How to Become a Better Runner

It’s a known fact that you can often become a better runner by increasing your mileage and incorporating speed, tempo, and long runs into your training.

But, perhaps the best way to become a better runner is simply by learning.  Learning from your own experiences in races and training as well as from friends and acquaintances who run.  And I always find that I learn MORE from the mistakes I have made.  Yes, it sucks to make mistakes (especially during races). Often they result in poor times, a painful end to the race, and the sadness of not performing well.

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After running for over 10 years, I still consider myself a student of the sport.  I’m constantly learning.  I learn from mistakes I’ve made, success I have had, published articles, and successful runners’ blogs.

Yesterday’s run is a great example of learning from a past mistake. My plan was to run 10 miles at Marathon Pace (MP).  (Note: My goal is to start incorporating 6-10 miles at MP during my long runs.  I wanted to practice running at this pace for an extended period of time before I include it in my long runs.)

I ran a 10-mile PR yesterday without any intention of doing so (I realized it was within reach with 2.5 miles left to go).  I was able to have such a great run because of my previous experience with a 10-miler.  It was one of the worst executed races in my running  career.

“Good judgment is the result of experience, experience is the result of bad judgment.”  –Mark Twain

I ran the 2007 Army Ten-Miler as a member of the Fort Hood Army Ten-Miler Team.  We trained very hard for months (close to 6 months) for this one race.  My goal was sub-70 minutes and I felt that I was showing up to the start line prepared and trained properly to run that time.

On race day, my girlfriend and teammate, Melissa and I managed to weave our way almost to the start line.  We had heard of the cluster that occurs at the Army Ten-Miler and wanted to be as far up as possible so that we could run the pace we wanted from the start.

The gun went off and I took off.   The adrenaline, the well-rested legs, the other runners sprinting to stay ahead of the pack all managed to distract me as I tried to keep up with those around me.

My watch ticked – Mile 1 – 6:31

Way too fast.  I was telling myself to slow down, but my legs had a mind of their own.  I kept running at the same pace.  I decided to maintain this pace for as long as I could because I was “building a cushion” that could come in handy later (this is faulty logic).

Miles 2-5 – 6:19, 6:49, 6: 52, 7:02

I finished the first half in a blistering (for me) 6:42 pace.  I was starting to feel tired, but I was happy that I had added to my cushion – I now had almost 90 seconds of “extra” time.

Miles 6-10 – 7:17, 7:23, 7:41, 7:43, 7:26

The pace for last 5 miles was 7:30 – almost 50 seconds slower than the first half – and 30 seconds off of my goal pace for the race. It was one of those races where you are in so much pain, you just want it to end, and no matter what you do, your legs can’t move any faster.  It was awful.

Fast forward to today’s run.

I forced myself to gradually warm up the first mile.  Although I felt great and knew I could go faster, I maintained my MP for the next 7 miles.  

Why?  

I’ve learned that there is NO such thing as building a cushion in a race.  If you run faster than you should be, you will not be able to recover from it – and will be hurting at the end of the race. I remembered the race from 4 1/2 years ago and how I went out too fast and paid for it in the end.  I was NOT going to make that mistake again. 

With just under 2.5 miles left, I saw that a PR was within reach if I picked up the pace.  I felt great and knew I could push myself for the final two miles.

My last two miles were at MP-30 and MP-45.  

Below are my splits yesterday vs 5 years ago:

  • Mile 1:  7:42     vs     6:31
  • Mile 2:  7:13     vs     6:19
  • Mile 3:  7:10     vs     6:49
  • Mile 4:  7:09     vs     6:52
  • Mile 5:  7:08     vs     7:03
  • Mile 6:  7:11     vs     7:17
  • Mile 7:  7:10     vs     7:23
  • Mile 8:  7:07     vs     7:41
  • Mile 9:  6:43     vs     7:43
  • Mile 10: 6:28    vs     7:26

Total time: 1:10:57 (PR by 7 sec!)  vs 1:11:04
Average Pace: 7:05   vs  7:06
Pace over last 3 miles: 6:46   vs   7:34

The finish times from the two runs are really close – I only PR’d by 7 seconds yesterday.  However, the runs could not be more different.

