Running - Ultimate Guide to Benefits, Injuries, Equipment & Training
This ultimate running guide is designed to provide high quality, detailed information on all-things running whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced runner.
This guide discusses running types, equipment, workouts, nutrition, resistance training, recovery, and supplements. If you have any questions or comments please let me know in the comments below.
At the most basic level, running is really just a series of controlled falls. Whereas walking requires you to have at least one foot on the ground at all times while propelling yourself forward, running involves having both feet off the ground for a portion of the time.
Running is the oldest, cheapest, and fastest method for getting from point A to point B without the use of a machine or animal. In fact, racing on foot is one of the earliest competitive physical events and continues to be one of, if not the most popular physical activity on the planet.
Before we dive into this guide, it’s helpful to discuss common running terminology related to the act of performing the running movement itself.
Stride – In the running world, a series of long and forward steps beginning with foot A’s push-off from the floor, raising of the knee A, foot B’s push-off from the floor, raising of the knee B, landing of foot A on the floor, push-off of foot A, etc…
Gait – The behavior of everything below your hips, including your thigh, calf, ankle, and foot during one complete stride. Analyzing your gait may help to identify muscular imbalances leading to poor form and increased risk of injury.
Pace – The speed and distance covered by your stride; largely dictated by your gait, cardiovascular ability, and training experience. Most common expressed in minutes per kilometer or mile. A faster pace indicates a faster runner who either covers the same amount of ground in a shorter period of time, or more ground in the same period of time. Advanced runners are highly self-aware of their pace during training and thankfully with the rapid development of running technology, beginners and intermediate runners can also effortlessly track their pace.
Foot Cadence/Turnover – In automotive or car terms, it is the number of revolutions, or times you raise your feet, per minute. A higher foot turnover typically yields a faster pace but may negatively impact your stride or gait if you hyper focus on foot revolutions.
Benefits of Running
Running often gets a bad rap in the weightlifting community, so let’s take this time to highlight some of running key benefits.
Improved Cardiovascular Health – Running at any intensity does wonders for improving your blood flow, heart strength, and circulation. Those that run regularly typically have a slower resting pulse rate (measured in beats per minute) and can pump more blood throughout the body with each beat of the heart.  Even beginner runners will notice significantly less fatigue after climbing a flight of stairs or walking for long distances.
Increased Fat Loss & Weight Reduction – Running is one of the most time efficient cardiovascular activities for burning calories. If you’re eating fewer and/or burning more calories than you are consuming, then you should experience a reduction in both weight and fat. A 180 pound person who runs one mile in 10 minutes can torch 136 calories.  While this may not seem like a lot, consider that running just 25 miles can eliminate one pound of fat. Body weight and running pace are key components for determining calories burned per mile; an increased body weight or decreased pace will increase the calories burned per mile.
New and Enhanced Social Connections – Running is typically considered an individual, rather than group, physical activity, but it does not have to be. Running with your friend, coworker, family member, or local running group is a fantastic way to form new and strengthen existing social connections. Running groups in particular are excellent for bringing a group of strangers together around a shared passion. Regardless of your running experience level, there’s probably a local running group near you that tailors to your pace and goals.
Improved Mood – There is nothing quite like the post run endorphin-rush to have you feeling on top of the world and optimistic about whatever life may throw at you. For the science geeks out there, endorphins are endogenous (created by the body and all-natural) opioids created in response to physical activity.  After a hard run you may feel a sense of euphoria and decreased pain sensations. Regular running allows you to ride that mood boost in to other areas of your life.
Increased Fresh Air and Sun Exposure – Many Americans work indoor desk jobs and as a result, limited or no sun exposure. If the weather and environment in your area permits, I encourage you to run outside. Running outside, particularly when the sun is out and when you’re not bundled up to the neck in winter clothing, is a great way to both breathe in fresh air and increase your vitamin D exposure. Over 40% of Americans are deficient in this critical vitamin.  Vitamin D deficiency may lead to losses in bone density which then leads to an increased risk of osteoporosis.  If you can, do yourself a favor and get outside for as many of your scheduled runs as possible. Your body and mind will thank you.
Strengthened Physical and Mental Endurance – Due to the repetitive nature of running, many runners find themselves able to withstand increased physical and mental challenges during their day-to-day lives. It takes a special level of focus, discipline, and mental fortitude to pound the ground for 120 second at an all-out pace or 60 minutes as a steady stride cadence. As someone who previously ran 60+ miles per week regularly, you find develop mind games and employ techniques designed to help push through the discomfort and achieve your running goals.
Drawbacks of Running and Common Injuries
While running has a number of benefits, it does carry inherent risks, particularly for individuals who only use running as their physical activity. Below are some of the most common running-related risks and injuries.
Overuse Injuries – a broad terminology applied to injuries arising from the repetitive nature of running. Overuse injuries build slowly and subtly over time rather than occurring what may feel like overnight. The most common types of running-related overuse injuries are runner’s knee, Achilles tendinitis, and shin splints. To minimize or prevent overuse injuries, wear supportive shoes of the correct size and be mindful of your running form, particularly when you begin feeling fatigues. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel any type of pain and discomfort (not the good kind during a hard workout), then terminate your run immediately and consult with your healthcare professional.
Stress Fracture – A stress fracture is a type of overuse injury resulting in tiny cracks of the bone, most commonly in the knee, shin, and foot.  As you place repetitive stress on the same muscles over time, they may fail to absorb the shock and transfer it to the bone. Stress fractures most commonly occur due to the downward force placed on the leg when the foot lands on the ground. To minimize the likelihood of a stress fracture, wear supportive shoes offering shock absorption and minimize the frequency of running on hard surfaces like concrete and pavement. Instead, aim to perform a majority of your running on softer, yet stable surfaces like grass and dirt.
Debilitating Muscle Tightness – Tight muscles are virtually unavoidable regardless of the physical activity being performed. Running in particular typically leads to exceptionally tight iliotibial (I.T.), hamstring, and calf muscles. If not managed correctly, these tight muscles can cause serious discomfort and may negatively affect your running form, resulting in increased injury risk. Let’s be honest, stretching isn’t the first thing we think about after a tough run, but it’s critical for ensuring the muscles, tendons, and ligaments stay limber and in peak condition. Techniques like static and dynamic stretching as well as self-myofascial release are great ways to loosen up those tight muscles.
