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The Best Ways to Take Your Running to the Next Level

Almost everyone who runs wants to get better. Indeed, in a recent survey on runnersworld.com, 89 percent of respondents hoped to take their running up a notch in 2009. Whether you want to dial up your mileage, pick up the pace to make yourself a stronger runner, qualify for the Boston Marathon, or use training tools to better focus your efforts, achieving your goal doesn’t have to be complicated, according to Runner’s World Magazine. Here are five common goals and simple ways to make a change for the best according to the magazine.

The Change: Run More

Whether you log 10 or 40 miles per week, increasing your total mileage can reap myriad benefits. “By putting in extra, relatively easy runs, you build both muscular and cardiovascular endurance,” says Tony Williams, a running coach in Seattle and a 2:22 marathoner. “Your muscles get used to the pounding, while your heart and lungs become more efficient at pumping blood through your body.” As your body adapts, your base pace will get speedier, and you’ll be better able to take on hard workouts. Plus, the extra mileage makes it easier to drop any excess pounds and maintain your ideal weight.

Take Action: Increase your mileage by 10 to 15 percent each week for three weeks, says Jeff Glaze, a Columbus, Ohio?based running coach. If you run three days a week, add a fourth, or tack on one to two miles to each run. If you can’t extend your regular morning run, try adding a two-mile evening run. On the fourth week, cut back your mileage by a third, then pick up where you left off. “If you start to feel unusually tired or irritable, back off for a day or two,” says Jennifer Gill, a running coach in the Washington, D.C., area. “You’ll be able to regroup, but you won’t lose momentum.”

The Change: Go Short

If you’re a die-hard marathoner, sign up for a 5-K, and train for it by picking up your pace once or twice per week. Running faster teaches your body to process lactic acid better. Your legs and feet will get more accustomed to turning over at a quicker rate, which allows you to run more efficiently every time you head out. And your mind will get a break, too. “If you’re used to 26.2 miles, 3.1 will feel like a breeze,” says Glaze.

Take Action: Long-distance fans who dread the track can sneak in speed and still keep up the mileage, says Williams, with cut-downs, a challenging workout. Start with your marathon race pace, then pick up your pace by 15 seconds each mile. Midway through the run, slow down by 15 seconds each mile. If your marathon pace is 8:30, and you’re out on a seven-mile run, do an 8:30 mile, then 8:15, 8:00, 7:45, 8:00, 8:15, and finish with an 8:30.

The Change: Go Long

If your runs are always in the single digits, add miles to at least one run per week. Going long builds endurance, which is useful even if you never intend to run a marathon. “When your longest run is 10 miles, you have plenty of extra strength for when you’re racing 6.2,” says Glaze.

Take Action: Increase your longest run by one to two miles, and slow down to a conversational pace, says Gill. At the end of the run, you should feel like you could handle at least one more mile at the same pace. Repeat the distance every week for three to four weeks, then add another mile or two to your long run.

The Change: Don’t Dread the ‘Mill

As much as you savor the outdoors, a treadmill can be a good teaching tool. You can find out whether an 8:30 pace is a comfortable pace for easy runs or a hard effort for intervals. And you can hit speeds you might not dare outside. Nailing a nine-minute mile indoors might give you the confidence you need to speed up in your next race.

Take Action: To fend off boredom, touch a button every quarter-mile, advises Christine Hinton, a running coach in Crofton, Maryland. “Increase or decrease the speed or incline,” she says. “That way, you alter the ‘terrain’ and which muscles are being stressed.”

The Change: Write it Down

A well-kept training log can provide valuable clues about why your running is going well, and when something is awry. It can also be a good source of inspiration. Ellison Weist, 51, of Portland, Oregon, uses it to keep bettering past efforts. “I realize that if I just run, say, four extra miles, I can hit some magic number.”

Take Action: Whether you use a notebook or an online log (like traininglog.runnersworld.com), record your mileage, time, pace, route, how you felt, and any other data that interests you. Gill includes notes about what shoes she wore and even what gear she used. “I’ve logged almost 500 miles with my water-bottle belt,” she says, “Seeing the miles add up is motivating to me.”

Use Your Gear

High-tech feedback can provide an extra kick

A Heart-Rate Monitor
With these devices, you can make sure you’re cruising when you’re due for recovery, and charging hard enough in speed workouts. “It helps you stick to your plan for the day,” says Glaze. If your heart rate is higher than usual, even with the same effort, it might be a sign that you’re overtrained. If it’s lower, better news: Your training is paying off.

A Tracking Device
Tools like the Garmin and the Nike+, which tally stats about mileage, pace, and heart rate, help you gauge your efforts more precisely. “When you ask people to slow down or speed up slightly, they usually change pace by a minute per mile or more,” says Williams. Tracking devices help runners make more subtle adjustments.

A Music Player
Feel like music pumps up your running? You’re not imagining it. Researchers at the Brunel School of Sport and Education in England found that treadmill runners who listened to high-energy tracks, such as Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, exhibited 15 percent more endurance and felt more positive about the hard efforts.

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