RUNNING IS HARD!
Especially if you’re a newbie just starting out. I vaguely remember when I started running back in 1992. I liken it to having my body thrown into the depths of hell. Heavy breathing, burning legs, a bloody taste in my mouth. All I wanted to do was quit…but I didn’t…. because I knew it would get easier and my daddy didn’t raise no quitter.
I don’t know, statistically speaking, how many people start a running program only to quit a month or two later, but I’d bet my left nut it’s more than 50%. That’s a damn shame.
That’s because running can be down right (dare I say) fun once your body adapts to it. Plus, it’s simple, requires very little gear, and is near the top of exercises that burn the most calories. Did I also mention the super sleek and sexy body that is sculpted from it (insert sarcasm here)?
Lucky for you, I know some tricks to make running easier. Some of these will be no brainers but others will totally blow your mind! Without further ado here are the 9 ways to make running easier. All backed by science!
Run More Consistently
Sorry to burst your bubble but running 1-2 days a week while posting how hard it was on Instagram isn’t going to make things easier. For the most part, the benefits you’re trying so hard to gain go right down the drain if you’re not training at least every other day.
BUT MATTTTTTT…you might be whining, “I don’t have the time to run more.” BULLSHIT!
Even if you run 15 – 30 minutes, four to five times a week, your body will start having some pretty cool adaptations that will make running easier. These are:
- Increased muscular endurance – your muscle will fatigue less quickly.
- Increased aerobic power – you’ll see improvements in VO2 max.
- Increased capillary and mitochondrial density – increase blood flow to working muscles and the body’s ability to produce more energy.
- Increased stored ATP, creatine phosphate, glycogen, and tri-glycerides – which all serve as energy sources to power running.
- Increased tendon and ligament strength – stronger tendons and ligaments create more elasticity and are more resistant to injuries.
- Decreased body fat – less weight to haul around while running makes you more efficient.
Take Home Point: Run at least 4-5 days a week if not more for 20 or more minutes.
At some point, your 20-30-minute runs four to five times a week isn’t going to cut it. The body is damn smart and if new challenges aren’t introduced it will plateau.
You’re past the first hurdle (running consistently) so now it’s time to increase the duration of your runs.
Pick one to two days a week where your run 2 or more miles longer than your regular runs and increase those runs by 5-10% every week.
For example, if you are used to running 3 miles daily, bump that up to 5 miles for two or your runs. Then next week bump that number about to 5.5. miles. You get the drift.
What extra benefits are provided by adding these longer runs?
- Cardiovascular fitness continues to improve – you’ll run stronger, for longer.
- Increased red blood cell count – which carries myoglobin, which transports oxygen to the muscles.
- Increased glycogen sparing – teaches the body to use fat more efficiently as a fuel source and save glycogen for more intense efforts.
- Increased Type-I muscle fiber – these fibers are very aerobic and are very fatigue resistant.
- Increased mental strength – being able to commit to completing a long run trains your mind to be “tougher.” Ok, so that’s not exactly scientific but just my humble opinion.
Take Home Point: Pick 2 days out of the week to do longer runs. Do these runs at a very easy pace. On a scale of 1-10, shoot for a 5-6. If you use a heart rate monitor stay between 65-75% of maximum heart rate. If you couldn’t carry on a conversation if someone was running next to you, you are going too hard.
By now you’re running more often and further. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Dare I even say you are enjoying running?
Well, play time is over and it’s time to go into the pain cave for some additional running GAINZ that’ll make it easier in the long run (no pun intended).
It’s time to run faster one to two times a week using tempo runs, intervals, repetitions, and hill work. All hard things but they’ll make your easier runs feel even easier!
Let’s cover each in the chart below and discuss briefly:
Frequency per week
Duration (work bout portion)
At or slightly below race pace
3-5 minutes (1:1 work to rest ratio)
90-95% maximum heart rate.
30-90 seconds (1:5 work to rest ratio)
100%+ of VO2 max. Almost sprinting.
Varies between slow and tempo pace
Tempo runs – also known as lactate threshold runs. As the name implies this type of training improves lactate threshold….or the intensity at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the muscles. It also improves running economy.
Simply put, the higher your lactate threshold…the longer it takes for your legs to start burning.
Intervals – these are going to hurt so good for all the right reasons. The purpose of intervals is to allow you to train at intensities close to VO2 max for a greater amount of time than would be possible in a single running session.
The reward for all your pain? An increased VO2 max and enhanced anaerobic metabolism. Well worth the tradeoff IMHO.
Repetitions – Get ready to unleash your inner speed demon. Repetitions are basically a flat-out sprint that last for 30-90 seconds. Not quite as painful as intervals , but still very effective in making running easier.