Plantar Fasciitis – Severe pain on the bottom of the heel that affect over two million people per year, resulting from the irritation and inflammation of tissue running along the arch of your foot.  Some individual may experience plantar fasciitis immediately after their first few runs while others may never experience this debilitating discomfort. The most common treatment for plantar fasciitis, in additional to ice and rest, involves rolling your arch around on a sturdy sphere like a tennis or lacrosse ball. If that still does not alleviate the pain then many individuals find relief while wearing shoes with custom-made orthotics designed to treat this condition.
Types of Running
While running may be as simple as lacing up a pair of sneakers and hitting the road to rack up some mileage, there are three sub-types of running – sprints, distance, and hybrid. These running types are based on intensity, duration, environment, and other activities, if any, that may be performed in additional to running. Each type of running requires a different type of training and running equipment.
Sprinting - a running style characterized by short distances, short durations, and high intensity. Most of the competitive running events at the Olympics, taking place on the track, would be classified as sprint-style runs. The average track is approximately 400 meters in length. For those on the U.S. Standard of measure, approximately 1600 meters or 4 laps is equivalent to one mile. The most common sprint race distances are the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter, 800 meter, and 1600 meter. Some may argue the 1600 meter is not a sprint but I would argue it’s also not long enough to fall in to the distance running bucket. These runs may last 10 seconds to 8 minutes and should leave you gasping for air at the end of the race if you’re running at an all-out pace.
Endurance Running - without a doubt, the most common, straightforward, and arguably simplest type of running. Whereas sprinting involves multiple repetitions of the race distance in a workout, training for distance races can be as simple as keeping a steady pace for a predetermined amount of mileage. In many cases, you do not even run the full distance of the race during training. The key characteristics of distance running include low to moderate intensity, but moderate to long distances and duration. The most common distances classified as distance running include 5 kilometer (3.1 mile), 10 kilometer (6.2 mile), half marathon (13.1 mile), and full marathon (26.2 mile) races. Although distance running sounds less intense, it requires an exceptional amount of discipline and self-awareness to maintain a consistent stride, proper form, and decent speed over longer distances. Distance running can be just as challenging to the brain as it is to the body.
Hybrid Running - involves a mixture of sprinting, distance running, and sometimes non-running activities. Hybrid runs vary in intensity, but are typically moderate to long distances and durations. In addition to running, these hybrid runs may include bicycling and swimming as seen in Ironman races and triathlons or climbing, scrambling, jumping, and crawling as seen in mud runs and Spartan Races. Training for hybrid runs typically involves not only running, but also cross-training for the other physical activities required to complete the race. Cross-training not only improves overall performance on these races, but also decreases the risk of injury as we will discuss in upcoming sections.
The best type of running for you should be based on your goals, interests, and physical ability. Endurance running tends to be best for complete beginners whereas sprints tend to be ideal for athletes and experienced runners looking to take their performance to the next level. Hybrid runs offer a mixture of both sprinting and distance-style running but also incorporate variety from other activities. Regardless of which you decide, but in your best effort and do not compare yourself to others. Adjust your pace, duration, and distance on how you feel and your physical ability.
Shoes. With the explosion of barefoot-style running in the past few years, I may get push back for the first essential piece of running equipment - shoes, but hear me out. Shoes refer to any protective barrier between your foot and ground, with or without cushioning.
- Cross-Trainers - Without a doubt, the most common type of running shoe. They’re also the shoe of choice for gym rats. Cross trainers tend to be on the heavier side compared to the other shoe options discussed below, but they offer a great balance of stability, comfort, and durability. When you look at the bottom of the shoe, you may notices ridges, also known as trends. Cross trainers have moderate to low treads so they are not designed for extremely unstable terrain. Regardless of your experience level, if you run on pavement, the treadmill, or level terrain, then nearly all of your training should be completed in this type of shoes.
- Trail Shoes - Cross trainers for runners who enjoy getting lost in the woods and other back-country terrain. Trail shoes tend to be as heavy as cross trainers but offer deeper treads for easier navigation unpaved and unstable surfaces. If you do most of your running on dirt, gravel, sand, mud, surface water, or high grass then consider using trail shoes. You can train and compete in trail shoes, but if the race is on a paved or stable surface, then you’re better off using cross-trainers.
- Barefoot-Style Shoes - Designed mimic running barefoot by offering little more than a protective barrier between your foot and ground. These shoes tend to be extremely lightweight, sometimes with areas for individual toes, and have a highly durable sole with little or no treads. Barefoot-style shoes have become extremely popular in the past few years, especially for fitness enthusiasts that enjoy cross-training activities like CrossFit or Mud Runs. Unfortunately, especially in beginner-level runners, these shoes may exacerbate poor running form, pre-existing medical conditions, and injuries related to the foot, leg, or hips. If you’re new to runner or barefoot-style shoes, ease into using this shoe type slowly. Start by running shorter distances on softer ground like dirt, grass, or sand. After just one run in barefoot-style shoes you may experience new-found soreness in your foot, ankles, and calves. In general, this soreness should not cause concern as it’s typically the result of new stabilizing muscles in the lower body being activated and fatigued. However, if you’re in exceptional pain, discontinue the use of this shoe immediately and consult your healthcare provider. On a personal note, I use barefoot-style shoes for running sprints, moderate distances, hiking, and in the gym.
- Running Spikes - A heavily utilized shoe type in the cross-country running community. Spikes are made of extremely lightweight fabric and have no tread. To improve traction, especially in trail races, running spikes have sharp metal or plastic spike-like inserts sticking out of the bottom of the shoe. Most runners only use running spikes for races and competitive events. You should avoid performing your general training in running spikes are they are designed with weight, rather than durability in mind. Furthermore, running with spikes on a paved surface is not only physically uncomfortable, but will also destroy the spikes in no time.
- Track Shoes - Offer many of the same benefits of running spikes, but tend to be designed and marketed towards runners who compete on 400 meter tracks. These shoes are lightweight, offer no support or treads, but do not weigh down your foot like trail shoes or cross trainers. Many track shoes offer the ability to add and remove spikes as-needed. These shoes are mostly utilized by runners during sprint-style races and competitive events. The practicality of track shoes for distance runners is non-existent, so do not waste your money unless you plan on sprint-style runs.
