Some runners seem to have it all together: they’re always healthy, running well and enjoying every moment of their training.
How do they do it?
Successful runners are creatures of habit. They follow a consistent routine—while allowing for strategic flexibility—that lets them get the most out of their training without getting hurt or burning out from working so hard.
After interviewing dozens of runners, coaches, running authors and sports psychologists (and coaching for nearly a decade), I’ve distilled the most valuable lessons of success into an easy-to-follow guide.
Follow these principles and you’ll soon be a faster, healthier, happier runner.
Consistency is the secret sauce
Successful runners know that it’s not one long run, fast workout, or high-mileage week of training that helps them succeed. The real key is the total value of that work, month after month, that really matters.
I’ve long called consistency the “secret sauce” to successful running. And when it comes to every element of training—overall volume, speed sessions, long runs, strength work, injury prevention, drills—it’s consistency over time that’s truly important.
Successful runners know that something is better than nothing. They track their training and complete as much as possible.
Doug Hay, an ultra runner, podcaster and coach at Rock Creek Runner, is adamant about logging runs for consistency reasons.
“Keep a training log with details on not just the distance and pace, but how you felt, where you ran, and notes about the workout,” he stresses. “That information can act as a warning sign before an injury or training setback, or as a blueprint for what’s working with your training and racing.”
What gets measured, gets managed. And if you want to be a consistent—and successful runner—logging your runs is critical.
Warm up to start right
A proper warm-up will help your running in numerous ways:
- It improves performance, helping you run faster
- It reduces the likelihood of injury
- It makes you feel better when you start running
Instead of static stretching or no warm-up at all, the most effective type is called a dynamic warm-up.
It will consist of movements and light strength exercises that will increase your heart rate and range of motion, lubricate joints, open capillaries and prepare the body for running.A set of dynamic warm-up exercises can take only about 5-10 minutes and should be done right before you go running.
This simple habit has strong benefits, takes only a few minutes and sets you up for success. What’s not to love?
Easy days should be EASY
A common mistake among many runners is to run their runs all at the same pace. But hard days should be necessarily hard while easy days should be very easy.
And runners often have trouble running at a truly easy pace on a recovery day. But that’s the point!
By polarizing training into very hard and very easy days, we prioritize fitness on those hard days while maximizing recovery on the easy days. It’s the most efficient way to get faster.
But too often, runners feel good on a recovery day and push the effort, sabotaging recovery, increasing the risk for injury, and potentially sacrificing the quality of an upcoming long run or speed session.
Instead, recovery runs should be done at a pace that is conversational, comfortable and controlled.
Recovery is just as important as training
Aside from running easy runs truly easy, resting properly is also critical for long-term success because without adequate rest, the body won’t adapt to all the training you’re doing!
There are two ways to prioritize recovery:
First, ensure you get a great night’s sleep. This is when your body repairs, strengthens, adapts, and recovers. Coach Hay agrees.
“Proper sleep is essential for your body’s ability to recover and train effectively,” he explains. “Sleep enables your body and muscles to repair, and by neglecting it, you will not be able to train as hard or efficiently. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night.”
If you’re training significantly more than usual, aim for an extra 30-60 minutes.
In addition to adequate sleep, taking time off from running will also help reduce injuries, the risk of burnout and low motivation, and increase your drive to succeed.
While it seems counter-intuitive, take several 1-2 week blocks of time off from running every year. It’s a helpful way to ensure your running stays fresh.
Focus on strength after every run
The runners that rarely suffer a debilitating injury also have a strength habit: they regular focus on getting stronger (not just on gaining endurance!).
This practice has several benefits:
- Runner-specific core work (like plank exercises) maintain proper posture while running
- Stronger muscles better withstand the impact forces of running (reducing your injury risk)
- You’ll always know if a run is complete if it’s “sandwiched”
Runners with long histories of injuries should begin this practice immediately.
No matter what type of runner you might be, whether brand new to the sport or an experienced trail ultramarathoner, these habits have the potential to make you into a faster, stronger, less injury-prone, happier and more consistent runner.