10 Habits of Fast, Strong Runners

About 6 years ago, I hit a major running plateau.  I trained harder and harder, but come race day my results just weren’t changing.  It was incredibly frustrating, and humbling.  At that point, I started reaching out to other runners I knew, and I realized that we all had some differences in training preferences.  But there were also some key habits that each of them incorporated into their individualized training.  If you’re looking to get stronger, faster, or just run more efficiently, here’s a few habits of strong runners that might help you start moving the needle.  They definitely helped me out.

Set Up the Night Before – Your training is only beneficial if you actually do it.  Shocking, right?  You won’t see improvements if you just had the intention of going out for your training run.  Which is why most runners opt to schedule their runs first thing in the morning, before life sucks all the energy out of them and derails their plans.  But waking up in the early hours of the morning isn’t as easy as it sounds if you’re not in the habit. 

One way to help get you out of your very cozy, and perfectly comfortable, bed at a God awful hour is to have everything set up for your run.  You’ve already made preperations that encourage you to follow through.  Plus you’re a lot less likely to put on the wrong pair shoes or realize your Garmin is dead if you set things up the night before.  Lay out your clothes, fill your water bottle, get your fuel situated, put everything on their chargers, and make sure your coffee is set up (the last one is arguably the most important).

Make Time to Warm Up – For an absolutely embarrassing number of years, I did not warm up for any of my runs. Not a single one. I was firmly placed in the “the first mile will warm me up just fine,” camp. And I’m a little stubborn. It wasn’t until I started doing more focused speedwork that I finally succumbed to the pre-run warm up. Some dynamic stretching and muscle activation; nothing like what I saw track runners doing back in high school.

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And I was amazed at how much easier a 5 minute warm up made the rest of my run feel.  Now, it didn’t turn me into an Olympic hopeful by any means, but it 100% helped me to run faster with less effort.  I also strongly believe that it has been a part of the reason that I have avoided injury over the last several years as my training volume has increased substantially.  It was a small investment, and it paid off in huge dividends.  These days I warm up before every run, and I never even think about skipping it.

Fuel Appropriately – Now, I am not one to follow any sort of set diet.  I can’t do paleo, keto, whole 30, none of it.  I have a solid relationship with coffee and cheese, and it’s not something I’m willing to let go of.  But something that I did struggle with previously, was making sure that I was eating enough to support my training.  I’ve shared that my history with trauma has made it difficult to interpret hunger queues, and that as a result I’ve tended to rely on counting macros to ensure I’m eating enough.

A few signs to look out for when it comes to under-fueling is feeling sore for prolonged periods of time, waking up feeling weak, and being more irritable. If you think you might not be eating enough, spend a couple of days logging your food just to see if you would benefit from increasing. And while I’m never going to say no to a Reese’s, I do recommend trying to use some common sense in making sure that you’re getting a reasonable spread of carbs, fats, and protein.

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Another point that runners can often tweak is their fueling strategies during and in preparation of long runs.  Starting off the day with a solid breakfast can go a long way to make sure your long run isn’t derailed a third of the way in.  If you need some help with breakfast ideas, I’ve got a whole list organized by long run distance to help you out.  If your mid-run fueling could use some improvements, I’ve also got a guide to running fuels to give you some pointers on fueling, along with an explanation of the different options in fueling sources.

Don’t Neglect Core & Strength – For a long time, there was a misconception that lighter body weight meant faster runs. There’s been a lot of evidence that disproves this notion, and what coaches are finding is that a strong runner is a fast runner. It’s a lot easier to activate your glutes when they aren’t weak. And those muscles can help you push and run more efficiently, making running feel easier with less effort. Much like warming up, most of my clients have seen huge benefits in their running performance when they incorporate core and strength work regularly.

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Vary Training – Here’s where we talk about the definition of insanity.  If you keep training in the same way over and over, at some point you’re going to reach the point of diminishing returns.  There’s always something new to try out, whether it’s different types of speedwork, a different training volume, or a shift from focusing on mileage to focusing on intensity.  A lot of runners hesitate to change up their reliable running routine, and it’s understandable. 

But strong runners aren’t opposed to trying new things.  Even if they ultimately don’t result in the desired outcomes.  Working with a coach who knows what you have tried in the past, and how your body responded can help you feel more comfortable with shaking things up.  I know I saw huge improvements in my times when I started a training plan that was focused on high volume, which was very different from other plans I had followed in the past.  If you need a little guidance into what might be helpful to explore, please reach out via my Contact Me page.

Prioritize Rest – I shared recently that this habit is not one that comes easy to me. I generally have a harder time sitting still, and running really helps me manage my anxiety. But strong runners know that it is next to impossible to see continued progress if the body doesn’t have time to rest, recover, and rebuild. That is why it is so important to build in rest days and recovery weeks into your training plan. Prioritizing rest is also a really great way to prevent the biggest running nightmare of all; overuse injury.

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So as tempting as it may be to write off the need for rest, remember that you are in fact human.  And even God took a day off after a long week.

Keep Learning – I can’t tell you the number of times I thought I had heard every training tip known to man.  I mean, I’ve been running for over a decade.  But there are so many types of training, so many little helpful hints, and information and science are always revealing new ways to improve running form, technique, and training.  The biggest mistake any runner can make is to stop learning or asking questions.  Stay open, curious, and keep exploring different options.

Network with Other Runners – Remember how I said that I started asking my running friends about their training once own results started to stagnate?  Well, I wouldn’t have had anyone to ask if I hadn’t done the uncomfortable (for me) thing, and built a network of running friends.  As much as I enjoy a good solo run, it’s also really helpful to have a small community of other runners to occasionally bounce things off of.

And to be honest, some of my running buddies have helped keep me motivated when I’ve found myself struggling to stay on track. I’ve found it invaluable to stay engaged with other mother runners, and I’ve gotten so many great pieces of advice and encouragement. Plus, most of my running buddies have purses full of snacks, which is just one of the many reasons running buddies are the best.

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Set & Chase Goals – It is nearly next to impossible to make improvements if you don’t have a goal in mind.  And often times, we don’t set goals that are big and scary enough to keep us going.  Knowing that you are working towards something you once thought was impossible might be the thing to help you get in that 15 minutes of core work when Netflix is calling your name (strong runners can multi-task and do both, btw).  There are few things that can help you to keep pushing like that fire in the belly that comes from a hard goal.

Write it down, say it out loud, and don’t be afraid to fail.  Some of the best goals take multiple attempts to finally achieve.  But as long as you are continuing to learn, adapt, and put in the work, there are few things that are truly out of reach.  And honestly, if Trump can make it into the white house, you can definitely kick ass on the roads or trails.

Ask for Support – This is part of the reason I so highly encourage runners to build their running community. It is tough to get faster, stronger, or better at any given sport. Especially as an adult. We have jobs and bills and all sort. There’s of distractions just ready to keep us from training consistently. Which is why strong runners know the value of asking for support.

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Whether that means help from your partner in watching the kids, or an early morning text from a running buddy to help keep you accountable.  If there is a part of your life that is making running more difficult than it needs to be, ask for help.

These tips are far from secret, but they’re often habits that we lose focus of.  Often times in training, we are our own worst enemies, which is why hiring a coach can be really beneficial.  But work some of these habits into your training routine, and tell me if you don’t notice some sort of improvement.  And if there’s anything you’ve come across that I’ve left out, please let me know in the comments.  Like a strong runner, I am always trying to learn new tricks!

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