I finished STRONG, HAPPY, and CONFIDENT yesterday.  In 2007, I finished with tears on my face from the sadness and pain.

I ran a consistent pace for most of the run yesterday. I ran the 7 middle miles within 6 seconds of each other (fastest was 7:07 – slowest was 7:13).   There was a difference of 1:22 with the same miles in 2007.

I never questioned my ability or training yesterday.  I spent the 2nd half of the race in 2007, unsure if I would even be able to finish. 

Yesterday was a great run; but, I know that not ever run or race is going to be great.  I will have bad days. I will not always race well.

The key is not letting these runs get you down.  Look at what you did poorly or what you can improve upon.  Learn from them.  And then move on.

If you do, you WILL become a better runner. 

Have you run poorly in a race?  What did you learn from that experience?   

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    36 thoughts on “How to Become a Better Runner

    1. I didn’t start running until I was in college, because up until that point I hated it.I know that a lot of others don’t enjoy running, or find it really hard, and this article will help them to change that. Amazing article and great tips. These kind of tips helped me to become a good runner. And I believe with the adaptation of above tips, running gets easier. You can run longer and faster with the same amount of effort as before. And then one day, you realize that this thing you found to difficult has somehow become fun.
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    3. Great post. I really appreciate seeing the contrast between times. This proves the importance of sticking to the game plan. I understand the feeling of being in a race and wanting to push yourself as hard as everyone around you at the beginning, but it truly does take being steady and smart to do as well as your goals would allow. Nice job on your running, you are an inspiration!

      Greg at Dazadi.com

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    5. I only just noticed this post – dur.

      Yes, I have had two really bad races in the past, and can put it down to four things:

      1) going off too fast.

      2) two poor fueling methods beforehand

      3)stopping during the race (if you stop once you will stop again and again and again…)

      and 4) Losing perspective and respect for the race – I just saw these as “just” a 10k and a 5 miler, any race in my opinion regardless of the distance deserves to be respected. I didn’t go in with the right mental attitude and got complacent. Big mistake!

      So far my 10 mile PB is 96 minutes, what I’d do for a 70 PB over that distance! Whoosh! You are one speedy lady!

      • Sometimes I feel like as though I learn the lessons, I don’t head them the next time I’m out running. It’s hard not to loose focus during a race – the excitement, crowd, etc often cause us all to do things we don’t usually do in training! LOL
        Thanks for the sweet comment, Helen!!
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    6. Great post! I just ran a half on Sunday and killed myself starting to fast! I feel like I run to slow and I beat myself up about it, but blazing the start of the race won’t fix that. The split times were great to see.

      Thanks!

      • I hate getting passed in races early on…but I prefer to be the one that is strong at the end and running faster than I started. It’s too tempting to start fast during races (I’m much better at it during training runs!)

    7. Great lesson here.

      I am learning this myself and am forcing myself to practice Ironman marathon pacing and racing which means including walk breaks when my HR goes too high.

      It is humbling and difficult but my two half-ironman races have been 1:47 and 1:53 for the 13.1 miles and my stand alone is 1:36 and I know I can be closer to that then the 1:50 average I’m at now. It is all in the pacing. Both races I started out burning the candle at both ends and it caught up to me.

      • It’s just too tempting to start out fast. I find that I do much better at pacing during training runs. During races, I am too excited to contain myself. LOL.

    8. This was an awesome post. I loved seeing the comparison splits and how you could finish so fast while starting so conservatively. Awesome job!

