Everyone is looking for that extra 10% to become a better runner, but with so many messages out there saying different things it’s hard to know where to turn.

So I’ve put together a list of 15 ‘free’ running tips and tricks that will help you become a better runner!

So in no particular order..

Calf raises in shower – We shower every day right? Standing up? Why not combine that with some calf raises? Simply stand on one foot and raise your body up and down until you feel you need to stop. To start with that might be just 5 reps on each leg, but take your time and your calves will become super strong! Perfect while you’re waiting for the conditioner to take effect!

Strides – If you’re new to strides then simply they are a short sprint at about 95% of your maximum pace, for up to 100 meters. They will help to open up your hips, increase your stride length and get your body used to running faster. For me I add them into a long run, so in the last 5km, I’ll do 1 set during each of those last kilometres.

Sessions on tired legs – I see so many people doing their workout sessions when they are completely fresh, but they never train for those last 6 miles in a marathon when their legs are very tired. Every few weeks I’ll do a speed session, but run 10-15km right before, with the sole purpose of getting my body use to running on already tired legs. Of course you’re not going to hit the exact paces you would have done if you were training fresh, but I feel you’ll get an even bigger extra benefit from getting use to running when your legs are fatigued.

9am Sunday run – If you are a regular with the Sunday long run, then try and always do it at the same time as when your goal race starts. If you’re running London, it starts at 10am, so get use to running at 10am on a Sunday morning!

Fasted runs – During the last 6 miles of a marathon your body will predominantly be using fat stores for fuel, the carbohydrates will have run out by then. You can get your body used to this by doing a few fasted runs in your build up. Simply don’t have any breakfast and go on your normal run, just a large glass of water. With no immediate available carbs to draw upon your body will tap into your fat stores, get used to using fat as a fuel and make those last 6 miles all the more bearable.

Eat and drink something as soon as you finish your run – For me it’s a recovery shake with milk, but you need to make sure you have something as quickly as possible after finishing your run. Best things would be water, banana, shake, milk, nuts, blueberries, apple, nuts, then you can prepare a proper meal when the time comes.

Run with strength stops – Everyone hates strength training and doing it between runs rarely happens. So why not combine it with a run every few weeks? Schedule 3 stops. 1st stop, 3 sets of squats. 2nd, 3 planking sets, 3rd stop tricep dips on a bench. There are so many exercises you can do, so find three that work for you!

Parkrun as race prep – Parkrun is of course a run, not a race. But everything about the build up to the start line is similar to a race. So practice as you would on race day and get into a routine that works. What are you having for breakfast, when are you eating it, how are you getting to the start, what are you wearing? It’s the perfect dress rehearsal every week, so take advantage and find what works for you.

Walking breaks for newer runners – Many new runners I meet are scared to be seen walking, but honestly don’t worry, everyone is in their own little world and not judging you. If you are feeling tired then give yourself a minute or two to walk, get your breath back before setting off again. You’ll find it far more enjoyable and the rest breaks can be as a reward for getting your run done!

Podcasts – I honestly couldn’t run without listening to something on my chilled runs. I know there are safety aspects, but we’re all grown ups and can make those decisions yourself. My favourites are Marathon Talk, Running Commentary and Talk Ultra. I only listen to these when running, so it’s a treat! Occasionally I listen to Audio Books, which is great if you only allow yourself to listen when running. So when you really want to know what happens next, you have to go for a run to find out! For sessions I usually listen to music. It’s been said that music over 120bpm is best for running, although I’ve never actively sought this out.

Zone 2 runs conversational – 80% of my weekly mileage will be at low intensity, easy conversational pace. If I’m wearing my heart rate monitor it will always be below 150bpm, if you don’t have a monitor then it should be at a pace where you feel you could have a chat with another running buddy throughout the run. Running at this pace will increase your aerobic base and burn fat. Charging around as fast as you can will have an effect in the short term, but won’t get you fitter in the long term.

3 runs vs 2 runs – For newer runners, try and get out for 3 runs a week. It will make such a difference compared to getting out twice. That extra run will be where you really can move your fitness forward. Of course it won’t always be possible, but it’s a good goal to aim for.

Running with group / crew – There are hundreds of running clubs and crews all over the country, so try and seek out one that’s close by, where they train on nights that you’re free. It’s so positive to have a date in the diary every week, where you meet up with your friends and train together. All my current friends I have met through running clubs and it makes such a difference being able to train with other like minded people. In London have a look at Goodgym, Advent Running, Adidas Runners, Victoria Park harriers, Clapham Chasers, Fulham Running Club, Mornington Chasers, Serpentine, Kent AC and Belgrave Harriers.

Hills – You really can’t avoid the benefits of adding a hill session into your routine every few weeks. Sprint up, run relaxed back down. It’s incredibly simple, but will hugely build your aerobic capacity and strength your legs.

Running heroes – Finally why not earn something from all the running you’re doing? Link your Strava or Run Keeper account to Running Heroes, where the more you run, the more you can earn to spend on rewards. I’ve bought some discounted race entries and had some free meals out as well. https://uk.runningheroes.com Check it out!

Ben Parkes

I hope all the above will help improve your running and most importantly they won’t cost anything! Good luck and Happy New Year!

Article by Ben Parkes.

View Ben’s Strava Profile Here