If you want to be the best that you can be at something, no matter what it is, you must be disciplined in that something. In our case, it’s running. I believe that every runner can get better and faster and can become the best runner that they can genetically be. There’s always room for improvement on the way to being your best.

So here are 7 habits of highly effective runners (in no particular order) which can assist you in becoming your best (of course there are many more that can be added to the list):

Highly effective runners:

1.    Take ownership of poor performances and learn from their mistakes.

We all have bad days. We have bad training days and we most certainly have bad race days. The key to becoming a highly effective runner lies in what you do with the bad performance. Do you just carry on and pretend like everything’s ok? Do you just write it off as a bad day at the office? Do you wallow in self-pity and come up with every excuse under the sun as to why you had the bad day? Or do you sit down, weigh up all the variables, examine the experience from a distance and then decide what you can fix and what to write off as simply a bad day?

By taking the time to analyze our poor performances, and even our good performances, we begin to learn a lot about our own body, our personality and our psychological state. When we take the time to look at the variables, things like weather, diet, build-up, outside stress, etc, we are able to identify what we did wrong and what we can improve on next time round.

I encourage you to always sit down within a day or two of a race and to write up a race report of how it went. This would include areas such as: training build-up, nutrition in the weeks before, on the day of and during the event, mental state leading up to, just before and during the event, race strategy and how the event unfolded. In each of these areas ask yourself, “What worked? What didn’t work? What should I change going forward?”

You’ll start to become a highly effective runner when you start to fix your mistakes and capitalize on your strengths.

2.    Follow a structured and well thought out training program.

Unfortunately, most runners have the perception that only certain “levels” of athlete can or should have a coach. This is quite simply not the case. Employing the services of a coach, and the right coach at that, will go a long way in getting you closer and closer to your best.

I have come across a number of runners who know that they should be doing some sort of quality in their training weeks, but actually don’t have a clue as to what type of quality, how much quality or when to do the quality. I have actually heard runners setting off for the track asking each other “so, what do you feel like doing today? 400’s?” Some of these runners are still able to run some pretty impressive times, imagine the times they could actually be running if they had a well thought out and structured program?

Highly effective runners know that the body is an incredible and complex biological machine which has to be well tuned in and amidst countless variables. The correct energy systems for your event need to be effectively developed, threshold limits need to be pushed back, the training must allow time for training adaptations to take place and the body must be allowed to super-compensate. (super-compensation is a physiological process in which the body overcompensates for a particular stress it has been placed under so that it can better handle the same stress again).

To become a highly effective runner, follow a well thought out training program structured specifically for you.

3.    Listen to their body, not their mind.

The mind is an incredibly powerful thing. It can drive us to amazing accomplishments and to achieve things no person ever thought possible. But, it can also bring us to a grinding halt in race such as a marathon that should otherwise see us running a PB.

The brain is continuously monitoring signals received from the CNS and PNS. If the brain detects that the body or parts of the body are being pushed toward a dangerous level, it attempts to slow down or stop the cause of the red flag. Prof Tim Noakes calls this the Central Governor Theory.

Of course, what the science has shown is that these alerts are early warning systems and with training (super-compensation) we are able to push back these early warning systems and push ourselves to new levels. On the plus side it seems humanly impossible to run yourself to death, the brain simply won’t allow it and as a last resort will shut the body down in order to prevent death. Of course that’s assuming that you’re running or racing without any other issues which may be present, such as taking part in a race when you’re sick, etc.

Highly effective runners learn to identify the difference between the mind or brain trying to dictate what they do versus listening to the body. For example, you have a track session planned after work consisting of 6 x 800m repeats. You get to the end of a long work day, it’s 30 degrees outside and all your brain wants to do is dump you on the couch in front of the TV with the air-con billowing out cold air. Highly effective runners know that this is simply the mind trying to deter them, they know that once they start running they’ll start to feel good and they’ll feel even better after the workout and so they head out to train anyway and complete their session despite what the mind is telling them.

On the flip side of that, highly effective runners listen when the body talks. For example, you’ve been under a lot of stress at work, your sleep hasn’t been what it should be and you’ve been hitting a few tough training sessions, you wake up and there’s something inside of you that says “rest”, you’re mind is saying, “come on, get up, I must train”, but that something else is saying, “rest.” This is the body speaking and you become a highly effective runner when you recognize it and listen to it. In most cases, when you ignore the body you end up either injured or sick, and in some cases, you end up both.

