Robbie Britton's 5 tips to becoming a better runner

·5-min read

‘Ideally, it will appeal to anyone who enjoys running,’ says Robbie Britton about his new book, 1,001 Running Tips (£20, Vertebrate Publishing). ‘There are sections in it that will help beginner runners. But there’s a big range: lots of experienced runners who’ve reviewed the book have said they’ve learned things from reading it, too.’

Fans of ultrarunning will likely be familiar with Britton’s achievements, which include a bronze medal in the 2015 World 24-hour Champions, but he wasn’t always at the front and thinks this has given him a broader perspective from which to write the book. ‘I came from being someone who wasn’t very good at running to someone who’s OK at it,’ he says. ‘When I ran the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, I was right near the back and beaten by a man in one of those rhino outfits that weigh about six stone. So I’ve built up a wealth of knowledge from the front of the field, the middle and, sometimes, near the back.’

If the idea of a book called 1,001 Running Tips sounds a little dry, think again. Britton’s irreverent writing style and hard-won wisdom result in a book that manages to be both highly practical and highly amusing. ‘My mantra when writing the book was: good advice doesn’t have to be boring,’ he says. ‘I own some really good training manuals that I’ve picked up a couple of times but eventually used as a doorstop. If people want to use my book as a doorstop, that’s OK – doorstops are important, particularly when it gets draughty during the winter – but hopefully this will be one they’ll read and enjoy.’

Here are Briton's five tips on how to become a better runner.

Train to time not distance

'Not all miles or kilometres are created equal. A mile with a hill in it is not going to be as quick as a mile on the flat. So if you’re trying to run 10 miles, and one route has 1500ft of elevation and the other has none, they’re very different runs. The hillier run might take you 20 minutes longer, so that’s 20 minutes more training. It’s not just terrain, either. If it’s really hot, for example, your seven-mile run might take 70 minutes instead of 60 minutes. Time also takes into account how you’re feeling. If you’re knackered but you know you have to do an hour-long run, you might do a little less distance than you normally would. But your body, on a cellular level, doesn’t have a GPS watch going: "Oh hang on, I was going to improve, but he’s only done 6.7 miles rather than 7, so I won’t."

Trust the toilet queue

‘The closer you get to the start time, the more likely you are to give up on the toilet queue, but you shouldn’t. Say there are four people ahead of you. In your mind, they’re all going in for a number two, and they’ve all got a newspaper they’re going to read, and the one before you is going to use the last bit of toilet roll. But as it gets closer, two of them will bottle it and leave the queue, one of them only needs a wee (they should have been in the other queue anyway), and before you know it, you’re in. The moral: trust the queue.’

Not all shoes wear out after 500 miles

‘It varies between individuals and how you run. One of the runners I coach, Dan Lawson; has broken records in shoes you wouldn’t wear to do the gardening. If you have a certain way of running that wears down certain parts of a shoe, then, yes, it might increase the risk of injuries. But the industry relies on us getting new shoes every time they get a new colourway. Or there’s a 19th edition of a shoe that hasn’t changed, or they changed it in a way that’s made it worst. "You need the newest version of this." “But it’s twice as heavy?” “Well, we had to change something about it, so we made it terrible.” “Oh, thanks.”’

Photo credit: James Vincent
Photo credit: James Vincent

You can train your gut, too

‘Every discussion I have with runners eventually turns to food. I’ve had fast marathoners say to me things like: “Look at Ron Hill, he ate egg and potatoes before a race, and he ran 2:10.” I say: “That may have been fine for Ron Hill, but you’re not Ron Hill, so maybe try something different.” The truth is, pacing and nutrition are intrinsically linked. We could all eat eight gels sitting on the sofa, but you might not be able to do it running at marathon pace. Luckily, you can train your gut to get better at taking on carbohydrates while running. I like to chuck it into threshold and interval work in the weeks leading up to a race. If your stomach can handle a gel during an interval workout, it should be fine at mile 20 of a marathon. It’s good training for it as it’s another high-stress environment.

Take the long view on injuries

‘With certain injures, say a stress fracture, you know roughly how long it will take to heal. But some injuries are harder to diagnose. From a day to day perspective, you don’t really see the difference. Runners want to feel that progression every day. But sometimes you have to step back and say: “Two months ago I couldn’t run 5km. Now I can run 20km. I can’t run 30km yet, but that’s still progress.”’

1,001 Running Tips by Robbie Britton is out now.

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