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From enthusiastic amateurs to seasoned pros, Vancouver’s plethora of races and running events offer something for everyone. So whether you’re looking to set a new PB or just go the distance, we asked Laura Jones, the head coach of the North Shore Lions Athletic Club, to share her tips on how to run like a pro.

What is the simplest thing readers can do to make themselves better runners?

As ironic as it seems, not to run too much. Theories have changed over the decades from running six days a week, to a less is more approach that is supplemented with cross training.

How often should people train ahead of an event – how many times a week should they be thinking of going out?

A training schedule that has you running three days a week has proven most successful for getting you the miles you need under your feet without your body succumbing to the injuries linked to doing too much too soon.

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Is it just pounding the pavement or are there any other exercises people should consider to make them better runners?

With our running clinics we incorporate a set of 18-20 dynamic drills, specific to run form, as part of our warm up and cool down. Not only does this reduce chance of injury, but also strengthens muscles associated with running.

Cross training is a great compliment to running three days a week, as it enables you to gain further fitness through cardio or muscle strengthening, with the best exercises being spin classes, swimming, power hiking, and circuit weight training. It definitely helps to add in a yoga or stretch class once a week, as runners are known for their tight lower body muscles.

In terms of technique – are there any simple things that people can do that will have an impact on their running?

Running technique is interesting, as you would think there would be a strong correlation between proper form and race results. But all one has to do is stand at the finish line of a 10 km, half or full marathon to watch the varied forms (and body shapes) that come hustling into the finish chute.

And just as there are competing theories in training, there are arguments over the best running form. What is most important is to run in a way that feels natural to you while considering that you don’t want to be using energy in areas that aren’t helping you get to the finish banner – think hunching shoulders, flapping elbows, swinging upper body, and bouncing stride. You want to have a smooth form that propels all your body parts in a forward direction.

Image: Woman running / Shutterstock

Image: Woman running / Shutterstock

How can people improve their times?

Improving your running times comes from speed and strength training, as just running the same speed every time only trains your body to run at that speed. In our training clinics we have a longer slower distance run (known as an LSD run) once a week, with our two other runs integrating a variety of speed and strength sessions using Fartlek training, tempo runs, mile repeats, track workouts, as well as everyone’s favourite on the North Shore… Hill training!

Are goals important, should people challenge themselves or just enjoy the run?

Setting goals is very important as that is what will get you out the door on those soggy wet Vancouver mornings, when the rest of your household stays huddled under the blankets, or off the couch after work.

Just committing to complete a race can be the incentive needed, but if you’ve been at the running game for a while you may need to set specific race time goals to stay focussed. These can range from a personal best, to placing in your age category, or even meeting a qualifying time for a specific event.

Couple running via Shutterstock

Couple running via Shutterstock

Any tips on what people should / shouldn’t eat before the big race?

Don’t try ANYTHING new. Many times we get swept up in the Race Expo hype of the latest and greatest fuel, and for sure you want to grab as many free samples as you can, but only to take home and try on a training run. The worst thing you could do is try something new and find yourself standing in the porta-potty lineup when the gun goes off! So this means sticking with what your body knows and avoiding foods and fuel that have yet to be introduced. This includes your pre-race dinner and race day breakfast!

One tip for runners is to ensure they are aware of when they eat breakfast and when they will actually get to start the race as there could be hours in between, due to travel and the sheer volume of participants (it sometimes takes 45 minutes just to pass under the start line banner and be officially clocked in!) With this in mind, one might consider carrying a pre-race snack (granola bar, energy gel or chews), to nibble on while you’re hanging out in the corrals.

Any tips for things people should do on race day?

If it is your first race at this distance, expect to be nervous and have a fitful sleep wondering what the outcome may be. Just knowing this may occur won’t put your nerves to sleep but it should lower your stress to know it is a common occurrence.

You should also layer your clothing. Knowing you will be standing around in the corrals in the elements, you’re best to wear a long sleeved shirt or jacket that you can always take off and wrap around your waist once you get going and warm up. You may notice discarded clothing along the route where seasoned runners have shed their layers of old race shirts.

If the weather is forecasted to be wet, a garbage bag or rain poncho becomes your best friend. Dollar store gloves also come in handy as your hands are often the last part of your body to heat up, and for $1.25, if you lose them along the way you’re not stressing.

I am a huge proponent of wearing a run hat (lightweight, with visor) as it provides warmth while standing around, but also protection from rain and sun. Just remember to lift your chin when the photographers are around or all your pics will have is your hat!

Make sure you thank the volunteers. Without them you would be lost, literally, so give them a wobbly wave, a grunt of gratitude, or a nod of acknowledgment for being there.

And don’t forget your supporters. If you have your cheerleading team coming out to yell their support be sure to have set specific locations, including which side of the street, where they can expect to see you.

Man trail running hiking shoes / Shutterstock

How can people motivate themselves to get out there and run even when their race is over?

During the race most runners go through a rollercoaster of emotions on race day. From the pre-race jitters, to the sudden rush of lactic acid fatigue when your mind and body questions your sanity in ever thinking you could do this, and finally the elation of crossing that finish line, and the common euphoria state of signing up for your next race.

Even if you didn’t meet your goal, you start thinking about what you could do differently to ensure you do find the success you were hoping for, and there’s the camaraderie of your run pals who are already talking about what will happen at the next race.

One other sure fire way to keep training is to join a run clinic. Just like when you signed up for your event, you felt a sense of loyalty (or perhaps guilt) to committing to a goal – when you sign up with a run clinic, you become a part of group with common goals and are surrounded with folks who share similar hopes and fears.

If you are having a tough day and not sure you want to head out into the wet evening for a training session, there’s nothing like knowing you will have others sharing in your pain…misery loves company right? And once you establish yourself as committed to the run group they start to expect you to be there and that camaraderie certainly helps keep you motivated. Besides, there is nothing like putting down some cold hard cash to keep you tying up those runners and getting out the door for your next training session.

Laura Jones is the head coach of the North Shore Lions Athletic Club, which has 130 members who are training for 10Ks, half marathons (21.1 km), and marathons (42.2km). She has been coaching since 2000, and running marathons since her first Ironman in 2001. 

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