Professional runners can seem superhuman, whether they’re flying through a mile at lightning speed or a 100-mile hilly ultra-run. (Actually, they are super human.) Yet, while these athletes train hard, some of their tricks are surprisingly doable.
Here, four runners share five tips to help you run like a pro:
1. REST AS MUCH AS YOU NEED
“Take recovery seriously. It’s an essential part of training,” says Rachel Schneider, professional middle-distance runner and nine-time All-American in track. “The training process has best been described to me as: ‘Stress plus rest equals success,’” adds 100-mile ultra champion and Salt Lake City-based running coach Zac Marion. “We stress the body for days in a row in order to force it to make a physiological response, but working it out is only half the process. Getting adequate (7–8 hours nightly) sleep, and adding rest days into a training program allows the body to properly recover. That’s when muscles get stronger.”
Marion suggests taking at least one day off each week. “Think of rest as training: You’re allowing your body to ready itself for your next workouts and reducing your chance of injury,” he says.
2. TRAIN ONLY AS FAST AS YOU CAN RACE
Races dictate your training pace, says professional runner and coach Jason Karp, PhD, author of “Run Your Fat Off.” “Because races tell you your current fitness level,” Karp says. “For example, if a runner races a 19-minute 5K, she shouldn’t train as if she runs at a 17-minute pace. Running faster in training doesn’t necessarily make you faster overall.”
What does make you faster? “Training within your fitness level and improving physiological characteristics,” Karp says. In other words, focus on improving your form, increasing your mileage for better cardiovascular fitness and pushing yourself gradually to create adaptive changes without pushing past your limits to injury.
3. RUN AS FAR AS YOU CAN
“If you want to become a better distance runner, the number of miles you run each week is the most important component of your training,” Karp says. Of course, the farther you run, the harder you’re working. “But running lots of miles stimulates many physiological, biochemical and molecular adaptations,” says Karp. “One of the initial adaptations is an increase in your blood volume, which means more red blood cells transporting oxygen.”
For you, that means more energy — and more energy means more runs and more miles.
4. TALK TO YOURSELF
“The thoughts you have in your head can and will directly affect your performance,” says Kona Ironman regular Tom Holland, author of “The Marathon Method.” “So use positive self-talk and mantras for all aspects of running. To calm yourself right before a race, say, ‘I am ready,’ and during a race — when you need to control your pace in the early miles, think, ‘Nice and easy.’ When it’s time to pick up the pace? Repeat ‘Hammer’ for as long as it takes.”
Schneider adds, “Have fun. Always remind yourself why you’re doing it.” That sense of gratitude and shift in mindset can help keep you going. She stresses that the rough days (and there will be some) make the good days that much better.
5. PAY ATTENTION
“Top runners monitor everything that is going on with their body,” Holland says. “Their breathing, foot strike, arm swing, etc., to ensure their performance is their best possible. That focus helps their performance. Beginner runners often choose to disassociate during runs, thinking about anything but running in order to get through to the end.”
One of the most common forms of distraction? Music — even though it’s highly motivating. “Top runners can’t afford to disassociate,” Holland says. “When you’re ready, ditch the music and start focusing on what your body is doing during your runs, to help improve your running times.”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN