How To Become A More Efficient Runner

By Natalie Johnston

Natalie Johnston Running
The author out doing what she loves.

I think it’s safe to say that most competitive runner’s goals are to get faster and to gain PR’s, but the question is at what cost? I drove myself into the ground for so many years with this kind of thinking that by going faster is the way to get there. Well I was WRONG! I’m going to go through a bunch of training mistakes and what we should be focusing on in our endurance training instead!

Here’s a novel concept – Get Fast By Slowing Down!

Training Mistakes:

  • Training on limited sleep
  • Being addicted to fatigue in your workouts
  • Training at the same pace day in and day out
  • Not eating enough, or even eating too much.
  • Recovery and/or Complete Rest Days & Protocols disregarded
  • Focusing ONLY on the end goal, and expectation to get there in a few months or weeks
  • Allowing your EGO to control your workout
  • Running hard or working out hard too many days in a row. (This includes all forms of exercise.)
  • Warming Up & Cooling Down too fast
  • Not keeping a training log
  • Neglecting Drills, Stability, & Strength Work
  • Not wearing proper footwear
  • Pain that lasts more than 72 hours, and continuing to train.

Fix Your Training:

1) Get Your Zzz’s!

Sleep is our biggest defense system when trying to recover from daily stress, and if you are a morning runner, I suggest getting your butt to bed early to get your 8+ hours of sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, run at a later time, or depending on how many days you are low on sleep, bag the workout all together. Jamming in workouts on limited sleep could potentially decrease your performances, and could increase your chance of injury.

I make sure I get 8 hours of sleep, if I don’t I reassess how I feel, and if I’m tired I will take a rest day, or do a low intensity training session instead.

2) Stop Being Addicted To Fatigue!

Most runners (including myself at times in my training), don’t know how to slow the heck down, and are addicted to fatigue. What I mean by being addicted to fatigue, is that some athletes only believe that they will get a solid workout in if they are breathing heavy and working vigorously; otherwise, it’s just a waste of time if they didn’t even sweat! This concept is false, and will actually lead you to overtraining, and potential injury. You should spend most of your training at low to moderate efforts, and layer in speed training, which should consist of about 10% – 20% of your training. So for example: I tend to do weeks/months where I am just running low to moderate paces, then once my low aerobic base is built, I start adding in some speed. I may only do 1 speed or threshold session a week too for awhile. It’s about listening to your body, and ensuring for proper recovery and adaptation from your workouts.

The conundrum that runners face is this – “Well if I go harder, that means I will get faster right?” That’s true to a degree, and I do believe in speed training; however, the key is to keep all your other running days that are not at a higher intensity at low aerobic levels, or at a moderate conversational effort. What happens when we go hard is that we increase the amount of hormones in our body, and we create more stress placed on the body. We reap the benefits of this added stress when it is not done in excess. Furthermore, the body cannot tell one stressor from the next. For example, you may have a family, a job, finances, spouses, kids, etc.; the body treats all types of stress the same way, it doesn’t know the difference. Also, healthy stress like running and working out is still stress, and endurance running increases our cortisol levels, which is our stress hormone which we would like to keep low, so that adrenalization doesn’t take over. Endurance runners have to be extra vigilant with taking care of their bodies, so that they don’t break down due to hormonal influences.

Training Tip: For 1 week take your resting heart rate in the morning and in the afternoon to get a baseline. If you are feeling sluggish, check your resting heart rate to see if it is elevated. If it is elevated by 7 – 10 bpm, you may want to consider a rest day, or do something that is at a lower intensity.

3) Have Patience When Training!

Goal is to build adaptation in your muscles, ligaments, tissues, joints, bones slowly over time so that you can handle more running!! We need patience as distance runners!

Stop jamming in training faster than your body can adapt!

  • Also, adaptations in muscles and lungs, and ability to deliver O2 is created slowly over time too.
  • Mitochondrial density and capillaries start to grow during a slow adaptive process as well.

 4) Change Up Your Paces!

Running at the same pace day in and day out isn’t going to get you the performance gains you are looking for. You need easy days and you need hard days, and some in between. Work all energy systems not just one! Also, make your easy days Easy!

Stay tuned for Part 2. Happy Training!


 Natalie JohnstonNatalie Johnston has been running since she was 13 years old, and has been a competitive athlete since the age of 3. She competed in sports ranging from horseback riding, competitive swimming, to dance. However, running was the one sport that stole her heart! She says,”Running frees my mind and soul, you can just grab your shoes and run anywhere!” Through many ups and downs in her life, running was the one place for her to let go, meditate (aka release her emotions), and grow as a person.  She believes running is more than just getting fast times, it’s about connecting to something deeper in yourself; She believes that running saved her life in many ways. Through High School and College all Natalie thought about was being the best and getting fast, since then she has changed her way of thinking, and believes that you should train like you want to run until your 100. With that mindset, she has been able to run faster, be less stressed, and enjoy her runs even more now than she did before! Learn more about Natalie and her coaching at RUN F.I.T. Coaching.