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How to be a better Runner

Think you've got the hang of running? Run farther and faster with tips from our experts

Here’s something you already know: running is a simple sport. In the early stages, there’s little more to it than putting on a pair of trainers and running for as long as your legs will carry you. But at some point you’ll want to get faster, run farther and feel fitter. Regular runners ask our panel of running coaches and performance experts to spill the beans on how to go up a gear.

What sort of exercise should I do between training programs?

George Anderson, running coach at runningbygeorge.com says:

‘If you’ve just completed a focal race and have a few weeks before your next training programme starts, you’ve got a great opportunity to plug some of the gaps in your fitness. If you’re lacking speed, do shorter, faster sessions because these will make a big difference to your pace. If a lack of strength is your problem, hit the hills and work on conditioning your body for tougher terrain. If you lose posture and form towards the end of a run work on core strength in the gym and do running drills to improve your technique.

How do I forefoot run? I’ve read that elite runners do it and it’s better for avoiding injury.

Dr Mick Wilkinson, sport, exercise and rehabilitation scientist, says:

‘You don’t. Elite runners tend to forefoot strike because they’re running so fast and adopt the landing pattern to deal with the forces resulting from their speed. Barefoot runners also tend to adopt a forefoot or midfoot strike when running on a hard surface, as it allows a gentle absorption of their body weight and is therefore more comfortable than running with a heel-strike pattern. However, get a barefoot runner to train at a moderate pace on a softer surface and they often heel strike. As you run your brain will select the most appropriate footfall for the surface and speed you’re training on.’

I want to improve my running ability. How far should I run each week?

Mike Trees, elite running coach and Newton Running advisor, says:

‘I would recommend 30-50 miles per week for non-elite runners but it depends on your age and your sports background. What we need to do in our teens is different from what we need to do in our 40s or 50s. If you’re an ex-swimmer who has trained in the pool at a high level for over 10 years, I wouldn’t recommend you do much long, slow running because your aerobic system will already be highly developed. I would, however, advocate hill training and running drills to build up the necessary running muscles.

Should I lift weights to improve my running?

Dr Mick Wilkinson, sport, exercise and rehabilitation scientist, says:

‘This largely depends on your current running skill and experience. If you’re a beginner or fair-weather runner, first learn how to control your own body weight when doing running-specific drills (such as high-knees) before adding any additional load.

‘Many experienced runners don’t have the skill or single-leg strength to control the force of steady running. My advice is to work on plyometric bodyweight work by perfecting basic alternate-leg skipping with a rhythm of around 180 skips per minute. When you can do this, progress to single-leg jumps and don’t even consider adding additional load with weights. Very few traditional weight-lifting exercises have any relevance to running and offer minimal benefits.’

When and what should I eat before racing?

Mike Trees, elite running coach, says:

‘I’ve noticed that older athletes need longer to digest food before racing or hard interval running. So, I suggest that veteran runners leave at least four hours between eating and running. Comparatively, some teenagers can eat up to two hours before racing. The trick is to experiment in training and less important races to find your optimum time.

‘I always suggest eating simple sugars on race day to ensure that your bowels are not full of fat and fibre. For me, a bowl of cornflakes eaten six hours before I run, or toast and jam, is sufficient. Whatever food you choose, all you usually need to eat on race day is 600 calories because your body will struggle to digest more. But it’s important to eat the right things the day before a race. Ensure you consume carbohydrate foods and any other important nutrition the day before.’