Runners celebrating after an MEC race

Ultimate collection of running tips, hacks and secrets

You know what’s crazy inspiring? Standing at the finish line of a marathon around the 4+-hour mark. By that point, the elite runners have long finished the race – they may even be done their post-race rituals – just as hundreds of other runners are digging deep. There are fist pumps, tears and weary smiles. Pained looks and blue toenails. Runners of all ages and sizes.

In fact, the whole scene can be so inspiring that you may find yourself signing up for a race as soon as you get home. So consider that the first tip to kick off this list: If you’re feeling unmotivated, find the nearest race and watch people sprint, shuffle, high-five and wipe away sweaty tears as they cross the finish line – you can’t help but fall in love with running all over again.

Read on for dozens more of the best running tips, hacks and tricks sourced from MEC Ambassadors and staffers who love to run:

On fueling

1. “Eat pickles to avoid muscle cramping,” says MEC Ambassador Jim Willett. “It’s a not-so-secret secret in the ultra-running world. You’ll often see runners crushing big dills during races.”

2. Gels are quick and easy, but sometimes it’s nice to have something savoury on a long trail run. Boil baby potatoes, cut them in half and lightly salt them. (I like to wrap them in a tube-shape and pop them like Mentos.)

3. Turn a coozy into a water bottle holder:

 

4. “Whether you’re running a 10K or a 50K, make a nutrition plan and follow it,” says MEC staffer Julie. “On race day, it may take a great deal of mental focus to swallow that gel every 45 minutes but your body will thank you later.”

5. I’m forever grateful to the person that told me how to stop the sloshing noise from my hydration pack on my first day using it: just tip it over and suck out the air.

Gear tips

6. “Wear toe socks if you’re prone to getting blisters between your toes,” suggests Jim. “They might look a little uncool, but they’ll definitely help.”

7. Make sure your shoes have enough room in the toe box. If they feel snug, you’ll be in big trouble on long runs and downhills.

8. Have wide feet? Give this lacing method a try:

 

9. Be bold, start cold. Dress for a few degrees warmer than it actually is outside since you’ll warm up as you move. (Arm warmers are handy.)

10. Shop for shoes in the afternoon or evening. When you wake up, your feet can be up to a half size smaller than at the end of the day – they’ll swell in both volume and width.

11. Ladies: Yes, a decent sports bra might cost a little more, but it’s amazing what a difference it makes (especially if you’re trail running down steep hills).

12. From one of our running moms: “Invest in a running stroller. It’s a great way to get a good workout while your little one gets some fresh air and hopefully catches some zzzzs.”

If you’re into races…

13. For out of town races, bring your own breakfast to keep pre-race fueling easy and familiar. This might mean getting creative (confession: I once packed a toaster so I could make PB on toast in my hotel room).

14. Embrace the culture. Your fellow runners will be stoked to hear about your personal best, or your story about powering through pain to reach your goals. You don’t need to stand on the podium to have fun at a race.

Runners celebrating after an MEC race

15. “You’re probably never going to feel totally ready when you want to jump to the next level in running,” says Jim. “So just sign up. If you put in your training, talk to people who’ve been there before and have a race-day plan, then you’re probably as ready or more ready than most of the people there.”

16. Don’t rely on water stations at big or long races since they could be far apart or packed. Carry a small water bottle to be prepared (squishy ones are good).

17. If you get injured as you’re training, sign up as a race volunteer. It’s a bummer you can’t run, but helping out lets you soak up the race vibes and earn major run karma points.

For beginners

18. Walk-running is an awesome way to ease into things. Try 3-and-1s (3 minutes running, 1 minute walking) and work up to the universal 10-and-1s. “It’s magic,” one staffer said.

19. Running apps are a fun way to see your kilometres rack up; they also inadvertently log your shoes’ kilometres so you know when to replace them – usually ~750–900km. Here are 5 apps to try, along with the MEC Strava Run Club.

