• By Coach Jenny Hadfield
  • For Active.com

Running seems simple enough. You just lace up your shoes and go, right? Not quite. Learn to run the smart way with these four secrets to success and you’ll have fun, stay injury-free and enjoy a lifelong love affair with running.

Set a smart goal: Run 30 minutes in two to four months.
We all know the benefits of having a carrot dangling in front of us. Whether it be a cool medal, a pampering post-race massage or the satisfaction of finishing an event, a goal will help fuel your desire to run.

The first thing you may notice in the goal above is there isn’t a promise of learning to run 30 minutes in two and a half weeks and the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I don’t roll that way. In fact, I don’t because that was my strategy when I first tried to learn to run and it ended in tears and failure every time. It wasn’t pretty.

The goal to run 30 minutes in two to four months may not produce the same amount of searches online, but it will produce a lot more runners who love to run and who perform well. When you love something, you want to more of it.

When I say a smart goal, I mean setting a target without an exact date. Let’s face it–how many of you are able to arrive on time in air travel. Learning to run works the same way. Life happens, a lack of sleep kills your energy and your performance and motivation are affected by a number of other variables. If you run with the flow of your life and the proper rate at which your body can adapt to running, you will progress more efficiently and have more fun along the way. This means pushing on the days you feel good and easing back on the throttle when you are having a day that makes your head spin.

Practice patience, grasshopper. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a happy runner.
If you want to become the kind of runner who can’t wait for the next workout, it’s going to take time to get there. Truth is, the most common mistake new runners make is running too much too soon. For example, some new runners set a lofty goal to go couch to marathon in three months. Don’t get me wrong, it can be done. But these runners are more likely to spend their time in the “bite-me zone” of hurt and pain. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve seen way too many runners cross the finish line only to toss their shoes in the closet to collect dust because they’ve burned out by overzealous goals. Invest in running. Take your time to find the joy, and you’ll be a runner for life. If you are about to take your first steps, think about running 30 minutes straight in a few months (or a 5K event). With the pressure gone, all you need to focus on is putting one foot in front of the other. Set a smaller goal for your first running session. For example, aim to finish and go a little farther than you have to and complete your workout in a good mood. Set another goal for your second workout and so on, and so on.

Consistency is the secret to success. It’s all about creating momentum.
I use to play with dominoes when I was a young girl, and I’d line them up on a table close enough together that when I knocked over the first one, the rest came falling down in a breathtaking sequence. This is exactly how running works as well. You want to maintain the momentum from one run to another to maintain a consistent progression. If you space the workouts too far apart, you begin to lose the wonderful effects of consistency (improvement). If you find yourself in a bind and unable to get in your normal 30-minute session, head out for a quick 15 minutes of running (or even a walk). A shorter workout is better than none at all.

Running is like life. It will have its ups and downs. Ultimately, it will come down to what you do on the down days that truly pays off in the long run. Be prepared to edit, tweak and modify to ebb and flow with life’s running interruptions. It’s not about perfection, but rather keeping your running momentum flowing.

Follow a personal training plan. Run from within.

There are a lot of fantastic training plans out there, but if you want a truly custom plan that will allow you to progress at an efficient rate, go the custom route and run from within. It’s a little like ordering a personal coffee of your choice at Starbucks (you know, non-fat, half caf, extra hot, 1.5 pumps of vanilla). Here’s how…

Start and finish every running workout with a five minute brisk walk to properly prepare your body for the demands of running and then bring it back to reality once you are done.

After the warm-up, start to run until you can hear your breathing and you are just outside your comfort zone. Focus on your breathing and how your body is feeling rather than the minutes or even the distance. Doing so will teach you how to pace yourself naturally.

When you reach the orange zone running (you can hear your breathing and you’re just outside of what’s comfy), walk and catch your breath. In other words: Run until you are tired and walk until you’re bored.

Repeat the run and walk intervals for a total of 30 minutes and cool down. That’s it! Running made simple. The great part about running from within is that your body will naturally progress in time. On days when you are struggling because of poor sleep, stress or just plain fatigue, your body will ask to walk sooner. On the days when you are wearing your Superman/Wonder Woman cape, the planets are aligned, and you’re feeling strong, you will be able to run farther and maybe even a little faster.

The secret is to learn to run by effort. Gauge how you feel and stick with a consistent 30-minute workout. Some of you will progress to running all 30 minutes faster than others. No matter what, have fun in the process. After all, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.

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