After 20 years of competitive running, I can thankfully say I’ve picked up a few tricks that make the often painful task of running that little bit easier, comfortable and hopefully enjoyable. Below are my top 15 – I hope they come in handy!
1) Wear sunscreen - but not on your forehead.
A main reason we all exercise is to look and feel good, so it's a bit counteractive to damage your skin in the process. Wearing sunscreen is a must when exercising outdoors, even when it doesn't feel particularly hot or sunny (wind and clouds can be deceptive in hiding those burning UV rays). A trick I picked up (after complaining of a delightful combination of sweat and sunscreen running into my eyes) is not to wear sunscreen on my forehead. A hat is a better option to avoid those stinging eyes while providing UV protection.
2) Develop a coffee addiction.
As the only performance enhancing drug that's legal, most runners I know (myself included) have an obsessive love of coffee. Down a cup before your run, and you may very well find yourself going for longer without the extra effort. But be sure not to overdo it. Stick to six cups (or less) a day, and by cup I mean roughly 237mL of coffee. Factor in any double shots or extra large orders!
3) Trick yourself.
Everyone has days when they lack motivation (I can vouch that even elite athletes often have moments when they don't feel like training). On these days say to yourself "ok, I'll just do half of what I had planned". This will seem achievable enough to get you out the door, and 9 times out of 10 you'll end up completing the whole run. This is because we often feel better after 10-15 minutes of exercise, as the muscles have warmed up and the endorphins have started flowing.
4) Silence that iPod when crossing a road.
The mental focus and forward-facing momentum that running requires (especially when running hard!), means slowing down to look left and right before crossing a road is often rushed. Combine this limited visual assessment with not being able to hear motor vehicles, and you have a recipe for a potentially dangerous situation. In saying that, when you're in a safe and sound environment (i.e. you've reached the park or have a hit a long stretch of uninterrupted road) feel free to get those tunes pumping! Research shows that listening to the right type of music when exercising can help to motivate and improve your performance.
5) Always carry toilet paper.
Running is great at getting the metabolism going and the bowels moving, but it's never ideal when nature calls and you're in...well, nature. That's why I have learnt (after many close calls and uncomfortable runs) to carry a bit of toilet paper in my running shorts.
6) Embrace the pain.
Yes, running is painful, but that means it's working. "No pain, no gain" as my coach always quotes to me. At the same time, however, use your common sense and caution, as there are some pains that shouldn't be ignored.
7) Pick a race.
You need to have an achievable goal in the not-to-distant future, as nothing is more effective at overcoming procrastination than a deadline. However, make sure you meet your fitness goals in a sensible way as there is no such thing as cramming when it comes to running.
8) Wear a hat.
Hats are not only a great protector of the eyes and forehead in sunny conditions, but they also serve a fabulous purpose when raining. I have found them to be the best way to keep rain out of eyes and off my face when running, saving me from having to continually wipe my face.
9) Invest in a heart rate monitor.
If you're getting serious about your running, I highly recommend you buy a heart rate watch and monitor (Garmin or Polar are two good brands). This amazing device will not only help you keep track of your kilometres, sessions and rate of improvement, but it will let you know how hard you are really working every run. Measuring your heart rate will also accurately tell you how many calories you burnt, which will prevent you over-eating or under-eating after a run.
10) Use Vaseline.
Running is painful enough without the added discomfort of chafing. I suggest putting a bit of vaseline anywhere you are chafing-prone i.e. between the thighs. Also, band aids over the nipples for men is a great trick to prevent nipple chaffing.
11) Stay hydrated without sports drinks.
Water often doesn't cut it for rehydration when you have lost electrolytes through sweating, yet sugary sports drink can play havoc with your dental health. Hydralyte or gastrolyte (available at most pharmacies) is a healthier, cheaper alternative to replace all those lost salts and minerals, and can be mixed to your preferred strength and taste. If you do succumb to a sports drink, consume it through a straw so you save your teeth from all that acid.
12) Treat yourself to a regular massage - you've earned it! More importantly, it will help keep you injury-free, which is much cheaper than seeing a Physio in the long run (no pun intended).
13) Treat yourself to new running clothes. Don't underestimate the power of new exercise gear to get you excited about going for a run.
14) Wear gloves and a beanie in cold weather. This is preferable to wearing layers of clothes, as most of your body heat escapes from your head and hands. Plus they are easier to take off and hold as you run when you inevitably warm up.
15) Take on water when racing 10km or longer. I use to avoid water stops (for fear of them slowing me down), but have since learned what a positive difference drinking mid-race can make to my onset of fatigue, as well as my recovery. Trying to drink water from a cup while running is surprisingly hard (most gets all over you or the road), so a little trick is to crush the rim of the cup to form a spout.