As a running coach and running and fitness blogger, I get asked a lot of questions like “How do I get faster?” and “What should my pace be?”
So I thought I’d put a blog post together with some of the most common questions I get answered with the view of sharing my knowledge not only as a running coach, but as a runner myself.
Running is actually quite a complex sport. There’s so much more to it than just running. There are lots to think about, especially if you want to get better at it, from pacing and nutrition and speed to endurance.
So, here you go. Some common running questions and my tips and advice.
“How do I run faster?”
Ah, yes, the age old ‘How do I run faster?” question. Once you start running, it’s only natural for you to want to run faster and see your times improve week by week.
Despite what you might’ve heard or read, the answer to running faster does not lie in ever increasing mileage.
I know plenty of runners who have upped their weekly mileage in the hope it will make them faster, when in fact it’s just a one-way road to fatigue and injury.
In order to run faster, you have to think more creatively about your running and train smart.
Running faster is as much about what you do off the running track and is it on it.
Here are my top tips:
- Include more speedwork in your training. Tempo running, Fartlek, intervals, strides and surges are all good examples of speedwork. Read my top 5 secrets for running faster for longer.
- Run some hills! Hill training is a great way to improve your power and strength as a runner, which in turn makes you a faster runner.
- Strength train. If you want to knock minutes, instead of seconds, off your race time, then I highly recommend incorporating strength training in your training plan. Read my complete guide to strength training for more information.
- Fuel your race. Proper nutrition is key for any runner. Make sure you are fuelling your race in the right way by eating a nutrient-rich diet.
- Rest and recover properly. Don’t be tempted to overtrain. Many overuse injuries like IT band syndrome and runner’s knee are a result of overtraining. Put in place an effective rest and recovery strategy after your long run.
“What should I eat before a run?”
What you eat before a run will depend on a few factors, including your diet, your own eating preferences, and how far you will be running.
The general rule is focus mainly on carbohydrates before a race, as they give you that much needed energy throughout your run, and focus on protein after a run to optimise the repairing of muscles.
A balanced diet consists of the three key macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
But what does this look like on a practical level?
Here are my top tips on what to eat and what not to eat before a run:
- Opt for ‘real’ foods where possible. In other words, try and avoid things like energy bars and gels.
- Avoid foods high in fibre. These are hard to digest and you don’t want your stomach breaking these foods down during your run. High fibrous foods include: legumes, broccoli, apples, pears, cheese, red meat
- Don’t drink too much coffee. Some runners like having a small cup of coffee to get them energised for their run, but avoid large amounts of it.
- Avoid spicy foods. These can cause inflammation in the digestive system.
Here are some good foods to eat before a run and they release energy slowly:
- Banana and almond butter
- Toasted wholewheat bread or bagel with peanut butter
- Porridge with berries
- Plain Greek yoghurt with berries
If you’re planning a short to medium run (so anything below 40 minutes), then aim to eat at least half an hour before your run.
If you’re planning a long run (40 minutes plus), then aim to eat at least two hours before your run.
“Should I stretch before a run?”
I don’t know where this belief that static stretching is good before a run came from. When in fact static stretching should only be done during the cool down after a run.
Focus on dynamic stretches during your warm up to activate and mobilise muscles like the hamstrings, glutes and calves.
Dynamic stretches are active movements, where joints and muscles go through a full range of motion.
Dynamic stretching is slightly different from static stretching in that it isn’t about holding a stretch but rather taking your body through ranges of motion that will better prepare you for your run.
Forward lunges, star jumps, side lunges, standing knee-to-chest stretch, deep lunges, leg swings, mountain climbers, squats and A-skips are all good examples of dynamic stretches to do before a run.
“What is pacing in running?”
Pacing is a runner’s best friend. I’ve relied a lot on it over the years to tell me how I’m doing on a run.
Pacing is basically the number of minutes it takes to run a mile or kilometre. It’s a critical part of endurance events, like half marathons and marathons, but in my opinion is also very important for shorter races like 5ks and 10ks.
As a runner, it’s important to experiment with a range of different paces during training, especially if you want to run faster and get stronger.
The easiest way to calculate your pace or desired pace is to use a pacing calculator. There are many versions on the internet nowadays, just type ‘running pace calculator’ into Google.
You will be presented with a range of different paces depending on the distance you wish to run and your desired race time.
All I’d say here is that don’t take what the calculator tells you as gospel. Pacing is dependent upon a lot of things on the day of your run. Things like how you’re feeling, the weather and the terrain can affect how fast you run on the day.
“I keep getting injured. How can I stay injury free?”
Unfortunately, injuries are a common, if unwelcome, part of running. I recently wrote a blog post on how to stay injury free so give that a read!
“How many miles should I be running each week?”
This completely depends on what you’re training for, your running experience and your own lifestyle.
Not everyone can get out and go running three or four times a week.
In any case, if you’re unsure as to how much running you should be doing each week, it may be a sign to follow a training plan, especially if you’re training for a race.
The key is to not run too much, or in fact too little, to avoid any nasty surprises in the lead up to race day.
If you’re someone who just loves to run because it feels good, then listen to your body – it will tell you when it’s time to stop or rest.
Listening and tuning into your body takes some practice, but your body (and mind) will thank you for it in the long term.
“What are the best running shoes to wear?”
There is no such thing as the ‘best’ running shoe.
There are many types and brands of shoe out there for a reason, because no human foot is created the same!
This may sound strange, but there really are a number of things to look out for when choosing a good fitting running shoe.
The main things being your gait (how you run) and your footstrike (how your foot lands on the ground when you run). The terrain on which you run is important too (there are road running shoes and trail running shoes, for example), but the first two elements are critical.
I highly recommend you visit your local running store and get your gait tested. They will then be able to suggest some shoes based on these results. Most running shops offer free gait analysis.