No matter who you are, simplicity is attractive. It means less stress, less clutter, and fewer obstacles.

Yet for some reason we’re constantly pulled away from the simple approach, lured in by new gadgets and theories, and seduced by the complicated.

Running is no different. We could do something simple and start small, but instead we’re tempted to go all in and make drastic overnight changes to our training.

Go big or go home, right?


The K.I.S.S. Approach to Smarter Running

Keep it simple, stupid.

I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. When we try to make sweeping changes all at once, it’s overwhelming. It’s tough on the body and on the mind.

More often than not, you’ll burn out and end up quitting. Or worse, injured and forced to quit. Which is why I follow the K.I.S.S. approach to training, and encourage others to do so as well through my coaching programs.

Instead of sweeping adjustments, I like to look through a microscope at my training and focus on the small stuff. Those small adjustments lead to bigger ones. Ultimately it leads to that grand success I was hoping for all along.

They’re easy. Simple. And most importantly, approachable.

Last week I stumbled upon an article in Running Times called 5 Small Improvements to Yield Big Results, and it immediately hit home. They list out 5 solid ways to run smarter without doing anything drastic. But why stop there?

Below I’ve outline a few more than just 5, 37 in fact, simple ways to improve your running. Some are so simple they might feel laughable. That’s the point.

At first, it’s those laughable ones that yield the best results and form the sustainable habits. So let’s get to it…

…and don’t forget to KISS.

Simple Ways to Improve Your Running

1) Dynamic stretching: Remember how your gym teacher forced everyone in your class to line up and perform those awkward stretches before running around the gym?

Stretching is important, but not the static stretching we all grew up on. Instead, kick off each workout with a few minutes of dynamic stretching to warm up the muscles and joints.

2) Post-run nutrition: Eat within 30 minutes of your workout. It’s that simple. Sure I could go into protein to carbohydrate ratios, and that’s all good to know, but the really important thing is to just eat. Something. Anything.

Why? Recovery, that’s why.

3) Running hills: Hills are an essential part of any good running routine. They build leg and upper body strength, endurance, and speed. And best of all, they’re easy to add into most routes.

You don’t have to run painful and tedious hill repeats to see the benefits. Adding in one or two hills per run can go a long way.

4) Improve cadence: Want to run smarter? Work on your cadence. Most coaches say the ideal cadence is about 175-180 foot-strikes per minute.

If you’re new to this approach, that will feel like a lot, so transition gradually. Use music or a metronome app to get the beats right.

Remember, cadence has nothing to do with pace. It will only affect your stride.

5) Buy new shoes: Buy different models if you can. Swapping shoes regularly helps your bio-mechanics adjust to each shoe. That adjustments reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries that plague the running community.

And don’t be afraid to try something new. **cough, HOKAs, cough, cough**

6) Practice fartleks: Or speed play. Fartleks are my favorite workout, and the one I assign most frequently to trail and ultra runners. They’re fun, challenging, and an easy workout to do on the trail or road.

7) Group runs: Group runs are an easy way to create accountability, but they can also force you to push harder. Find a group that places you slightly out of your comfort zone, and encourages a little extra drive.

8) Off distance race goals: Endurance events filling up your race schedule? Throw in a 5 or 10k just to mix things up. You don’t have to train specifically for that event to see the benefits.

What you learn from a distance you wouldn’t normally race can change how you train for the main goal.

9) Set a base route: One of my favorite ways to gauge progress throughout training is with a base route. A base route is a standard route that you “race” every few weeks to see how things are improving. If planned properly, it will highlight weaknesses and encourage you to push harder.

10) Listen to music: This one’s pretty basic, and chances are you listen to music already. But here’s the thing, music works.

The upbeat bumping gets the heart pumping and your legs moving. Feeling down or bored? Throw on some tunes. And be sure to mix it up from time to time.

11) Start a run streak: They say that to become a master you need 10,000 hours of practice. Running is no different.

The more you run, the more you’ll improve (assuming you aren’t over training). Run streaks create the habit of consistent running, and add motivation to your training.

12) Progression workouts: Start slow, finish fast. That’s the idea behind a progression run.

There are several types of progression workouts you can choose from, and will all work on leg-turnover and speed without the lasting fatigue.

13) Run Strides: For me a good stride looks like a bell curve. Over the course of about 100 feet, you quickly build up to 80% of your max speed before slowing back down.

Strides improve your speed, form, strength, and leg-turnover.

14) Buy new clothing: Remember how great you felt marching into your first day of school with a brand new outfit? You can get that same feeling with new running threads. The mental boost from a new shirt, shorts, or kickass hat could be all you need to get out for a challenging run.

15) Use the foam roller: It hurts. It’s annoying. I don’t have the time. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all the excuses because I’ve used them myself.

Here’s the thing: Self massage isn’t just a recovery tool, it’s an injury prevention tool. It aids speedy recovery and works out kinks. If you don’t know where to start, here are a few of the best exercises.