The best shoe for you should align with your goals, be comfortable, and fit true to your fit size. You will not believe how many people I’ve met that experience running pain and discomfort only to find out they’re wearing the wrong size shoe. If you can, go to a running specialty store to ensure you purchase the optimal shoe for your build, running style, and goals.
Although every running shoe company may carry your size, there is definitely a variation in fit across brands. As far as replacing running shoes is concerned, use your best judgement; if you see them breaking down or if they cause discomfort, then replace them as soon as possible. For those looking to replace shoes based on mileage, the 300 to 500 mile range tends to be ideal.
You may have the fanciest and most supportive shoes in the world, but if your sock game is lacking, then expect to be in a next-level state of discomfort. DO NOT RUN IN COTTON SOCKS. I cannot emphasize how important wearing a decent pair of non-cotton socks is to your foot health and enjoyment of running. Cotton absorbs moisture and combined with the heat and friction from repetitive foot strikes during running, can cause blisters, calluses, and hot spots.
There is nothing more painful than realizing you have crippling blisters on your heel and toe when you’re a few miles away from your starting point. Look for socks made from synthetic materials that wick away moisture like polyester, acrylic, and CoolMax®.
While the technology behind these socks may sound fancy and expensive but they’re not. You can pick up high quality moisture-wicking socks from your favorite local running store, big box retailer, or online retail store.
When selecting a pair of running socks, also be sure the back portion covers your entire heel and Achilles tendon so that no part of your foot is in direct contact with the shoe. While no-show socks may be your sock of choice in a casual setting, they can easily slide down or off while running.
Lastly, do yourself and everyone around you a favor by washing your running socks after every use. This practice decreases the chance of general foot stink and foot infections.
Jeans are one of the best investments you can make in casual wear, but don’t even think about wearing them while running. The only people who should be running in jeans are the perps on Cops who truly didn’t do it.
Similar to socks, you don’t have to wear a pair of expensive designer bottoms, but you should make sure they’re made with moisture wicking fabric that’s also designed to minimize chaffing.
For those of you with larger thighs that naturally rub together during your day-to-day activities, pay close attention to how these bottoms fit before you embark on your run. In fact, consider rubbing your thighs with an anti-chaff product before you put on the bottoms. I cannot tell you how many runs I’ve suffered through where I purchased bottoms that did nothing to fight chaff.
As far as fit is concerned, find bottoms that aren’t too baggy but also aren’t so tight that they cut off circulation. Some running bottoms offer built-in underwear, similar to bathing suit netting, so you don’t have to sweat in or stink up your everyday cotton underwear.
I’m a big fan of the built-in underwear shorts as they also minimize chaffing with the elimination of cotton underwear. As far as features are concerned, I avoid running shorts with side pockets because I hate items jangling up and down during my runs. However, a zip-secured fanny pocket on the back of your running bottoms is great for storing small items like keys and credit cards without having to deal with the annoyance of the dreaded side pocket sway.
The length of the bottoms should be based on your proneness to chaffing and weather. The table below recommends bottoms based on these two factors:
|Full Body Workout|
|Thigh Size||Warm Weather||Cold Weather|
|Large (Rub Together)||Shorts that cover your thighs (typically around knee length)||Pants or compression leggings|
|Small (Thigh Gap)||The shortest shorts you can stand||Pants or compression Leggings|
Upper Body Wear
Depending on the weather and your self-confidence, you may decide to run without anything covering your upper body and that is completely acceptable. On sunny days, running with little to no upper body wear is great for increasing your vitamin D exposure. However, upper body wear helps to protect against the elements and minimize or hide the inevitable torso jiggle.
From the minimal possible coverage standpoint, sports bras offer chest support and coverage without completely covering the upper body. Some sports bra offer hidden pocket storage for small items like cash, a single key, and credit cards. Tank tops offer slightly more skin coverage than a sports bra, but expose portions of your upper chest, shoulders, upper back, and arms.
T-shirts and long sleeve shirts are the most common upper body wear for runners of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, and experience levels. Look for reasonably priced shirts made of synthetic moisture-wicking material to minimize chaffing. Even if you choose a high-quality material, some individuals still experience bloody nipples after long runs (10+ miles).
To prevent this tragic event, place the non-sticky part of a Band-Aid right over each nipple and you should be able to run pain free. As with nearly every other piece of clothing you wear during your run that touches your body, wash your shirt after every use.
A lightweight jacket made of either waterproof or water resistant material adds an additional layer of protection again the harsher elements like wind, rain, snow, and general cold weather. For additional warmth, select a jacket with a fleece lining or wear an additional shirt layer.
An ideal running jacket has a few zipper pockets for storing keys, cards, cash, and/or your music player. For those running at dawn, dusk, or night, look for a jacket embroiders a reasonable amount of reflective material on the jacket itself to increase your visibility for cars, trucks, and other vehicles.
The add-on items below are by no means essential, but may help improve the safety and comfort of your runs.
Supportive Shoe Inserts/Orthotics
I’ll be the first to admit my build and biomechanics are not built for running. For a male I have a thick torso, non-narrow hips, short legs, and no arch in my foot. The lack of arch in my foot leads to over-pronation which can leads to an inefficient running form, foot pain, and predisposition to injury. Supportive shoe inserts and in some cases, orthotics, significantly help to alleviate this pain and improve my running performance.
Shoe inserts are a great way to not improve lessen the blow to your knees during the landing of each stride, but also may help to correct under-pronation or over-pronation. Under-pronation occurs when your foot rolls outward too much upon striking the ground where over-pronation occurs when the foot rolls too far inward.
After just the first use of inserts or orthotics, you may notice less fatigue, smoother running form, and increased overall comfort. Inserts and orthotics are typically made of a blend with foam, plastic, and for extra support, wood. While they’re not the cheapest add-on, they can save hundreds or possibly thousands in medical bills resulting from stress fractures and overuse injuries due to poor running form and lack of support.
