Six ways to become a better runner (without taking a step)

Mary Jennings: Here are some small lifestyle changes you can make that will make running feel easier, stronger and more comfortable

I am packing my bags today as I head to West Cork for my runners’ retreat tomorrow. While a getaway for runners might sound like a hardcore training camp, my plans for the trip are very different. Indeed we will explore the stunning scenery each day on the run but my main focus will be to share with the gang how the little things they do outside of running can make a huge difference to their running enjoyment and performance. It’s not always about just running more.

More than just running

This summer lots of you are not running as much as you might have envisaged. Those of you in heatwave climates might be feeling edgy as training sessions are not possible in this weather. For those of us here in Ireland (still awaiting the summer heat) there can be so much going on to manage family summer commitments that our regular habits can go out the window. I’m especially thinking of all you injured runners feeling demoralised as you notice your fitness decreasing. The frustration of not running when things are outside of our control is real but we can do something about it.

Six steps to run better

So whether you are hiding indoors from the heat on your holidays, juggling work and family in rainy Ireland or unfortunately nursing an injury, here are some small lifestyle changes you can make that will make running feel easier, stronger and more comfortable when you make your comeback.

1) Sit on the ground

Yes, it’s that simple. Hop off the couch and choose to use cushions or bolsters to support you as you watch TV, play board games or even have a cuppa. Notice as you sit on the ground not one position will stay comfortable for too long. You will naturally move more in different directions and notice what parts of your body are feeling stiff. There are many ways to sit on the ground so keep changing it up. Your body will tell you when it needs to stretch and move and it doesn’t need to take up any more time in your day. The more mobile we are the better for our running and our future health.


2) Take your shoes off

Set your feet free around the house and allow them to move more than if they were enclosed in shoes or sandals. Rolling your feet over a tennis ball is a great starting point to wake up your feet. If you are happy walking on indoor surfaces barefoot, play around with uneven ground to strengthen the feet. You can even imagine playing piano with your toes, helping them to move independently rather than as one unit. In fact, move your toes any way you can, any time you think of it, to encourage your feet to become more foot-shaped than shoe-shaped.

3) Breathe in and out

Breath work is certainly a buzz word these days and while we often talk about how to breathe on a run, you can reap huge benefits of 5-10 minutes of breathwork when just sitting still, be it on the bus or at home. Joining me on our running retreat tomorrow will be our yoga coach Linda who will guide our group in short breathing exercises they can do each day. Breathing exercises make our lungs more efficient and build a stronger diaphragm but we also reduce tension, anxiety and stress while building immunity and energy. If you are new to breathwork, start simply. Look up box breathing and give it a go for 10 minutes each day.

4) Rest and nourish

Go to bed a little earlier these days and if you have the opportunity this summer to take advantage of no morning alarms (or early-rising kids), choose to enjoy the added rest rather than feel guilty for not being productive in the mornings. Rest can give perspective, clarity and motivation as well as the freshness and strength to the physical body. What you eat and drink plays a huge part too in how your body performs. Aim to add seasonal fresh food to your meals. The nourishment focus in our running group this month is summer berries, as our food coach Dee shares recipes and tips for making the most of their short season. So check what’s fresh near you, add to your meals, try new recipes and keep that water bottle close at hand.

5) Move your body

You don’t need any fancy gym equipment but 15 minutes of body weight strength training regularly can make a big difference. The strength you gain all over your body will stand to you when back on the roads. Commit to doing a short training session on the days you would normally have been running. In our running community our strength coach Aoife gives our runners a new 15-minute routine each week to help them stay motivated and add variety. But you can look on YouTube and find hundreds of classes to follow. Find a coach that you enjoy listening to and that will make it so much easier to press play.

6) Find inspiration

During the summer we are often away from our running buddies and normal training sessions might be cancelled but that doesn’t mean you can’t get inspiration and motivation from others. Now could be the perfect time to dig out those running books you wanted to read or delve into the vast amount of running podcasts out there. There truly is something for everyone. You can get inspired for the future and learn lots more about the joy of running by watching a documentary, listening to someone else’s story and noticing what appeals to you for your next goals. If we hear lots of positive running chat in our days, this will inspire and motivate us for the future.

Little and often

For the rest of this summer, I encourage you to make a special effort to incorporate some of these mini activities into your day. Our day-to-day patterns can make a huge impact on our running performance, whether we are training for a race or just want to run to clear our head. Go on, pick one from the list above and give it a go now.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with