How to become a better runner: top tips to take in your stride

Follow this simple advice to make 2019 your best running year ever

Our enthusiasm knows no bounds in January. Despite a quiet running December, it is very likely your running shoes have returned to the pavements this week. No doubt you have great intentions of January being a successful running month. It’s great to get running but it’s also important to have a clear focus on how much you should be doing.

Before you get carried away ticking off runs and adding up miles, take a few minutes to work out how best you should be training in the coming weeks.

Back to basics

Firstly, be honest about your current fitness level. It can be demoralising and frustrating to realise running is not as comfortable as before the winter break. We may be impatient and expect our body to return to former fitness more quickly than is sensible.

Now is not the time for the ego to kick in. Don’t attempt to run distances and speeds that have not been part of your training over the past few months. You will set yourself up for disappointment and possible injury if you train hard now without a solid training base behind you. Instead, be realistic about your current fitness level and accept it will take a little time and consistency to return to your former glory.

The big goal

Have you any grand plans for your running year of 2019? Maybe a marathon is on your wishlist or you might have your eye on a faster 5k time. Your goal might have nothing to do with distance or speed. You may wish to be able to run on holiday, become an early-morning runner or indeed shake off a running injury that has been bothering you for a while.

If you have not thought about a running goal, dream big but make sure it’s something that you are passionate about as there will be days when you will need the passion to stay motivated. A year from now, how do you see yourself as a runner? Looking at the ‘future’ runner you aspire to be can highlight what type of training and what goals along the way are best to work towards. Think about what you would like to have achieved by this time next year. More importantly, identify what changes you need to make to your running routine and habits to get there.

Your running future

Some people prefer not to have running goals and avoid running races and events. That doesn’t make them any less successful as a runner. If your goal is simply to ‘run’, it is worth considering what you need to do to make sure you are still able to run a year from now.

We should all decide this year to look after our running body as part of our running plans. Consider your weak points and commit to building time into your training to help support your running future. It might be flexibility, strength or running technique that could do with some attention. It could be something more fundamental such as diet, sleep or a sensible approach to training and recovery that needs to feature on your agenda.

Dates for your diary

I find it extremely helpful to see the entire year on one page when I’m planning my running year. I would highly recommend printing a simple one-page annual sheet and personalising it to your running plans. When we see a year on paper it can look very short, but so much can be achieved in 365 days.

Start by highlighting any races dates as well as any non-running events like weddings or work commitments that are already on your radar. From there, set a few milestones along the way in the form of races, celebrations and even check-in points to ensure you keep on track. Your personalised calendar should be motivating, simple yet inspiring. Place it somewhere you will see often and don’t be afraid to amend it as time passes.

You have plenty of time

It is often said we underestimate what we can achieve in the long-term but overestimate what we can achieve in the short-term. Your big running goals which may seem almost impossible right now may actually be more achievable than you think. The problem for many of us is that we set too-high expectations in the early stages and when we fail at these stepping stones we assume our big goal is well beyond our reach.

Aim for less rather than more in these early months of the year. Set milestones that are achievable. If you can tick off some successes, however small, they will bring you one step closer to the next milestone and build confidence towards your main goal. Holding ourselves back this month might actually be better than aiming higher and failing.

Dive into the detail

With milestones in place, the next step is to detail the training that needs to be done to reach our goals. I would use a separate training diary for this and start by working out what needs to be done in the lead-up to the first running milestone.

There is no need right now to define a full year of training sessions. Our body, goals and time-commitments change over time so focus only on this first stepping stone. Find a training plan that works for you and personalise it. Our Get Running training plans are always available online to help you get started, return to running or move up to 10k.

For longer distance, trail running or improving speed, there are plenty of training plans, clubs, coaches, books and online resources out there to help you finetune your weekly training. Chat to runners who have already achieved what you are hoping to achieve and find out what helped them.

Your best running year

Wherever you set your running sights on this year, I wish you good luck, good health and plenty of fun on the path to the finish line. Get out the pen and paper, create your vision for 2019, slot in some races/events to help keep you motivated and follow a sensible plan that will fit in with your lifestyle. Be consistent, be adaptable and this time next year you will be able to look back on a year very well spent.

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!