20. For race day, follow the rule of “out with the new, in with the old.” Bottom line: never ever try anything new on race day. Not even those super cool socks you picked up at the race expo.

21. Get a free gait analysis and buy shoes that fit rather than by looks. One staffer noted, “I love the look of a minimalistic shoe but I need some cushioning to be comfortable in a run.”

Foot mapping and gait analysis at MEC Run Lab

Foot mapping at the MEC Run Lab to help find your perfect shoes.

22. Rookie mistake: going too hard, too fast, too soon. Listen to your body and increase speed, distance and time slowly.

On mindset

23. Train your brain as much as you train your body. Develop positive thinking and set clear goals. MEC staffer Dennis shares, “Forcing yourself to smile or laugh when it hurts can have a huge effect. I’ve hysterically laughed my way to more than one finish line.”

Smile sign on MEC running race course

24. Two inspiring run movies to watch: Unbreakable, which covers the 2010 Western States 100 miler and is Ellie Greenwood’s favourite run film, and The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young which is pretty much the craziest race ever (available on Netflix).

25. Find novelty in nuances. Do fast days, easy days, group runs and different routes. Or sign up for something new to you, like a colour run.

26. Remember: You are a runner. “For most of my life I identified as a non-runner, but slowly I started getting into it and now it’s one of my favourite things,” says MEC staffer Elyse. “You don’t need to run a certain distance or time to be a runner – do what you feel is real and go after it.”

Run form and training

27. Want to get faster? Run with people faster than you.

28. Get to know your glutes. Your glute muscles give you the propulsive forces for running, but they’re often abnormally weak because of all the sitting we do. Make glute strengthening exercises a standard part of your training routine.

29. Wear a variety of shoes and run on different surfaces to help prevent injuries and make you a more balanced runner. Trail running is great to mix things up.

Trail running on a forest path

30. Specific run training, like tempo runs, hill training and fartleks are tough, but they work – you will get faster.

31. Train smart. If you’re planning your first ultra (50km+), plan ahead. Focus your training 5–6 months before the event, and work out all the kinks: nutrition, gear, long runs, hills.

32. “New to running or maybe training in general? Get a heart rate monitor,” says MEC staffer Fred. “They’re not just for hardcore athletes and they’re a useful barometer to see how hard you’re performing.”

Running tips potporri

33. Learn the art of clearing your nose (aka “the blow” or snot rockets)… and always shoulder check before you blow.

34. Chafing sucks. Use glide everywhere things are rubbing the wrong way.

35. Swap music for podcasts on long runs. A good story makes kilometres fly by, and language learning podcasts give your brain a workout too.

36. 3 things runners are often guilty of: not warming up, not stretching after, not cross-training. Do them all to help stay injury-free.

37. A foam roller can be your best friend (and worst enemy). Your muscles might not love it when you roll it out, but your body will as your mileage amps up.

38. No waterproof case for your phone on rainy runs? Use a small plastic sandwich bag – they’re usually touchscreen compatible.

39. Celebrate your accomplishments, even if you think they’re minor. If you managed to squeeze in a 20-minute lunch run on a super busy work day, that’s better than nothing.

40. Travelling? Use Strava heatmap to see popular places to run in an unfamiliar city.

41. Finally, the tip that came up over and over again with all the runners we asked: Find a run buddy or a run crew. Jim Willett puts it well:

“Running can be a beautiful individual activity and you’ll likely do the bulk of your runs alone, but there’s something to be said for the power of a group. It will keep you accountable, you’ll learn a lot, meet people with similar interests, and likely get faster.”

MEC Toronto run crew after a run

MEC Toronto run crew in action.

Happy running! What did we miss? Share your run tips with MEC on our social channels.

Karen Benson

Editor, trail runner, nature nerd. Lauded for leading cheer squads everywhere, she’s also an outspoken advocate for eating burritos daily.