I don’t have a magic wand to make your (or my) runs easier and faster, but there are methods for a more enjoyable, and even quick run! Granted, some days will be easier than others, but consistently using these some or all of these tips will get you moving in the right direction.
Listen to Music
Essentially, music is scientifically proven to help boost your physical performance, endurance, and recovery. Music can help you run longer, faster, and easier, and make that run more enjoyable. “It’s pretty definitive that music is performance enhancing in terms of ergogenic effect,” says Jasmin Hutchinson, PH.D, a certified mental performance consultant, and associate professor of exercise science & sport studies at Springfield College.
The music tempo matters, too. Beats per minute (BPM) of 120-140 are typically ideal for longer runs, and 140-160 for tempo/faster runs. Others state that 180 BPM is more appropriate as that matches the “ideal” running cadence. To that end, here’s a website with different playlists at 180 BPM. Of course, you need to be safe while using headphones/earphones, etc. Remember to keep the volume low enough so you can hear your surroundings. When in an unfamiliar area, or a poorly lit one, it’s best to skip the music.
It is tempting to skip the warm-up. We are short on time, or rationalize that we will start slower to warm our muscles up. BUT, to make a run feel easier, start with a 5-10 minute dynamic warm-up. By warming up, you get your blood pumping, loosen up your muscles, and make the first few miles easier. Not to mention it lessens your injury risk. A dynamic warm-up includes movements that stretch your muscles while moving, vs. a static stretch (best for post run).
According to ASICS elite athlete, Sara Hall, “caffeine can give you an energy boost and make your perceived effort go down.” Research shows that coffee can improve both sprint and endurance performance. Why? It delays the onset of muscle fatigue and central nervous system fatigue. For best results, sip on a cup 30-60 minutes prior to your run to get the full effect.
Remember Your Good Fortune
Yes, when running, we don’t always feel our best, and we can get a bit negative. Instead, as the great Meb Keflezighi says, “Think about the people less fortunate than you who aren’t able to physically do what you can do.” It truly is a privilege to be active, run, and exercise. Even with the discomfort and pain that can come along with it. And think about your motivation, check out this post on that topic!
Try a New Route
Our runs can feel harder when our routine turns into a rut, and boredom sets in. Either change the route, go a different way, head to a completely different area, or different terrain. Mark Lorenzoni, the Charlottesville Track Club coach says “the more stimulating your training, the more you’ll enjoy it.” Enjoyment means less perceived effort – thus, an easier run!
Brace Yourself for Hard Effort
I recently read a great book, How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering The Psychology of Mind Over Muscle. The author, Matt Fitzgerald points out that when you are expecting hard effort, either for a race, or tough workout, a good coping strategy is to “brace yourself.” This is essentially an attitude of acceptance toward an upcoming, likely disagreeable experience. Expecting your next race/workout to be your most difficult yet, is a more mature and effective way to prep for competition. Hoping that it will be less unpleasant than a previous race/workout will not prepare you well. And, it increases your perceived level of effort (not good!).
Shorten Your Stride
A shorter stride, and aiming for more steps per minute (180 is ideal) helps you run more efficiently. With a longer stride, there is more “braking” on the knees and hips, and significantly more loading. This increases odds of injury. A shorter stride also makes you a more economical runner (amount of energy required to cover a certain distance). Good form combined with the right cadence leads to improved economy, and most likely, faster times!
We are all guilty of this, right? Whether on a training run, or during a race, we see someone ahead and decide to pass them. This can be an effective tactic, and there is a New York University study to prove it! The study showed that runners who competed with at least one fellow runner cut ~8 seconds off their average mile pace.