Whether you are getting ready for a PT test or just trying to get into shape, running can be an important part. My coach back in the day used to tell us that you couldn’t fake being a good runner because it takes time and hark work. Although you’ve got to give it time to be a good runner, that doesn’t mean you can’t be efficient about it, too.  These tips will not shave a minute off your mile time, but they will help you avoid some common mistakes.

  • Start today

Sometimes the hardest part of running is taking the time to change into running gear, picking a route, and actually getting out there and doing it. Don’t let yourself make any more excuses.  Approach it as you would any other appointment or task and set aside a specific time to do it.  Pencil it into your calendar, set an alarm, do whatever you need to do and don’t just leave it for when you “feel like it.”

  • Remove obstacles for yourself

Especially if you’re not to the point of liking running, every hindrance to getting outside and doing it will be an opportunity for you to stop before you’ve even started.  Remove as many of these as you can and make it easy for yourself to get running.  For example, I like to run in the morning, but the cold morning air makes me not want to get out of bed to put everything on, much less go out and run in the cold.  I got over this mental barrier by sleeping in my running gear and keeping my shoes next to my bed, so my clothes were at least warm when I put my hoody on and my shoes were readily accessible. That is just one example, but figure out what blocks you from running and get it out of the way.

  • Set goals

Why are you running? What is all this work worth to you?  What about your life will be better?  These are important questions to ask yourself, and they’ll help you formulate a running plan.  Whether its health, PT scores, or pancakes (or all three in my case) find something that will motivate you to start running and to keep running when it gets hard. Not only do you need something to help you overcome the alluring magic of a “perfect comfy” bed in the morning, but you need the right kind of motivation to help you finish instead of stopping short. You need that goal to keep you moving because it’s not the first lap that matters.  It’s that last lap that makes you feel like you’re gonna die… and then the lap you do after that that are the most important for growing your running abilities.

  • Make a plan & measure your progress

Now that you have something to work toward, make a plan.  Whether you’re running to increase your endurance and distance or to speed up your PT times, tailor your running to accomplish your goal.  Don’t just run based on how you feel or when you get tired; these things are deceptive and won’t push you. Make a plan and be strategic. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Be sure to log what you have done, too.  It can be encouraging to know how many miles you have logged over the past couple weeks even if your time is not where you would like it to be yet. Don’t just measure your success by how you feel after a run, have hard numbers to look at.  Heck, you can keep a record for bragging rights and posterity if you want.  Whatever motivates you and pushes you to be better!

  • Be consistent

The biggest lesson to be learned in running is to do it everyday rain or shine. If you take no other lesson from this article, please–for the love of everything that is good in life–take this one!  My cross-country coach was pretty tough, and if you tried to cop out of running by being sick he would always say, “You can run with a cold, or you can get a day behind with a cold.” Some may question his wisdom, but the message was simple: running demands consistency.  It is better to run one mile a day for six days than to run six miles in one day. This provides more time for your lungs to expand, muscles to repair themselves, and your blood to adjust to being more efficient while transporting oxygen. If bad weather does prevent you from running, have a backup plan. Find an indoor track, play some basketball, racket ball, or better yet run some suicides. Keep your momentum going! One of the reasons many people always feel like death when they run is that they don’t do it often enough. They never capitalize on all the work they did before by building on it; they just keep having to rebuild a foundation. Too much time between runs allows your body to adjust back to its state before you ran.

My wife hated running when we started… a lot… but now she can comfortably run a competitive pace. (Emileigh: It took a while, but it does get better!)  Be consistent and capitalize on ALL your hard work. I like to summarize this truth by telling myself to only run each mile once, because if I allow my body to adjust to its prior state it is like I never ran those miles and I’ll have to run them again to get back to where I was.

  • Run with friends

One of the best ways to ensure consistency is to do it with a couple of buddies who will go out of their way to make fun of you and give you a hard time for skipping a day. Find some friends who also want to be better runners or are better runners than you and run with them. It is much harder to “just not go” when you know there is a ton of crap coming your way for a lame excuse. It is also fun to be the friend who gets to dish it out, because you were out there getting compound sweat equity.

  • REST!

After running for several days in a row you will be tired, and the keys to preventing injury are planned rest and eating good food to allow your body to recover. As you run you will learn to listen to your body, and you will know the difference between a minor ache and something that could be potentially more serious. Running while hurt doesn’t help anyone. Give yourself time to recover from the exercise, and if you do get injured, rest long enough to completely heal before starting again.

I hope these help you in your pursuit of runnerhood! It’s hard, but the benefits are well worth it. That first 5K medal or 90%+ on your PT score is well worth the sweat, pain, and blood.  If you can do (or are already doing!) all these things, I am confident that you will become a better runner than you were yesterday.

Do you love running or is it a necessary evil for you?  Do you have any tips that can help others become better runners, too?