Here it is Chicago—the Thaw! Winter is finally over (we hope) and summer is here. The warmer weather brings a lot of cool things to our great city: summer concerts, beer gardens, outdoor brunch spots, and the beginning of race season. If you haven’t noticed the increase in runners on the sidewalks and lakefront path you may still be hibernating yourself. This time of year I usually get a lot of new people interested in training for summer races and of course, the big race in October.

This is a great time of year not only because of the abundance of outdoor activities but also the extra motivation the summer brings with it. Much like New Year’s, the onset of nice weather can bring about new worthwhile goals, such as completing your first 5k or beating your previous ½ marathon time.

As the temperature increases, many runners increase their mileage…and the risk of injury. About 80% of runners get injured each year. This is a pretty alarming statistic considering it’s a no-contact and fairly low impact sport. Many runners go into it with an attitude of “I’ll just run.” This is generally not the best approach. Running can be a fun activity but you have to approach it with a method and intent like any exercise program; you need to be aware of both the volume and intensity to which you subject yourself.

Here are my top 3 ways to become a better runner this summer.

1. See running as a skill.
Running may be one of the most basic activities and requires pretty much no equipment other than apparel (unless you run naked). Yet, it is still a skill or fundamental movement pattern and you must give it the attention it deserves. Some of us were lucky enough to have had track or cross-country coaches in the past that showed us how to be a better runner by improving our mechanics and gait. If you didn't have this type of coaching before, there is still hope. Learning the proper running mechanics is vital to improving running times and preventing injury. Most frequently, learning proper running mechanics begins with fixing postural imbalances. Due to work demands, many of us spend our days stuck behind a desk. If you watch the end of any local 5k you will see many people cross the finish line looking like they are still sitting at a desk even though they are standing on two feet. Here are links to a couple videos to help get you out of that desk posture and into a better pattern for running:

2. Focus on strength training.
Many people think they should focus only on endurance work when getting ready for a race. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Strength training is vital to your preparation for a race. Strength training will decrease body fat (making you a more efficient runner), help prevent injury, and increase your speed (even on long distances). Think of your strength as a ceiling: if your ceiling is low your endurance will only go to that point, but if your ceiling is higher you can take your endurance to that new height. No matter the distance you run, you want to aim to finish strong. Running and traditional cardio are not the only forms of endurance training. You can pair strength exercises in a metabolic circuit to still accomplish the effect of challenging your cardiovascular system. By pairing your strength and endurance training you will get stronger and, if the program is balanced, it can be corrective in nature and reinforce those good mechanics we talked about above. Try this simple circuit:

3. Get a Support System.
Running can be a group or a solitary sport. Running solo can be meditative; a lot of people say running solo helps them “clear their mind” or “recharge”. But running with others provides companionship; a good running partner will push you when you need to be pushed or help ground you if you are pushing too hard. One of the biggest reasons people give up on running is that they don’t have adequate support. Support systems cheer you on when you are doing well and they pick you up when things go awry. Life has ups and downs and surrounding yourself with supportive people is always a smart choice. The key is surrounding yourself with the right people. If you surround yourself with sloppy, inconsistent runners who frequently get injured you will likely get injured (or hate running). If you surround yourself with strong, confident and positive people you will also be strong, confident and positive. You are a product of the 5 people you associate with the most, so surround yourself with 5 exceptional people and you will be the 6th!

Here at Hustle Fitness, we are intentional about bringing out the best in one another. I’d love to invite you to come try a session here at Hustle Fitness. If you’re looking to join a community of people who support each other to become stronger and more confident, contact us at info@hustlefitness.com[/column]

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