my mind off runs. If you prefer not to listen to music, you could listen to audiobooks or podcasts, or people-watch, or whatever else helps get you through.
  • Set a goal. I registered for a 4 mile race that was about three months after I started running. It gave me a specific and time-oriented goal to shoot for. Knowing I would be running in public and that there would be a time published next to my name on the web kept me pushing. This is still a tactic I use to keep focused on training; I always have a race scheduled.
  • Gather your DATA. This is my number one success secret. I’m very data-oriented, and track my mileage and total time with every run. Especially at the beginning when you improve more quickly, data can be extremely motivating. I wouldn’t be able to feel improvement, but I could see it in the numbers. Even now, having data helps me put a hard run into perspective and see where I am improving, and where I can improve more.

Sometimes I feel jealous of people who are just starting to run, because as hard as it is to start, it’s so gratifying to improve so quickly and see leaps in your abilities. The longer you stay with it, the harder you have to work for those jumps in performance. The trade-off, of course, is that your normal run feels easier, you’re fitter, and more in control.

If you’re a veteran runner, what are your tips for beginners to improve their stamina and speed? If you’re a beginner, what’s working for you?