Music Player Holder
Almost every runner I know who prefers solo runs (including me), will tell you that a music player is the only way to stay sane and pass time. With the exceptional development of full-capability smartphones, many of us use our phones as music players. Thankfully, many manufacturers offer armbands and hip bands tailored just for these smartphones.
A music player holder is by no means and requirement; you can just hold the music player. If you’re running with a smart phone in your hand then resist the temptation to stop and check your e-mail and social media profiles whilst running. Whenever I ran with a music player in my hand, I found difficulty reaching the same smooth stride compared to when I attached my music player to an armband.
As briefly mentioned in the essential running equipment section, reflective gear is critical to your safety while running at dawn, dusk, or night. Reflective gear is even more important if you’re running on or along roads with vehicle traffic as well as wooded areas where hunters may be posted.
During low-light hours of the day, the temperature tends to be on the cool side so wearing a jacket with reflective material is a good start. If weather near you is warm during these time periods, then a shirt and hat with reflective material on both the front and back could save your life.
Along the same thread as reflective gear, headlamps are a cost-effective way to improve your visibility during low-light hours like dawn, dusk, and nighttime. You can find a reasonably priced and lightweight headlamp that sips energy through the use of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) at your local camping store, running store, big box store, or online. Wearing a headlamp during road runs further increases your visibility to vehicles and improves overall safety.
I love hats for two reasons – they offer a minor level of face protection from the sun and cover up crazy hair. Wearing a brimmed hat provides a small amount of shade from the harsh ultraviolet sun rays as well as keeps a light rain drizzle out of your eyes.
Those who run early in the morning or after a long night, appreciate the peace of mind putting on a hat provides to cover up wacky hair. There’s something unsettling about a scantily clad person running in the woods with hair going in every direction. Put a hat on and you’re instantly taken more seriously.
Running Workout Techniques
Based on your running experience, the sections below provide suggestions on running workout techniques and progression approaches so that you can continue setting new personal records. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should provide you with a solid foundation to structure and add variety to your running routine.
You might be a beginner runner you if...
- Have never run a day in your life.
- Perform a mixture of running and walking during short distance runs.
- Are on a couch to 5K-style running program.
- Have yet to wear through your first pair of running shoes.
- All of the above.
For a more concise definition, beginner runners tend to be individuals logging one to three runs per week for one to three miles per run.
The magic workout technique for beginners is… To just run. At this point in your running career you should prioritize maintaining proper form and weekly, if not daily incremental improvements. Improvements may take the form of a faster pace, longer distance, better running form, or less walking per run.
Do not lace up and immediately expect to be capable of running 30-60+ minutes without struggle or fatigue. Program your running progression slowly and conservatively – start with short runs and over time, gradually increase the distance, duration, and frequency until you reach an intermediate experience level. If you feel pain or discomfort, then do not be afraid to cut your run short and take the appropriate recovery precautions.
You might be an intermediate runner if you...
- Have run competitively in short or moderate distance runs like the one mile, two mile, or 5km.
- Have worn through at least one pair of running shoes.
- Compete in another physical activity regularly but are looking to improve cardiovascular performance.
- Run three to five times per week for three to five miles per run.
- All of the above.
Intermediate runners should not be stopping to walk during short and moderate distance runs, but rather should be looking to take their running to the next level.
In addition to logging a moderate amount of weekly mileage at a steady pace, hill repeats are one of the best workout techniques for intermediate runners. Go to a nearby park, neighborhood, or other outdoor area and look for either a steep hill of 200 meters or a gradually sloping hill of 400 meters. Once you’ve found that hill, run up at 80-90% of your max pace for that distance.
Once you reach the top of the hill, catch your breath and then walk or jog back to the bottom. Repeat this 8 to 10 times or until your quadriceps scream for mercy. Hill repeats improve foot turnover speed, build mental fortitude, increases quadriceps strength, and minimize knee stress since your leg never fully extends during the landing of a stride. You can progress on hill repeats by speeding up your pace, decreasing your rest periods, increasing the number of hill repeats, or lengthening the distance of each hill repeat.
Pace or distance-specific intervals are another great workout technique for intermediate runners looking to improve self-awareness and performance. Intervals are similar to hill repeats except they’re typically performed on a flat surface such as a track or pre-measured stretch of land. Unlike hill repeats, intervals require setting, achieving, and maintaining a specific pace for a predetermined distance.
One of my favorite interval workouts involves maintaining a 6:00 mile pace for 400 meters and repeating this interval 8 to 10 times. Intervals are great for increasing your self-awareness with regards to your speed, running form, and overall pacing.
If you find yourself unable to complete the interval distance, repetition frequency, or target pace, then take time post-workout to examine why you did not achieve your goal. Chances are you will be able to pinpoint at exactly what point during a run you increase upper body movement, decrease foot turnover, or change your breathing pattern. Intervals are tough so while the distance may not look significant on paper, just two miles at a quick pace can tax your cardiovascular and muscular systems.
Hopefully just a small percentage of runners reading this article jumped to this section. Advanced runners are no stranger to the trails, treadmill, track, or road. You might be an advanced runner if you...
- Run competitively in 5Ks, 10Ks, and beyond every two or three months.
- Have lost count of the pairs of running shoes you’ve worn through.
- Are highly self-aware of your running form.
- Can audit and adjust your pace on the drop of a dime.
- Run five to seven times per week for five miles per run.
- All of the above.
Advanced runners are likely familiar with the workout techniques below, but they’re worth highlighting for the sake completeness.
Sprints. I may receive some push-back, but I believe only advanced runners should be regularly performing sprints due to their intensity, technical complexity, and stress on the body. At this point you may think I’m full of crap, but consider that sprints, defined as all-out runs of less than 800 meters, require an exceptional amount of body self-awareness and cardiovascular strength to complete.
Now, I am not talking about the push you make at the end of a 5K to shave three seconds off your personal best. I am talking about all-out sprinting where you have no time to think, your body is deprived of oxygen (anaerobic state), and one false misstep could be the difference between first and last place.
Sprints are an excellent tool for developing raw explosiveness and speed, but they tend to be most effective for runners with a nice collection of miles under their belt. At my peak I would have considered myself a semi-advanced runner, but even then, 8 to 10 all-out sprint repeats of 200 to 800 meters left me wiped out.