4.    Think about what they eat.

There’s an age-old saying which says, “What you put in is what you get out.” This is very true of our eating habits;  garbage in, garbage out. You simply cannot perform at your best when you’re not fueling yourself adequately. And adequate fueling does not equate to volume, it’s not about the amount of food you put in, it’s about the quality of food you put in. Yes, you have to ensure you’re eating enough food, but generally that’s not the problem. The problem is the kind of food we put in.

I don’t however believe that you have to always be over analytically with your food and I do think if you want to eat rubbish from time to time that’s ok, as long as it not the rule. My advice, 1) follow a 90/10 % rule. Eating well 90% of the time and limit junk and rubbish to 10% of the time, 2) eat real food. Stay away from processed and boxed food, eat the full range of fresh meat and different vegetables, especially the greens, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy lifestyle.

VO2max is directly linked to our weight. VO2 max is the number of milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute. The less weight you carry around the higher your VO2max. If you’re carrying around any excess body weight I encourage you to lose it, you’ll be amazed at the impact that has on your running. Any extra kilogram, is an extra kilogram your body has to waste energy on in order to carry t around with you on a run.

Become a highly effective runner by becoming mindful of what you eat.

5.    Never give up.

Running is not always easy and it’s not always fun. Sometimes, it’s just plan old hard work. There are times when you can feel your running improve, those times are great and it’s easy to remain motivated. But, there are also times when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau or like you’re actually getting worse. This can be related to your training or to something else going wrong, like low iron etc. But, if all of that checks out it’s also pretty normal to go through troughs and “dry” spells in your training. Highly effective runners never give up, they keep on looking and moving forward no matter what.

When you’re in a trough or a plateau try and identify why. If it’s because you’re over training you can fix that. If it’s because your bloods aren’t 100% investigate it. A little while back I had a client who kept complaining about struggling on the run and feeling tired all the time, I checked her training and was more than satisfied that it was not training related and encouraged her to go for blood tests. She put it off saying, “my mind is weak, I need to toughen up” until eventually she gave in and went for the bloods. The result, she had hemochromatosis, in other words, iron overload. She has since been able to focus on getting the health issue sorted out so that she can get her running back on track.

But, once you’ve ruled out any health problems or potential over training, then you simply need to hang in there and keep going. When you don’t feel like it, see point 3, and get up and train anyway. The good news is that this feeling, this plateau, shall pass and you’ll come out the back of it stronger and fitter and ready to push further.

Highly effective runners never give up no matter how hard it gets.

6.    Plan and think about their goals.

There are races almost every weekend, Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes mid-week too. There certainly aren’t any shortages of races.

The problem is not that there are so many races, the problem is that we want to do them all. Now of course we can’t race them all so what we end up doing is simply running the races one after the other to the point where we no longer know what it means to race. I sat with a client over coffee talking about racing a 10km race, she turned round to me and said, “but why would I want to get up at 4am to go and run a 10k when I could run a 10k at home?” That’s when I realized that we don’t see races as races anymore, we see them simply as runs.

Highly effective runners see races as races, they keep the “magic” of the race alive and they choose very carefully what and when they race. We’ve all felt the “magic” of a race, that energy, excitement and adrenaline coursing through the veins of every athlete as they line up waiting for the gun. This “magic” drives us to run faster, pushes us to dig deeper and drags us through our mental barriers. If we end up simply running race after race than we lose the “magic” and races simply become paid-for group runs.

Sit down with the race calendar and identify what your priority A races are for the next 12 months. Then look for priority B races, these are races that you want to use as building races to your priority A races. For example, for a marathon, priority B races might be a few flat, fast 10k’s and a 21k 3-6 weeks before. Lastly, identify a few priority C races, these are races you want to push, but if training or circumstance dictate otherwise you’re happy with dropping them.

You become a highly effective runner when you know what your goals are and you have a clearer picture of how you plan on getting there.

7.    See recovery and rest days as training days.

In order to benefit from training we have to give the body time to repair and recover from the hard training sessions, this works hand in hand with the theory of super-compensation. Recovery and or rest days are just as important, if not more so, than a hard quality session.

Highly effective runners see recovery days and rest days in the same light as training days. They don’t feel guilty, they don’t feel like, “I should be training”, they don’t feel the need to do other forms of training just so they can feel like they did something. They understand and they see the benefit of allowing the body time to recharge.

Become a highly effective runner by ensuring you have enough recovery and rest in your training program.

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