Running is an incredibly accessible activity for individuals of all ages, from the young to the old. That being said, there is a point in time at which your body has everything it needs to propel you to some serious heights regarding running ability. As a teenager, your body is more resilient, better adapted to the changes brought on by exercise, and still in the process of growing. These facts combine to mean that it is far easier to develop good running habits and physical fitness without some of the risks of injury — and the lack of time — that come from running when you're older.

You know it's not just as simple as picking up a pair of running shoes and automatically being good at things, though. It takes arduous work and a lot of practice. So, what should you keep in mind while you try to improve your abilities as a teenager? From knowing your limits to taking advantage of your body's plasticity, there's plenty you can do to set the stage for success. Let's look at seven tips that can help teenage runners improve and stay on top of their goals.

1. Spend time developing and perfecting your form

Running is easy, right? You just put one foot in front of the other as fast as you can. Well, not quite — as it turns out, good running form is actually very important. As a teenager, you have the opportunity to develop good form now when you're young. Building up these habits now will not only serve to make it easier for you to maintain them in the future, but it can help to reduce the risk of a sports injury over the long term. Therefore, it's worth your time to focus on learning how to carry yourself properly and even when to breathe as you run.

Start by focusing on simple things, such as the alignment of your knees and the length of your stride. Your running stride should be quick and short, while your arms should swing but not too much. Ask a running coach at your school to watch you run to get some good pointers. 

2. Learn the value of teamwork in running 

While running often seems like a solo activity, it is actually one of the best fitness pursuits to perform in a group. Why? Running with others offers both encouragement and a challenge. Differing skill levels mean that there are plenty of opportunities to trade advice, tips, and other tricks. Running with even just one friend can help to keep you accountable. With all the other distractions life is throwing at you on top of your school work, a running buddy who reminds you when it's time to put in your miles for the day is an invaluable asset. When you feel like giving up, they'll be there to make sure you keep on going. Then you can return the favour, too! Don't ever forget the value of spending time working out and running with your peers.

3. Don't underestimate the importance of shoes

If you don't take the time to sort out your shoes early on, you'll put yourself on the road to poor form and ultimately an injury — or at the very least some serious discomfort. Take the time to go to a store that offers gait analysis to learn more about what type of footwear you need to run effectively and in good comfort. Some runners need more arch support, while others need a firmer heel; whatever you require, be sure to keep at least a couple pairs around at all times. Be mindful of the fact that you're still growing too, though, so try to avoid breaking the bank on just one pair of shoes. You don't want to end up outgrowing an expensive pair when you could achieve the same results with a less expensive but still quality pair of running trainers.

4. Find ways to challenge yourself to do more

Every runner knows what it's like to reach a dreaded plateau, and if you don't yet, you soon will. At first, it can seem like you're always improving, as though there is always room for your body to push just a little harder. However, eventually, your levels of effort will reach a point where they aren't enough to keep fostering development. You've reached a plateau. Now you've got to figure out how to get off.

Always look for opportunities and ways to challenge yourself more. When you start feeling stagnant, don't give up or become complacent. Recognise that you'll need to work harder if you want to continue with the sport. That could mean you choose to start training for a marathon, or you might come up with some kind of mental game to play. Regardless of what you choose, never stop challenging yourself.

5. Avoid the temptation to eat junk food

Consistency in your training comes in many forms: running the right number of days each week, hitting your distance goals, following the right form — but that consistency must extend to your diet, too. How many times have you finished a school day and immediately reached for a junk food snack? As tempting as it may be, especially when you're very hungry, eating like that will have a big and negative impact on your running ability. Instead, now is the time to start focusing on developing positive eating habits and learning how to hydrate properly. You'll quickly find you need to drink far more water than ever before! Lean proteins, leafy greens, and fewer carbs and starches will all help to prime your body for development as a runner. Of course, everyone needs a break now and again—so let yourself have a "cheat day" every so often too.

6. Get involved with running at your school

Perhaps one of the best tips is also one of the most obvious. As a teenager, you have access to all kinds of opportunities found in the educational system, such as inter-school sports. Chances are good there is a running club or a cross country team you can join at your school. If you're serious about the sport, why not sign up and give it a try? Not only will this provide you with some much-needed structure for your workouts, but it comes with its own built-in challenges in the form of races against other schools. You can learn a lot from your coaches as well as your fellow runners, and this can help to set the stage for a lifetime of enjoyable running. Who knows? Maybe you could even earn a top spot at one of those competitions.

7. Have fun!

It's important to take your running seriously, it's true — it is all too easy to lose your gains and slip backwards if you aren't vigilant. Yet between all the work you do to plan your runs, pick good routes, and structure your diet, it is important for you not to forget that you're doing something that should ultimately be fun. Sure, running is often punishing, and you'll wake up sore many a morning, but you should also wake up full of fun memories from hanging out and running with your friends. If you aren't enjoying running at all, why do it? Take the opportunity to ask yourself what you like about running and why. Once you have those answers, look for ways to focus on them. Whether you love a good run in the rain or you're all about achieving the "runner's high," find your way to have more fun.

Practice makes perfect — and you have plenty of time to practice

With these tips in mind, you can lay a foundation for future growth as a runner. When you learn to let go of your stresses by simply running mile after mile, you'll find it can be quite a serene experience. Of course, the excitement of competing for a top spot in a cross-country race is also a reason to consider picking up running! Remember, though, that just because younger bodies can withstand more punishment, it doesn't mean you're immune from injury. Take it easy when you need a break, but push yourself hard when you know you have more to give. In time, who knows where your running abilities might take you next?

This article was written for Sports Fitness, an online store where you can shop for running clothing and accessories.