Sprints, especially on a flat surface, place significantly more stress on your knees and joints upon leg extension during stride landing. If you want to run fast but don’t consider yourself and intermediate, then I recommend running hill repeats instead.
Fartlek training sounds goofy but this technique is a great way to add variety to your running routine, build cardiovascular capacity, and shave time off your competitive distances.
Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”, so unsurprisingly you will adjust your speed throughout your moderate and long distance runs. Fartlek runs involve a combination of running at moderate and fast paces. For example, you may begin your run with five to ten minutes at an average pace, but then decide to run past the next 20 trees as fast as you can.
If you’re a road runner then two of my favorite fartlek techniques involve alternating moderate and face paces based on either lampposts or street signs. Every time you reach one of those landmarks you adjust your pace accordingly.
Fartlek training does not have to be regimented in terms of pace, distance, or repetition frequency. Instead, fartlek training adds some fun and inner-competitiveness to the otherwise average runs in your program. This technique is considered advanced because it takes some self-awareness to identify what constitutes a moderate and fast pace as well as requires a solid foundation of cardiovascular capacity so that you’re not completely wiped out after running two sections at a fast pace.
Post-Run Recovery Techniques
I’ll be the first to admit that after an intense run, my priority is to hydrate, shower, eat, and relax, in that order. While there’s nothing wrong with this post-run protocol, adding recovery techniques before that shower may expedite recovery and improve performance. Below are some of the more popular post-run recovery techniques to minimize soreness, return the body back to baseline, and facilitate recovery.
A cool-down walk is one of the simplest yet most effective post-run recovery techniques. Cool-down walks help to flush the lactic acid from your muscles, ease your heart rate back down to normal levels, and add additional mileage to you weekly log. Furthermore, there is no learning curve to complete this activity effectively - if you can walk at a normal pace then you perform a cool-down walk.
If I’ve just completed a run workout on a track or on a treadmill then I may walk the equivalent of one or two laps. After a run in the woods or on the roads I may walk for five to ten minutes since it’s harder to measure distance. During this cool-down walk be sure to focus on regulating your breathing, taking strides of reasonable lengths, and fighting the urge to start running again.
I may get criticism for this one but back when I was running 50-60+ miles per week, leg elevation immediately after a run did wonders for flushing lactic acid, decreasing the perceived heaviness of my legs, and keeping my legs feeling fresher. During a run you’re pounding the pavement and blood is pumping hard to your lower extremities.
In theory, after a run, lying on your back and elevating your straighten legs up against a wall help to bring some of that blood back to your torso and upper body. I found that just five to ten minutes of leg elevation, after I catch my breath and perform a brief cool-down walk, did wonders for recovery.
During a run the blood vessels in your lower body dilate and receive a large influx of blood. At a muscular level, an intense workout damages the muscle fibers, triggering minor swelling and inflammation. Physiologically your muscles are attempting to rebuild and repair themselves.
During a workout designed to increase muscle size, inflammation and muscle microtraumas are beneficial, but not so much with running. Immersing your lower body in an ice bath can help to constrict blood vessels, flush waste products like lactic acid, reduce swelling, and minimize tissue breakdown.  Cold therapy won’t completely prevent muscle soreness but I’ve found just five minutes in an ice bath offers an immediate sense of relief after an intense run.
If the idea of jump in a tub of ice water sounds less than appealing, you can also look in to cryotherapy tanks or apply cold compresses to specific muscles that most commonly experience soreness. Be sure to perform cold therapy after any stretching or foam rolling as your blood vessels and muscles will contract post-therapy.
Static and Dynamic Stretching
One of the most common post-run moves is to perform the classic gym-class stretch of throwing one leg on a railing and leaning your torso forward. While this static hamstring stretch is somewhat effective, performing a series of static and dynamic stretches post-run can do wonders for improving mobility, alleviating tightness, and facilitating recovery.
Static stretching involves no movement but rather isometric elongation of the target muscle. Dynamic stretching involves moving the target muscle through a specific range of motion to achieve elongation and flushing of lactic acid. Most experienced runners who perform both recommend performing dynamic stretching followed by static stretching.
Some of my favorite dynamic stretches include leg swings, walking lunges, butt kicks, and leg lifts. My favorite static stretches in include the ever-popular raised leg on the railing for hamstrings, hanging your heels off an elevated surface for calves, and bending your knee to grab your ankle for your quadriceps.
For a more compound static stretch, take a stance slightly outside shoulder width with your toes pointed outwards slightly. Sit back on your heels and lower your glutes until you reach the bottom of a squat position. Hold this for as long as comfortable, using a wall or support to hold to if needed, before push through your heels and returning to the starting position.
In the past few years, a number of respected fitness professionals shifted from their recommendation from performing foam pre-workout to post-workout. Post-workout foam rolling can help to relax and elongate any muscles that became tight during your run.
Beginners should start with a soft foam roller but if you’re feeling dangerous, use a Rumble Roller (foam roller with soft spikes) or PVC pipe. I find foam rolling to be most effective for improving the mobility and recovery in my calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, iliotibial (IT) bands, and inner thighs.
Perform 10 to 15 rolls in each target area and should notice a difference after just a few runs. Foam rolling can be uncomfortable so do not forget to breathe and really allow that target muscle to relax. If for some reason you feel sharp pain then terminate your foam rolling session immediately and consult your healthcare provider.
“You can’t out train a lousy diet.” No truer words have been spoken in the fitness world, especially for athletes competing in high intensity sports like running.
To optimize running performance, you must consume appropriate quantities of the three key macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Lacking just one of these nutrients could mean the difference between a personal best and a personal worst.
Protein is not just for bodybuilders and athletes focused on building the size of their muscles. After a run your body is in a muscle-wasting, also known as catabolic, state. You’ve exposed your muscles to a significant amount of stress and as a result, they’re now craving nutrients so that they can recover and rebuild stronger than ever.
Lean, minimally-processed protein sources provide high quality and easily absorbed forms of amino acids which are the building blocks for protein. While you may not require as much protein as someone focused on muscle growth, you should strive to consume 1 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
Some of my favorite protein sources include chicken breast, lean cuts of beef, tuna, whey protein, and yogurt. If you can afford some extra fat in your diet then pick protein sources like ground beef, salmon, and chicken thighs.