      • It was interesting to see the splits side by side. And despite being almost identical in time, they were SO different. It’s much easier to start conservatively in a training run then it is in a race! LOL

    9. A: I am never running with you, though I’ll gladly push our kids behind you. DAMMMMMMN you’re fast.

      B: Negative splits are always way better for me too. I also like interval running one fast mile, one slower mile, with the last mile being the fastest.

      C: DAMMMMMMMNNNNNNNN you’re fast.

    10. Thank you so much for writing this! I think a lot of us get caught up in a ‘bad race’ or trying to be faster. We forget that sometimes our bodies know what’s best! I know I have to watch not going out too fast at the beginning – I’ve definitely paid for it later on in a race too many times! And awesome job on the PR – well deserved!

      • I think the easiest way to learn is by having a bad race b/c you never want to feel that way again…unfortunately, it stinks as you are having the bad race =) Thanks, Megan!

    11. What a great example of learning how to pace!! I think I run a similar style to you. I much prefer to start slower and gain speed as I go. When I positive split (esp. in a race) I get frustrated and depressed and question why I am running at all. I think every runner needs to find what works for them. To me, I would rather negative split or run as close to even splits as possible. Like you said, there is something great about finishing strong and feeling as if you just conquered the world! I ran a horrible half this fall in which I started too fast and died at mile 8. It was a hard lesson to learn but it got my attention all right! I have been MUCH more cautious of my race pace start since that day. Unfortunately, it takes learning the hard way sometimes…

      • I completely agree…it’s just hard to determine what’s the right pace to start – you don’t want to start too slow and then not be able to make up the difference later on in the race! But like you said – you need to find out what works for YOU! Have you run another half since the bad race in the fall? How’d you do!??!

    12. Yes! this is such an awesome post, michele. so so so so true. we are always learning from our mistakes, from our pain. and we are getting stronger and wiser because of it, but will always be students of our sport. that sheer fact makes me excited – i will never tire of learning! you are going to rock your race, i can’t wait!! xxoo

    13. That’s pretty amazing to see your splits from your two runs side by side and congrats on the PR! Seems so logical that you can build a cushion for yourself when racing but it’s so very painful to learn your lesson in a race. A great post to remind us all that every run and every experience is an opportunity to learn.

    14. I know we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others, but oh man! Your slow times are faster than beyond my wildest dreams! That aside, I do sometimes think about building a cushion, but you’re right: you haven’t done yourself any favours when there’s nothing left in the tank and your run isn’t over. Congrats on the PR!

    15. Oh gosh story of my life. I am the queen of positive splits! I have learned soapy of these lessons. Lately trying to force myself to set new goals on long runs not about the fastest but smarter goals like today makin it through my run safe,slow, and steady!

    16. I love the concept of being the student of your sport. I feel that that is particularly true of running – always, always, always a learning curve with this sport, isn’t there? I LOVE what you learned and the comparisons you drew between this race and the one in 2007. Incredible growth and an incredible PR! Rock on!

    17. great job! And you are totally right… the only way to truly get better as a runner is to continually learn as we go. :) You are rocking it!

    18. Patience has got to be one of the hardest things to learn as a runner. Last year running 2×1.5m repeats aiming for a faster 2nd lap helped me learn to run slower. Ironic but sometimes it’s hard to run slow.

    19. Could not agree more! 15 years in and I am still learning! And I’ve had that race experience too. So painful and maddening. I’m glad you has such great runs yesterday!

    20. I feel like it’s all about learning from experiences! Take what works and what doesn’t and change! You did AMAZING!!! Way to go quick chick!!

    21. Great post. Learning from bad experiences is something we all do or at least do better, however all too often some just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Going out too fast in race conditions is way too easy to do and then like your story shows you pay for it on the other end. :-)

    22. Great post! So true about the perils of going out too fast. I can just imagine the difference you felt at finishing both runs. Good thing to remember about not building in a “cushion”. Sometimes I think of it like that, but I should remember that it’s smarter to build speed throughout.