Repetitions improve running speed, running economy, and increase your anaerobic metabolism tolerance.
Fartlek – Fartlek. Funny word that means “speed play” but very effective training method. In the simplest sense fartlek in a combination of slow running and running done at tempo, interval, and repetition intensities.
The main goal of fartlek training is to challenge all systems of the body and it may help alleviate some of the boredom and monotony of running every day.
Fartlek training enhances VO2 max, lactate threshold, and improves running economy and fuel utilization.
Take Home Point: Incorporate 1-2 types of the training listed above to your running routine on a weekly basis. They’ll eventually make your easy and long slow distance days feel like a stroll in the park.
This probably goes against everything you have ever been told but DO NOT stretch before running and especially don’t use the grab and hold method.
I’m only going to say this once but static stretching before running will not help you run faster, it will not decrease your likelihood of getting injured. What it will do is make you slower and make running feel harder.
Why? Static stretching decreases the muscles stretch response AND reduces muscular efficiency. Muscles and tendon store energy when being rapidly stretched during running and reducing this stretch response reduces how much power we can put down with each footstep.
One study even found efficiency was about 4% lower after static stretching. Time to exhaustion was decreased by 26% after stretching (22:57 vs. 31:12)! I don’t know about you but those statistics don’t want to make me stretch.
If you REALLY feel like you need to limber up before running, use dynamic stretching (more info here) and if you REALLY feel like you need to use the grab and hold method of stretching, do it AFTER your run.
Fuel Properly Before, During, and After
Fueling properly before, during, and after running can make your jog seems like pure bliss. Failure to do so can lead straight to bonk town where you’ll feel like punching small, fury animals.
Sorry to burst you keto lovers bubble. But carbs, oh those delicious carbs, are a runner’s best friend and they can make running feel a helluva lot easier and help you recover faster for the next run.
That’s because carbs (aka glucose and glycogen) burn a lot more efficient than fats and proteins and as such provide an almost immediate source of energy when your muscles need it.
The goal going into your run is to have your muscle glycogen stores saturated. During your run your goal is to keep blood glucose elevated. After your run your goal is to resaturate muscle glycogen stores. How do we accomplish all these goals? BY EATING ALL THE CARBS!
Reference the table below to see how many carbs you should be eating before, during, and after your run to feel like a million bucks.
Carbohydrate 3-4 hours Before Exercise
· 200-300 grams of carbohydrate 3-4 hours before endurance exercise for an adult maximizes glycogen stores at the onset of exercise and thus enhances performance. Body size, or more appropriately glycogen storage potential, accounts for this broad range.
Carbohydrate 30-60 minutes Before Exercise
· Ingest 50-75 grams of carbohydrate 30-60 minutes before exercise.
Carbohydrate Immediately Before Exercise
· If carbohydrate is to be consumed immediately before exercise (<5 minutes), 50 grams (less for women) can enhance performance without overloading the stomach at the onset of exercise.
Carbohydrate During Exercise
· An endurance athlete should strive to ingest 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of endurance performance to maintain blood glucose levels. Strength trained individual may also benefit from this amount if exercise goes beyond 60 minutes and is high in intensity.
Carbohydrate After Exercise
· Ingest carbohydrate as soon as possible after completion of a glycogen-depleting exercise session.
· Ingest 1-1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight during the first 30 minutes after endurance exercise and every 2 hours for at least 4-6 hours after that.
· Ingesting carbohydrate late in an endurance bout may be beneficial if recovery time before subsequent exercise is limited (
It’s important to note if your run is under one hour you DO NOT need to consume carbs during. That’s because (if you followed the instructions above) you body has enough glycogen stored to provide energy during your workout.
Take Home Point: EAT CARBS. They taste good and as a runner they should make up 55-65% of your total daily calories.
Choose The Right Shoes & Gear
If you’re running in old sweatpants and a pair of 10-pound, $15 dollar sneakers from Walmart it’s time to throw both in the trash.
So far, you’ve invested your blood, sweat, and tears into making running easier so now it’s time to invest in some quality gear. Mainly your shoes and clothes.
Start by going to your local running shop and have them do a simple gait analysis on you. This will at least point you in the right direction in picking your first pair of real running shoes.
Next, try on at least 3-5 pairs of different running shoes. The most important thing you should be looking for is they feel comfortable. Nobody likes blisters or black toes.
Once you have your shoes picked out, head to the clothing section and pick out some technical running shirts, shorts, pants, and socks. Even underwear if you’re feeling bold. These garments won’t absorb your sweat when you run, thus preventing you from feeling like a soaked sponge.
