Don’t Just be a Runner, be an Athlete

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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Don’t Just be a Runner, be an Athlete

Many of us were first drawn to running by the simplicity and ease of getting started. Lace up a decent pair of shoes and head out the door. Simple.

It’s truly that uncomplicated. But as your goals get loftier and more complex, the scope of your athleticism as a runner becomes more important.

Once you’re officially bit by the running bug and start to pursue goals such as better time and distance PRs, it’s a good idea to look at the training routines of elite athletes. While you may never match their paces and mileage, modeling your training after theirs is the best way to attain substantial improvements.

What you’ll see is there is no elite runner today who just runs. In addition to their variety of workouts, they routinely perform drills, strength train and do mobility work.

That’s because — even with a variety of running workouts and paces — it’s not enough to just run. If you try to push yourself without improving your overall strength and athleticism, your injury risk grows and your performance becomes limited.

Running does a tremendous job of improving endurance. Any newer runner will remember how quickly they made gains in their endurance once they started running regularly. Everyday tasks become easier — from climbing the stairs to playing with your kids to making it through a long workday.


Running occurs in only one plane of motion and neglects other components of athleticism. To support your running, you also need to focus on other skills:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Speed
  • Coordination

More strength gives us the ability to produce greater force. It also allows our joints and muscles to sustain the impact of hitting the ground repeatedly as you run. Greater dynamic flexibility allows for a better range of motion in joints during movement. Speed allows us to move rapidly, and coordination allows us to do all of these more efficiently.

Most important, a well-rounded, athletic runner is less injury prone. When you’re stuck in the injury cycle and can’t run regularly, progress is limited. The most beneficial thing you can do for your running is make your body strong and resilient enough to support it.

Using a car analogy, build a chassis that is strong enough to support your engine! For runners, our aerobic fitness improves more quickly than our structural fitness. So while you might be able to complete a 10-mile hard effort, your joints and ligaments have to be strong enough to support you or you’ll wind up sore and injured. You also lose structural fitness more quickly than aerobic fitness, making it especially easy to get injured after a period of time off.


Becoming a more athletic runner begins with building better habits. Start by changing your mindset and thinking of yourself as an “athlete who specializes in running.” This means putting in the time to make yourself strong, flexible and coordinated. Eventually, a well-rounded runner’s routine looks like this:

  1. Loosen up prior to your run with a 10-minute dynamic warmup.
  2. Cool down with mobility or strength work.
  3. Run on varied surfaces.
  4. Use a gym for strength training twice a week.
  5. Perform running drills to improve form and efficiency.
  6. Incorporate challenging workouts that push you out of your comfort zone.

Don’t panic if none of this is part of your routine just yet. And certainly don’t try to cram it all in at once. The good news is all of these components require minimal time to reap maximum benefits. The most important factor is consistency, day after day and week after week.

If all of the components listed above are new to you, start by taking a few weeks to build the habit with just one item on this list. Start with a warmup routine and commit to 10 minutes before every run. Once that becomes second nature, add another item on the list.


Running faster is a skill requiring not just aerobic capacity, but also muscle strength, good mechanics and coordination. As you develop your training to support your running, you’ll find you’ll become stronger, faster and less prone to injury. As you improve, continue to push yourself so your progress doesn’t stagnate.

The more you want to achieve bigger goals, the more essential it becomes to make yourself a well-rounded athlete. Over time, this allows you to do more drills, strength work and dynamic exercises. Your good form will come more naturally (and you’ll be able to hold it longer). You’ll have greater stability while running trails and uneven surfaces. And most important, you’ll become more resistant to injuries!

You’re an athlete, not just a runner. When your fitness and training routine support this mindset, your running reaps the benefits for years to come.

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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