Get fitter and faster and avoid getting into a rut with our top tips.

Whether you plan to be a fast runner who nails personal bests and gets fitter and fitter ,or you just want to do it for run, you need to make progress. If you stay at the same level, you are less likely to reach your potential and more likely to get bored and frustrated.

Plan for progress

Don’t wait until you sense you’re in a rut – have an action plan to pre-empt boredom. Change some aspect of your running training every two or three weeks. If you’re new to running, it’s good to build up your distances first rather than worrying too much about speed.

Be patient

Injury prevention should be at the foremost of your mind. Remember the ten per cent rule. Never increase distance, intensity or duration more than ten per cent a week. Don’t’ run two hard sessions back to back and always have at least one rest day per week.

Log your runs

A diary for running is essential. It’s motivational and will highlight any weaknesses in your training. Note down how you felt during and after your run as well as the distances you covered and the routes and how hilly they were. A smart watch is a great way to do this if you’re confident with technology.

Run smart

Aim to progress in flexible cycles which will keep your programme energised, focused and interesting. Have a long-term goal alongside smaller manageable goals; for instance, aim to complete a 10K distance in six months’ time, but on a weekly basis concentrate on adding incremental distances and doing one new route every month. Use the SMART approach; make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Framed.

Mix it up

Running is physically and mentally repetitive, so you need to factor in regular strength-building sessions and do other kinds of exercise you enjoy. Low impact cardio exercise that will help to keep you fit without increasing injury risk includes rowing, cycling or using the cross-trainer.
Once you’ve built up your running fitness, increase the intensity of your runs. Add two six-to-eight-minute bouts of running at a pace just beyond comfortable, recovering for one minute in between. Progress by increasing the number and/or length of this faster pace.

Track your heart rate

Whatever your level, you can use your heart rate to judge effort on your runs and ultimately, to track your fitness. First, work out your resting heart rate (RHR) – how many times you heart beats each minute when you’re resting. The stronger your heart, the lower it will be because the heart pumps more blood with every beat, and the quicker you will return to your RHR after exercise. A normal rate is 70 beats per minute, but this can vary significantly from one person to another.

For more seasoned runners, it’s also useful to work out your maximum heart rate (MHR) – the rate your heart beats every minute when it’s working at full capacity. The easiest method as a rough guide is to subtract your age from 220 – if you’re 30 your maximum heart rate will be 190. To gauge effort in your training, for example, if you need to work at 65 per cent, work out what your heart rate should be with the formula (MHR – RHR) x 65 per cent + RHR. If you’re 30 and your resting heart rate is 70, your 65 per cent rate is 148 beats per minute (120 x 65 per cent + 70).

If this is confusing, use a heart rate monitor or a smart watch. Or you can use the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) which gauges your level of intensity on a scale of zero to 10. Zero would be complete rest and 10 would be maximal effort. During steady runs, aim for an RPE of around 3 or 4, and 6 or 7 during long speed sessions or hills.