I just want to preface this by saying that I'm not a competitive runner, nor am I a certified sports or running expert. Running is a deeply personal sport in that what works for one person may not work for someone else. This is what worked for me.
Of course, if you're starting an exercise program, check with your doctor first.
I've been running for years. Recently though, I made three changes: one to my diet, one my attitude, and one to the way I run, and the result has been a crazy bump in speed and in energy! After a few weeks, I'm running up to 90 seconds faster per mile (which is pretty significant, whether you're into keeping time or not) and, my energy levels are twice what they were. These changes have taken my running to a new level:
I started eating carbs again
OK, I never cut them out completely, but I've always gravitated towards a lower-carb diet naturally. I love carbs, but some days I would get to dinnertime and wonder why I felt so tired, only to realize that I hadn't eaten any complex carbohydrate for the entire day. I can tolerate carbs just fine — I got my genetic code sequenced by Nutrigenomix and learned that I metabolize them normally, so there was no reason for me to restrict them (again, not that I was doing that, at least not intentionally). I've always run on carbs, preferring to eat sushi the night before a race because the rice always made me run like hell!
The funny thing is that I'd been eating Greek yogurt and granola every morning for the past 3-4 years or so, and I always noticed that I was bloated afterwards. Turns out, according to Nutrigenomix, I'm more likely to be lactose intolerant than the average person.
Out went the Greek yogurt, and in came a bagel every morning. Not only did I not feel bloated after eating the bagel, but I actually lost weight. What? Crazy.
We're all different, but introducing carbs for breakfast not only made me run faster, but also kept me fuller for longer than the yogurt, and I eat less later on in the day. I also include a serving of complex carbs at lunch and I eat more pasta, too. YAY!
I stopped listening to music
This one is HUGE.
Now, I know a lot of you are reading this and thinking, NO WAY will you ever run without music. Hear me out, though, OK?
When I lived in California, I ran without music because I was on remote trails and wanted to hear what was coming up behind me. I also instinctively knew that if I ran with music, I'd naturally adjust my pace to the beat of whatever song was playing. That put me at the mercy of my playlist, taking me away from my natural pace and probably tiring me out quicker.
I started the habit of listening to music while I run when I moved back to Toronto years ago. I guess I wanted to block out the sounds of the city; traffic, catcalls, whatever. It got to the point where I was so dependent on hearing tunes, even the few seconds between songs was agony for me. I sort of knew that I was running to the beat of the music, but I really didn't think it was making so much of a difference. I was wrong.
When I travelled back to California a few months ago, one of my good friends mentioned that she doesn't listen to music when she runs. I decided to try music-free running, tucking my headphones into my pocket just in case I couldn't hack it. But wouldn't you know, after I got over the first mile or so of listening myself breathe (aka huff and puff), something happened.
I began to run according to my breathing. And speaking of breathing, I could actually hear myself breathe, so I knew when I needed to take it down a notch, and when I could speed up. I could also regulate my breathing and reverted back to my two-breaths-in, two-breaths-out that I used to employ back in the day. I was no longer tired at the end of my runs, because I wasn't completely ignoring my body's cues. Instead, I was following them. I stopped less frequently to catch my breath, and my pace increased significantly — from an average 10:15 minute mile, to an 8:30 with negative splits.
I also began to notice what was going on around me, and my thoughts, once overridden by loud music, were free to wander. I began to slip into a 'zone' where I sometimes couldn't even remember parts of my runs, because I was so inside my head. That was weird, but still good. Running has become something I look forward to, not another slog along the sidewalk.
I rejigged my expectations
I'm in my 40s now, and as much as I want to believe that I not only look 28, but that I can run like I'm that age, I don't and I can't. Understanding that I can't do what I used to do and making peace with that fact has helped me accept that I have to run shorter distances, that I need to be careful about my form, and that sometimes, I need to walk up hills that will aggravate my foot injury. I also need to grit my teeth and not compare myself to other runners or try to catch up with a faster person on the trail (unless I'm feeling especially speedy that day). These realizations have brought an almost meditative quality to my runs, because I'm not longer trying to out run, out pace, and out distance myself and others all the time. It's a good feeling to run only for myself; it's like my running has matured, but with that has come renewed energy and purpose for my runs.
Good luck with your running!