How to avoid going round in circles - how (I hope) to run faster and further

September 11, 2016

The great thing about running, compared to other kinds of exercise, is that it’s simple. All you have to do is get up, put your shoes on, and go. As easy as that, right? Except sometimes, for some reason, it’s not that easy to motivate yourself.

As someone who didn’t really see the appeal of running until fairly recently, I’ve somehow become a relatively enthusiastic runner. As with many converts, I’m trying to push myself to do longer distances, but sometimes need some help, so here are some tips for becoming a better runner.

Commit yourself

Publicly sign up for an event slightly outside your comfort zone. In my case, I’ve got my first half-marathon coming up in a week’s time. Not only should I have started a proper training regime when I signed up a few months ago, but I should have finished writing this blog post that I started at the time.

If you’ve said that you’re going to do something, the fear of failure is a strong motivator. Of course, another way to invite ridicule is to write a blog post setting yourself up as an expert on something. So it’s time for a disclaimer - these tips are all pieces of advice that I’m trying (and sometimes failing) to follow myself.

Make It Easy On Yourself

It’s important to have targets that will stretch you, but they shouldn’t be impossible ones. Don’t get obsessed with the targets themselves - the important thing is what they represent: a motivation to run more. Similarly, don’t beat yourself up for failing to hit your targets. Sometimes failure is the spur to the next success, but sometimes it can be the nail in the coffin of your motivation.

Give yourself something to chase

If you want to go faster, events like Parkrun are good - you’ll almost certainly push yourself harder if there’s the motivation of competition, even if you’re just trying not to get overtaken by small children.

Don’t chase shadows

While a sense of competition can help, you should try not to compare yourself with other people. Unless you’re Usain Bolt or Mo Farah, there will always be someone who’s faster than you, and most of the time there will also be someone slower than you. It’s natural to feel a sense of competition with other people around you, but there’s no point in judging your own success or failure by how you’re doing relative to them. You don’t know what state other people are in, or how hard they’re pushing themselves, and even if you do, what does it matter?

Take comfort

This may seem slightly obvious, but remember to go to the toilet first. If part of your body is telling you that you need to go back home, you’re not going to be at your best.

Don’t go round in circles

Doing laps is pretty tedious, and it’s much easier to give up early. If you’re able to set yourself a specific destination at the start of a run, you’re not leaving room for decisions while you’re out on the run, so you don’t have the temptation of cutting the run short. The best way to make sure you don’t quit is to not give yourself the option of quitting.

One-way runs are good - for instance running to or from work. Some people I know take a train or bus to some fairly random spot and then run home.

If you are doing a loop, bridges are good, because once you’ve crossed them, there’s no short cut home - you’re committed to going further. You’ve crossed a Rubicon, and if you want the run to be over, the quickest way to make that happen is to keep running until you get back home.

Don’t get get bored

Some people value the meditative aspect of running, the feeling of getting into the zone once you’ve spent a while putting one foot in front of the other. I can see the appeal of that, but it never quite works that way for me - I prefer to keep my mind occupied with podcasts, Other people swear by audio books. For events, or if I’m trying to go at a decent pace, music at the right tempo is the way to go.

Get in the rhythm

Another important thing about Parkrun is that it’s a regular event. Having a regular date in the diary is a great way to build up a habit, and having a regular habit is probably the best way of improving, or so they tell me.

Hopefully these tips will be useful to you, and to myself. If you have any other recommendations, please let me know via the comments.