Want to Become a Better Runner? Try Something New

To break out of this rut you must first understand what is meant by "low," "moderate" and "high" intensity. Low intensity is an effort level where you can comfortably carry on a conversation. Chances are you seldom run this easy and you'll have to actively slow down to get your intensity down into the low range. Moderate intensity is an effort level where you can still talk but only somewhat comfortably. It falls between 10K and half marathon race pace for most runners. High-intensity efforts are those done faster than 10K pace.

More: 10K Workouts for Beginning and Advanced Runners

Once you're able to distinguish low, moderate and high intensities, the next step is to draw up a training plan that puts you in the low-intensity zone about 80 percent of the time, in the moderate-intensity zone 5 to 10 percent of the time, and in the high-intensity zone 10 to 15 percent of the time.

More: Get More Out of High-Intensity Training By Doing Less

Enforce "Zero Tolerance" for Pain

I believe that the single most effective way to avoid running-related overuse injuries is to enforce a "zero tolerance" rule with pain. This rule requires that you stop running immediately when you experience pain indicative of a developing injury, and that you do not resume running again until you can do so pain free. Practicing this rule requires discipline, and if you're injury prone like me, it can be frustrating at times. But trying to push through pain almost never turns out well.

Enforcing zero tolerance for pain will not prevent injuries from starting—there are other ways to do that—but it will prevent small injuries from becoming big ones, and that's the main avoidable cause of missed training days.

More: Prevent Running Overuse Injuries in 6 Steps

Practice Shoe Rotation

Some runners have two or more different pairs of running shoes that they rotate wearing as a way to reduce injury risk. The theory is that each shoe stresses the lower extremities in slightly different ways so there is less chance that stress will accumulate in a specific area and cause a breakdown. Until recently there was no scientific evidence that shoe rotation actually worked, but now there is. Researchers in Luxembourg recently tracked a group 264 runners for a period of 22 weeks and found that those who rotated their shoes were almost 40 percent less likely to suffer an injury.

If you choose to try shoe rotation in 2014, keep in mind that adding just any shoe to your arsenal will not lower your injury risk. All of the shoes you use should be well matched to your foot and your stride. Purchase your shoes from a running specialty shop with an experienced sales staff (rather than from a big box store) and you'll be more likely to go home with the right shoe.

More: How Runners Can Benefit From a Shoe Fit

Try Minimalist Strength Training

As I mentioned above, most runners feel they barely have enough time to do the running they want to do, let alone extra time for strength training. Coaches like me often forget this and try to convince runners to engage in supplemental strength-training programs that are unrealistically time consuming. This sets up strength training as an all-or-nothing choice for runners, and usually they choose nothing.

More: 10 Running-Specific Strength Training Exercises

Well, here's some good news: Research has shown that a very small amount of strength training provides meaningful performance benefits for runners. I'm talking about just two workouts per week, each comprising only a handful of exercises. Choose exercises that don't require special equipment and you can do your strength workouts at home, saving even more time. Examples are single-leg squats, box jumps, heel raises, planks and push-ups.

More: 4 Strength Exercises for Time-Strapped Runners

A Taste for Adventure

Trying new things is not only a good way to improve as a runner, but it also keeps the running experience fresh and enjoyable. Approach your running as a lifelong journey that's always taking you places you've never been before. Do this and you will get the most out of every workout and every race, even when you don't set a new PR.

More: 4 Easy Ways to Become a Lifelong Runner

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