Carbohydrates are a runner’s best friend. Back when running was my primarily physical activity, I fondly remember loading up on pasta and bread a big race. While carbohydrate-loading is appropriate in only select circumstances, there’s no arguing that adequate carbohydrate consumption supports optimal running performance.
Start with 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight and adjust based on your weekly mileage, goal, and how you feel. A majority of your carbohydrates should come from minimally processed sources like whole wheat flour, rice, potatoes (sweet and white), quinoa, oats, and fruit. If you training for very long distances then you may also benefit from quick and portable carbohydrate sources like honey, sports drinks, gels, and bars.
Fat is not the enemy. Let me repeat, fat is not the enemy and it will not make you fat.
Adequate intakes of minimally processed healthy fats will fight inflammation, cushion your joints, tendons, and ligaments, facilitate recovery, and maintain gastrointestinal regularity. Furthermore, not all saturated fats are created equal. Naturally occurring saturated fats found in beef, dairy, and coconuts help to optimize normal hormonal function.
A fat intake of 0.4 to 0.5 grams of fat per pound of body weight is a good starting point but can be adjusted up and down as needed. Some of my favorite sources of healthy fats include almonds, peanut butter, coconut oil, ghee, ground beef, salmon, and flax seed. Healthy fats high in Omega-3 fatty acids like flax seed and salmon also offer strong anti-inflammation and neuroprotective benefits.
In conclusion, a high carbohydrate, moderate protein, and moderate fat diet consisting primarily of minimally processed foods will enhance your running performance, recovery, body composition, and mood.
Feel the (Calorie) Burn
Those running endurance distances burn more fat per mile compared to those running sprint distances. This is because endurance running is primarily completed in an aerobic (oxygen-rich) state. Sprinting is primarily completed in an anaerobic (oxygen-deprived) state so you tend to burn more carbohydrates per mile. However, sprinting also offers the benefit of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, which can burn additional fat and calories post-workout.
If you’re struggling to pin point how many calories you should be eating to sustain your body weight, use one of the many online nutrition calculates to establish a baseline. From that value, you can assume a caloric burn of roughly 100 calories per mile. While this value varies based on your age, weight, gender, training experience, running type, and genetics, it tends to be a good starting point. This value also provides a nice round number to shoot for when settling mileage goals based on calorie expenditure.
The three sample diets below are based on body weight and geared towards individuals with running as their primary form of physical activity. On average, these caloric intakes are for a runner who logs three to mile miles between three and five times per week.
Instead of telling you exactly how many grams of a certain food to eat, I’m going to list out general servings and timings.
For example, one serving of a lean protein, whole grain carbohydrate, fruit, or healthy fat is equal to 100 calories. One serving of a vegetable is equal to 50 calories. On average, a serving of protein is equal to a deck of cards, a serving of carbohydrates is equal to your fist, and a serving of fat is equal to a tablespoon. For those looking to take a more scientific approach, invest in a digital food scale and pair it with either a written food journal or online nutrition application like MyFitnessPal.
The diets below are moderate to high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and moderate in fat. Whenever possible, aim to consume nutrient-rich minimally processed foods, but permit yourself a treat when appropriate.120lb Runner – Morning Runner – 2,300 calories – per day
- 5:00am – Wake Up – Coffee and 1 serving of fruit – 100 calories
- 6:00am – Run
- 7:00am – Breakfast – 1 serving each of protein and healthy fats; 3 servings of carbohydrates – 500 calories
- 10:00am – Snack #1 – 1 serving each of vegetable, fruit, and healthy fats – 250 calories
- 1:00pm – Lunch – 1 serving of protein; 2 servings each of vegetables and carbohydrates – 350 calories
- 4:00pm – Snack #2 – 1 serving each of protein and carbohydrates; 2 servings of healthy fats – 400 calories
- 7:00pm – Dinner – 1 serving of healthy fats; 2 servings each of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates – 650 calories
- 10:00pm - Sleep
- 6:00am – Wake Up - Coffee
- 7:00am – Breakfast – 1 serving each of protein and healthy fats; 3 servings of carbohydrates – 500 calories
- 10:00am – Snack #1 – 1 serving each of vegetable and fruit; 2 servings of healthy fats – 350 calories
- 11:30am – Snack #2 – 1 serving of fruit – 100 calories
- 12:00pm – Run
- 1:00pm – Lunch – 2 servings each of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates – 500 calories
- 4:00pm – Snack #3 – 1 serving each of protein and carbohydrates; 2 servings of healthy fats – 400 calories
- 7:00pm – Dinner – 1 serving of healthy fats; 2 servings each of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates – 650 calories
- 11:00pm - Sleep
- 6:00am – Wake Up - Coffee
- 7:00am – Breakfast – 1 serving each of protein and healthy fats; 3 servings of carbohydrates – 500 calories
- 10:00am – Snack #1 – 2 servings each of vegetable and fruit; 2 servings of healthy fats – 500 calories
- 1:00pm – Lunch – 2 servings each of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates – 500 calories
- 4:00pm – Snack #2 – 1 serving each of protein and carbohydrates; 2 servings of healthy fats – 400 calories
- 5:30pm – Snack #3 – 1 serving of fruit – 100 calories
- 6:00pm – Run
- 7:00pm – Dinner – 1 serving each of healthy fat; 2 servings each of protein and carbohydrates; 3 servings of vegetables – 700 calories
- 11:00pm - Sleep
Resistance Training to Improve Your Running Performance
Resistance training offers a slew of benefits to runners and won’t instantly cause you to gain slabs of muscle. Resistance training can increase the strength of your muscles, tendons, and ligaments, improve bone density, strip away excess fat, and minimize your injury risk.
You can perform the exercises below with your body weight, dumbbells, barbells, or a machine. Incorporating a few sets of the exercises a few times per week will improve your running performance and physical appearance regardless of your preferred running distances.
Squats – Squats are the quintessential compound movement for your lower body. Squats heavily engage your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and abdominals. The ideal squatting form varies by individual but as a starting point, take a stance at or slightly wider than shoulder width and point your toes slightly outwards.
