On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness news for all Oklahomans.

How to Run Like an Athlete

The start of a new year is a time when many of us make resolutions to better our health. Perhaps you want to lace up your sneakers and start running. Good choice! 

There are many health benefits when you run regularly. Studies have shown that running can lower your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some cancers.

Running can also improve mental health by increasing the secretion of endorphins in the brain. This not only lifts mood, but also reduces anxiety and naturally alleviates depression.

Running is well-known for building strength in the cardiovascular and muscular systems and can also increase bone mass, which improves bone and joint health.

Springtime races are approaching if you’re interested in being competitive, so there’s no better time than the present. But what if you’re a newbie?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of incorporating running into your routine, take heart! Heather Wright, who is a running coach at Red Coyote Running and Fitness in Oklahoma City, says anyone and everyone can learn to run like an athlete no matter their amount of previous experience.

She says, “This is one of my favorite quotes from marathon runner and bestselling author John Bingham: ‘If you run, you are a runner. It doesn't matter how fast or how far. It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.’ I love that,” says Wright. 

Anyone can start a running program, but proper gear and form are vital for all levels of runners to avoid injuries and improve performance. Wright shares tips on how to run like an athlete.

1. Tear down your mental walls 

“People get stuck on the idea that they aren’t a runner. No matter if you just started running today or if you’ve run for 20 years, you are a runner,” Wright says. 

The misconceptions people have about what it means to be a runner can keep them from trying the activity. You don’t have to run fast to be a runner, you don’t have to run far either. “Start out slowly and don’t set up unrealistic expectations for yourself,” she said. “Just run.”

2. Get the right shoe

Having the right footwear is an important part of running like an athlete. Running stores like Red Coyote can do a running analysis on your feet to determine where your foot lands when running or if you need additional arch support. The analysis determines what type of shoe you need for your stride pattern and foot shape.

“People go and buy the wrong shoe that is terrible for their feet and they, in turn, think they are terrible runners. The right shoe and the right shoe insert can make all the difference,” Wright says. “Even worse, you can get injured wearing the wrong shoes. In fact, many people with IT band issues, knee issues or plantar fasciitis can get relief when they finally wear the right shoes.”

3.  Fix your form

As in most sports or physical activity, proper form will help you run like an athlete. For instance, runners should aim to land mid-foot as opposed to heel striking, which is where the foot lands heel first. Heel striking can injure joints and can lead to issues like plantar fasciitis.

Don’t look down at your feet when you run. Keeping a focused gaze directly ahead helps keep your neck in proper alignment with your spine. It is also crucial to keep your shoulders open by pulling them back and imagining you are squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades.

Arms should be held at a 90-degree angle with hands moving from chin to hip to help propel your body forward. Keep your elbows close to your sides. Your core should always be engaged, and you should lean slightly into the run as opposed to running completely upright. 

4. Train like an athlete

Joining a running club or group is a great way to get started, learn proper running technique and meet other runners. Many running clubs offer beginning running programs. 

There are many running apps to help you start off gradually as you build your running programs. We like C25K’s 5K Trainer, aka “Couch Potato to Running 5K.” Other good starter apps include Strava, MapMyRun, Runcoach and Endomondo.

Be sure to start slowly. Run or run/walk two or three days a week for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Gradually work up to longer sessions. On your off days, you should take regular walk breaks during the day to limit soreness. When you run, try to maintain a conversational pace to avoid getting fatigued too quickly. 

Athletes also recognize how important warming up and stretching are. The top thing professional runners do differently is spend more time on their warmup and stretching.

5. Fuel up like a pro

A healthy and nutritional diet is important for everyone, but especially for runners. It’s so important to fuel up correctly. Because you burn an average of 100 extra calories per mile you run, your muscles need lean protein to recover and stay strong.

Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and potatoes will provide energy without spiking the blood sugar. You’ll have lots of energy to maintain a run without feeling depleted at the end. 

Drink at least eight cups of water a day to remain hydrated and choose meals of roughly 20 percent fats, 60 percent complex carbohydrates and 20 percent proteins. Fruit and vegetable smoothies are also an excellent and quick source of nutrition. 

Remember, the difference between elite athletes who lead the pack and the recreational runners who follow isn’t insurmountable. If you’re looking to start running, use our training schedule to help you ease into a routine. You can also join a running club for support in getting started, like the one at Red Coyote. Either way, the overall goal is to get moving and get healthy!