As you go to checkout you realize this stuff isn’t cheap, but it’ll be a night and day difference to what you were running in before. You’ll go from feeling like a beat-up pick-up truck to a high-octane Porsche. And when you feel fast AND comfortable, running will feel A LOT easier.
Take Home Point: Invest in high quality running gear.
Take Rest Days
Unfortunately, you can’t run every day. Technically, I guess you can but when would that give you time to drink beer and eat pizza. Two of a runner’s favorite things.
I FULLY endorse one to two days of total rest per week. This allows your muscles time to recover and your body to adapt to all the training you’ve been doing.
It’ll also prevent you from becoming over trained which is really no fun at all and can set your fitness back.
If you’re too OCD to take a complete rest day, do some cross training or underwater basket weaving to keep your insanity at bay.
Take Home Point: Take rest days. If the best runners in the world do it so should you. I’ve never, and I mean NEVER, have seen an athlete perform well over the course of 20 years without scheduling rest days in their training schedule.
With all the running you’ve been doing; you may be looking in the mirror and asking yourself “who is that skinny twerp (or twerpette). You see running is good at making you healthy and fit in multiple ways. One thing it is not good at is helping you keep muscle on.
That’s why you NEED to get your butt in the gym at least twice a week to do some weight training. Not only will you look better (unless you like looking like a skeleton), it’ll make your running easier.
Strength training improves muscular endurance, strength, and power. It creates more fast twitch fibers. It makes you more resistant to injuries. It increases running economy.
Honestly, the list goes on and on. Point is, as a runner you NEED to be strength training.
If you already are strength training you’re probably doing it all wrong. My guess is you have been told to lift light weights, lift them a lot of times (high reps), and take really short rest between sets. To that I say PURE POPPYCOCK!
Not that lifting light doesn’t have it advantages, but as a runner you want to be lifting some heavy sh#t and be doing big, compound movement like the squat, deadlift, and bench.
Lifting heavy will not add any bulk to your rail thin frame but what it will do is increase your strength to weight ratio. The better this is the faster you will go and with much less effort.
Now, if you have never lifted weights before hire a trainer to get started. It’s important to learn proper technique and not overdo things straight out of the gates.
Once you feel comfortable on your own you can try a strength training program like this one.
Take Home Point: Whether you do curls for the girls or thighs for the guys, get your butt in the gym at least two times a week.
Lose Some Weight
By this point, if you’ve followed all the steps above you really shouldn’t be worrying about your weight. But if you still see a spare tire when you look down it might be time to put down the donuts.
Imagine running around the track with a 25-pound weight on your waist. That’s going to be hard. It’s going to suck a little. What would make it better. GET RID OF IT! It’ll make running infinitely easier. The same goes with extra weight you may have packed on.
What’s the best way to lose the weight? Well, first keep on running and secondly cut back on your total daily calories. Nothing crazy, 500-750 a day. This could be as easy as cutting out deserts or deciding not to drink your 5th Mountain Dew of the day.
Take Home Point: Lose the extra weight if you need to.
Supplements That Make Running Easier
Yes, there are supplements that can make running easier. No baloney! Here are 5 and how much you should take 30 minutes before your run.
If you want to learn more about them and how they work, click the link on each.
- Caffeine – 3 to 6mg per kg body weight
- Beta-Alanine – 3.2 grams
- Peak O2 – 1 to 4 grams
- Beet Root Powder – 1500 to 10,000mg
- Taurine – 1 to 2 grams
- Choline – 1 to 2 grams
Now, I totally understand it may be a pain in the ass to buy and take all these supplements. That’s why (shameless plug ahead) I included them all in EndurElite’s PerformElite product – the top-rated pre-workout supplement for runners that’ll make your runs a breeze. You may also see rainbows and unicorns after taking it.
Matt Mosman (MS, CISSN, CSCS) is a research scientist, endurance athlete, and the founder and Chief Endurance Officer at EndurElite. Matt holds his B.S. in Exercise Science from Creighton University and his M.S. in Exercise Physiology from the University of California. Matt and his family reside in Spearfish South Dakota, where they enjoy running, mountain biking, camping, and all the outdoor adventures Spearfish has to offer.
- Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (Eds.). (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Human kinetics.
- Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Antonio, J. (Eds.). (2013). Sports Nutrition & Performance Enhancing Supplements. Linus Learning.
- Lowery, R. P., Joy, J. M., Brown, L. E., de Souza, E. O., Wistocki, D. R., Davis, G. S., ... & Wilson, J. M. (2014). Effects of static stretching on 1-mile uphill run performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 161-167.