Take a deep breath, shift your weight to your heels and lower your glutes towards the ground. Upon reaching a depth you feel comfortable with, push through your heels and drive your glute muscles upwards until you’re fully upright again. Throughout the movement ensure your spine stays in a neutral position and your torso remains relatively upright. Perform 8 to 20 repetitions per set.
Lunges – Lunges are the best unilateral movement, an exercise that works one leg at a time, for working your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Lunges are not the same as a one-legged squat but it does engage similar muscles. Set up for a lunge by standing tall and stepping forward with one foot so that the shin is perpendicular with the floor. Leave the other foot as-is and slowly descend your hips until they’re parallel with the quadriceps muscle of the forward foot. Briefly hold this position before pushing through the heel of the forward foot and raising your hips so that you’re back to the standing tall position.
Stationary and walking lunges are the most common techniques for this exercise. To increase intensity experiment with the back-to-back performance of a forward and backward lunge using the same or with one foot elevated on a surface like a flat bench or bed. Perform 8 to 15 repetitions per leg per set.
Box Jumps – Box jumps are excellent for improving your explosiveness at the beginning and end of a run. Box jumps are a form of plyometric exercise, which means your muscles must engage to perform the movement as fast and as explosively as possible.
Beginners should start without a box to learn the movement and then progress to the lowest possible. Take a squat width stance, brace your abdominals and lower your hips in to a quarter or half-squat depth. Push through your heels, drive your glutes forward and jump as high as possible. A successful box jump requires both feet to land on the box simultaneously. Slowly lower your down back to the start position and repeat for 3 to 5 repetitions.
Hip Thrusts – Strong glutes have a strong, direct correlation to running performance for both sprint and endurance runners. Hip thrusts are a simple yet effective exercise for alleviating anterior pelvic tilt and strengthening the glute muscles. Start by lying on your back and flat on the floor. Bend your knees and draw them towards your torso until they’re slightly wider than shoulder width and your feet are flat on the floor.
Brace your abdominals, squeeze your glutes, and push through your heels to initiate the movement. Continue pushing your glutes upwards until your knees, hips, and upper back form a 45 degree angle with the ground. Hold at the top for a few seconds before lowering back to the starting position. Throughout the entire movement your upper back should remain on the floor. Place a weight across your hips to increase the intensity and load. Perform 8 to 20 repetitions per set.
Calf Raises – Calf raises not only strengthen your calves, but when performed with a slow and controlled full range-of-motion, also improve your ankle and foot mobility. Seated and standing calf raises are the two most common techniques for this exercise. For standing calf raises, start by placing your foot on an elevated surface so that your heels are hanging off the edge. If you feel unsteady then use one or more arms to brace yourself using a rail, wall, or nearby sturdy object.
While keeping your torso upright, hips and knees fully extended, and slowly lower your heels until you feel a nice stretch in your calf muscles. If your heels touch the ground then you’ve gone too low or you may need to find a more elevated surface. Hold this position for one to three seconds before pushing through your toes and raising your heels so that they’re well above your toes.
Hold this position for one to three seconds before repeating the movement. To increase intensity you can perform calf raises using one leg at a time. Seated calf raises also require an elevated surface and involve the same movement pattern except you’re seated, thighs are parallel with the ground, knees are bent, and shins are perpendicular to the ground. Perform 12 to 15 repetitions per leg.
Power Cleans – Power cleans are the most technical exercise in this section arguably the most impactful to your explosiveness, strength, and power. Power cleans engage almost every muscle from head to toe and look downright badass. Unlike the other exercises on this list, power cleans must be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell.
Start with the weight of choice on the floor. Take a stance between hip and shoulder width, bend over, and grab the weight with a pronated (palms facing away from you) grip. Sit back on your heels and bend your hips until you feel some tension on your hamstrings but not so low that you’re in the same position as the bottom of a squat. While keeping the arms extended, forcefully push through your heels, extend your hips, and move your upper back backwards.
Simultaneous bring your elbows towards the ceiling so that they’re in-line or higher than your shoulders upon full extension of the hips. Quickly rotate your elbows so that they’re parallel to the floor and in-line with your shoulders so that the weight can rest comfortably – this is called the catch position. To achieve the catch position you may need to dip in to a half or quarter squat. Recover from the squat and stand fully upright. Lower the weight back to the starting position and repeat for 3 to 5 repetitions.
Push-Ups – Do not neglect your upper body just because running is an activity primarily involving lower body muscles. A strong upper body will improve your running form and fight fatigue during those times when you have to dig deep and push through the tough part of a run.
Start by kneeling on the ground, moving your torso forward, and placing your hands approximately shoulder width apart with your palms flat on the floor. Your shoulders should be in-line with your hands. Beginners can keep their knees on the ground but otherwise extend your legs so that only your toes are touching the floor.
Brace your abdominals, allow your arms to bend, and slowly lower yourself to the floor. Lower yourself as far as comfortable and before allowing your chest or knees to touch the floor, push through your palms and extend your arms until you’re back to the starting position. Perform 8 to 20 repetitions per set.
Pull-Ups – One of the best exercises for improving posture, increasing back strength, and maintaining healthy shoulders. Start by taking either a pronated (palms facing away from you), neutral (palms facing towards each other), or supinated (palms facing towards you) grip slightly wider than your shoulders on a horizontal flat. Squeeze your glutes, brace your abdominals for impact, pull your shoulders away from your ears, and drive your elbows towards the ground. You should feel your back, arm, and shoulder muscles being worked.
Continue pulling until your chin clears the bar and then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. If your grip gives out before your back then use a high quality lifting strap like Versa Gripps. Perform as many repetitions as possible with good form.
Planks – Planks are an isometric exercise. Whereas all other movements in this section involves the raising or lowering of various body parts, isometric exercises require almost no movement. Instead, you build strength by flexing and engaging the target muscle groups as hard as possible while also fighting gravity.
The setup for planks is nearly identical to the setup for push-ups except you bend your elbows so that your forearms are pointing forward and resting flat on the floor. As with push-ups, your upper arm and elbow should be in-line with your shoulders. Initiate the movement by squeezing your glutes, flexing your abdominals, and holding the position as long as possible.
Terminate the set when you lose tightness in your abdominals and your hips drift towards the floor. Increase intensity by placing a weight plate on your upper back. Hold each plank for 30 to 120 seconds.