16) Everyday nutrition: If you’re a regular reader, you know I believe that nutrition for runners is much more than what you eat around a workout or long run. How we eat on a daily basis affects our energy levels, sleep, recover, muscle growth, and so much more.

Eating healthy, with loads of fruits and veggies, will undoubtedly make you a better runner.

17) Run the roads: Trails are great, but you know that. Roads also serve a purpose. They help with speed and form.

18) Discover new routes: We’ve all been there, stuck in the rut of running the same route day after day. It’s boring and mentally challenging, sure, but did you also know it’s hurting your progress?

Our bodies are magical, and memorize where the hills are and when you can relax. That muscle memory makes going off route (during a race, for example) more of a challenge that it would be otherwise. Make like a bartender and mix things up.

19) Run easy: I once had someone tell me that if you don’t feel like passing out after a workout, you’re not doing it right.

With that, my BS meter nearly exploded. Each type of run serves a purpose. Tough workouts are important for strength and speed, but easy runs are EQUALLY as important for endurance and recovery.

Each week at least a few of your runs should be so slow it doesn’t even feel like you’re working out.

20) Bike, swim, or do other cross-training: Sometimes you just need a break from running. Cross-training lets the mind focus on something new, while working the muscles in a different manner.

21) #PlankADay: It’s a simple concept, do one plank each day. Planks are one of those exercises that just do wonders for the body. They work the core, shoulders, arms, back, even quads.

22) Focus on breath: Did you know that how you breathe not only affects heart-rate and effort, it can also lead to injury? Training yourself to follow certain breathing patterns might be your ticket to running longevity.

23) Stop less: These days runners stop all the time. Hell, I do it myself. Sweet photo op? Nice view? Change the song on my iPhone?

There are so many temptations calling us to pause during a run. Don’t do it. Or at least do less of it.

24) Create accountability: Setting up an accountability system is one of those things you hear people suggest all the time but never actually do.

Now’s the time to do it. Whether it’s financial, self, or a partner, build accountability into your training.

25) Do yoga: Not convinced yoga benefits for runners? How about these 5 reasons. And here’s 7 poses to get you started.

26) Find a regular partner: Someone to keep you focused, pushing, and accountable. Running partners also make things more fun.

27) Stand-up at work: Sitting is the new smoking. That’s what I hear anyway.

It turns out that even runners can’t avoid the negative effects of sitting all day. Sitting causes issues in your hips, glutes, back, and core. It’s even known to cause heart issues and cancer.

And no one’s got time for that. Build a standing desk or take walking breaks every 30 minutes.

28) Focus on the 1%: No, not the Wall Street 1%, your 1% weekly improvement.

29) Run at night: I absolutely love running at night. It drowns out much of the distractions and the cool air focuses my mind.

30) Be spontaneous: Being spontaneous is fun. It gets you out of your comfort zone and leads you to new adventures.

Run a new route. Go a few extra miles than originally planned. Passing a hill? Go up it.

31) Pay attention to data*: I like to joke that if a run isn’t recording on your GPS, you didn’t actually run it. If you can’t tell, I like data, and I believe that tracking your training is very important.

*At the same time, runners have become obsessed with tracking splits, distance, routes, and more. So much so, that it can become discouraging and a detriment to your training.

Pay attention to data, but don’t obsess over it. Go by feel more than by your watch.

32) Read: About running, that is. You might just learn a new training philosophy or become filled with motivation.

33) Workout your core: The core is everything when it comes to running. A strong core means strong form, strong power, and fewer injuries.

A few times per week, end your workouts with a simple 5-10 minute core routine.

34) Go on a running vacation: Every year I join a few buddies for a running trip in the mountains. They’re challenging and adventurous, and they leave me excited to keep pushing when I return home. Here’s a guide to getting started.

35) Get more sleep: When was the last time you ran fully rested? I bet it’s been awhile.

Runners often get up early or extend their day just to get in a run. Usually at the expense of sleep. Prioritize sleep if you want those runs to really count.

36) Focus on form: I have a habit of focusing on form during one run each week. I don’t necessarily try to adjust it, I’m just being aware. Aware of my arms and my foot strikes. Aware of how my hips move.

Understanding your form is the first step to adjusting and improving it. And proper form leads to better running and fewer injuries.

37) Do drills: Drills are one of those things we all know we should do, but few of us actually practice.

Just 5 minutes of drill work before or after your run is all you need. Here are my favorite drills for new trail runners.

Start Keeping It Simple

Making any change, regardless of how small or grand, is a struggle.

But when you focus on simplicity, the tasks at hand suddenly don’t feel as overwhelming.

Before your next run, I want you to pick just one of these tasks and give it a shot. Start at the top this list or with the most laughably simple.

See how it feels, and go from there.

Over the years I haven’t gotten stronger because of some major shift in my training. It’s through the simple shifts that I have the most success.

Now it’s your turn.

Will you join me in bringing a little simplicity back into your training?

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

Support Rock Creek Runner by shopping at:


Leave a Reply