Hanging Leg Raises – Hanging leg raises are excellent for training the muscles deep in your abdominals, alleviating anterior pelvic tilt, and stretching your upper back. Set up for hanging leg raises exactly as you would for pull-ups. Once in the bottom position of the movement, forcefully exhale, engage your abdominals, and pull your knees towards your navel.
Continue raising your knees until you feel a deep flex in your abdominals and then slowly lower back to the starting position. Beginners should perform the movement using bent knees. More experienced trainees can increase intensity by keeping their legs straight or holding a dumbbell in between their ankles. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions per set.
Supplements for Performance and Recovery
Supplements are designed exactly as they’re named – to supplement a sound training, diet, and recovery plan. However, there are a number of cost-effective staple supplements that may improve your recovery while also maintaining, or even improving your overall health.
Multivitamins serve as cheap insurance for your diet. While you should be eating a varied diet rich in minimally processed carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats, you may still fall short of your micronutrient intake goals.
Multivitamins are a great way to cover your basis and provide a peace of mind. When selecting a multivitamin, look for high quality ingredients such as chelated minerals, easily absorbed vitamin sources, and other goodies like CoQ10, lutein, or a superfood blend. My two favorite multivitamin products are MTS Nutrition Machine Greens + Multi and NOW Adam Multivitamin. If you usually experience an upset stomach after taking the multivitamin, then switch to an iron-free or take the product with a small snack or meal.
Fish oil is one of, if not the best supplement for your body and mind. Fish oil is rich to two key omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A diet rich in EPA and DHA can keep triglycerides low, fight depression, improve joint health, decrease inflammation, and lower blood pressure. 
Some athletes also report fish oil decreased their post-workout delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Just 250 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA per day can have noticeable effects. However, many studies are now finding the sweet spot for health and exercise performance to be in the 2,000 to 3,000 milligram range. When selecting a fish oil product, look for one with a breakdown of EPA and DHA on the label. My three favorite products are Ethitech Nutrition Fish Oil, Optimum Nutrition Enteric-Coated Fish Oil, and Controlled Labs Oximega Fish Oil.
A protein supplement isn’t just for bodybuilders and it won’t instantly cause you to gain pounds of muscles (if only it were that easy). Protein is an essential macronutrient, comprised of amino acids, required not only to survive but also to facilitate recovery from intense exercise. Whey protein in particular, is a dairy-based complete protein source that is cost-effective as well as quickly and easily absorbed by the body.
Assuming you have no allergies to whey or dairy, look for a high quality whey protein product where the first ingredient is either whey protein concentrate or whey protein isolate. MTS Nutrition Machine Whey Protein, Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey, and Dymatize Elite 100% Whey are some of my favorite products. Those allergic to whey protein should explore alternatives like soy, hemp, beef, and egg proteins. I use whey protein immediately post-workout and when I fall short of my target protein intake of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
If you’ve ever felt jittery from too much coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks, they you’ve felt the power of caffeine. A moderate intake of this stimulant pre-workout can improve sprinting performance, power output, and aerobic output while also decreasing the perceived rate of exertion.  However, be careful not to overdo it; excessive caffeine intake can be extremely stressful on the body and actually decrease your running performance.
If you’re sensitive to caffeine then start with an extremely low dose and adjust accordingly until you find the sweet spot for you. If you’re a regular caffeine consumer then experiment with the 100 to 200mg of caffeine range to see how it impacts your running performance. There’s no way I would have been able to consistently wake up and run every morning without the aid of this energy-boosting compound.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
As discussed in the whey protein section, amino acids are essential building blocks for muscle and exercise recovery. Three amino acids in particular, L-Isoleucine, L-Leucine, and L-valine, are called branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Unlike whey protein, BCAAs are not considered a complete protein source but they’re one of the most rapidly absorbed forms of protein by the body. Just 5 to 10 grams of BCAAs will not only bump up your overall protein intake but will also exert positive effects on aerobic exercise performance, fat burning, fatigue, and perceived exertion. 
To maximize their benefits, BCAAs are ideal to consume pre-, intra-, or immediately post-workout. A word to the wise, unflavored BCAAs taste terrible If you’re on a tight budget but insist on consuming BCAAs then the unflavored variety with a powdered or liquid concentrate drink mix. If you’re looking for a great tasting BCAA product then consider MTS Nutrition Machine Fuel, Scivation Xtend, or Core Nutritionals ABC. BCAAs are the ideal supplement to consume pre-workout if you prefer to run in the morning on an empty stomach.
Essential Minerals (Electrolytes)
Electrolytes are a class of essential minerals carrying very low electric charge and heavily expended during exercise. Magnesium, potassium, zinc, and sodium are the four most important electrolytes expelled by the body via sweat, urine, and respiration. While you may be quick to reach for your favorite sugar-laden sports drink, many of those products offer just a small fraction of the electrolytes lost during an intense run. If you find yourself unable to consume enough electrolytes from minimally processed food sources, then consider supplementing with a chelated form of magnesium and zinc.
The quantity of potassium in potassium supplements is quite low so instead consume ample amounts of coconut water, bananas, and potatoes. For sodium, add table salt to your meals and it should cover your basis. Lack of electrolytes can cause muscle cramping and deteriorated exercise performance. If you under consume electrolytes and over-consume water then you risk serious health complications that can result in hospitalization.
Creatine is a misunderstood supplement that can benefit virtually every athlete. It is NOT a hormone, steroid, or protein source. Creatine is one of the safest and most heavily researched supplements on the planet. Consuming it will not instantly cause muscle gain, but may encourage your body to retain a small amount of water which could be mistaken for weight gain.
Just 3 to 5 grams per day can significantly increase power output, improve sprinting performance, and decrease perceived fatigue. 12 The most effective form of this supplement, creatine monohydrate, also happens to be the least expensive. If mixability is a concern to you then select 100% micronized creatine monohydrate.
Regardless of which form you choose, be sure to consume creatine alongside plenty of water to decrease the likelihood of cramping. Creatine is by no means a miracle compound but it could provide just the extra edge you need to beat your previous personal best for your running distance of choice.
If you enjoyed reading this guide or have any questions then please let me know in the comments below.
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