If you’re trying to improve as a runner, then you should try to shake up your running a bit, so that you are challenging yourself and not always doing the same runs. NO challenge means NO adaptation (your body adjusting and strengthening itself in response to exercise) and NO improvement in fitness.
Our group runs and training programmes can take a variety of different forms, but loosely speaking they split into the following types of runs:
the long run: the goal of this run is to improve your stamina. When you first start running (or restart running), every run falls into this category! Long runs should be run at a steady pace, which you can manage whilst keeping up a conversation, you are aiming for duration NOT speed. If you can, fit in one long run each week and extend the duration slightly (10%) each week.
the tempo / threshold run: if the long run is at a comfortable chatty pace, this run is at a “comfortably fast” pace. The aim here is to work at a level which is just under your “lactate threshold”. What on earth is that?? Well it’s different in all of us, and technically it corresponds to a heart rate somewhere between 85% and 90% of maximum heart rate. You should still be able to talk, but you’ll only be able to spit out a few words at a time. Beyond this threshold (i.e. at a higher heart rate), you stop using your comfortable aerobic energy system and move into using the “lactate” system. All well and good, but even finely tuned elite athletes can only use this energy system for 3 minutes or so. For us lesser mortals wanting to run for any duration, we know that if we run too fast, we won’t be able to keep going! This type of run helps us to improve our fitness at the top of our aerobic zone and hence run a faster pace that we can sustain. If you start with just a few minutes at this pace as part of a slower run, then extend that duration slightly each week, you will find eventually that this pace will get faster. Net effect is that your 5k Parkrun time will improve! One of these runs each week will make all the difference if you’re training for a particular race up to and including marathon distance.
the interval/repeats run : Interval training is a way of improving your strength or speed endurance by splitting a run down into repetitions of fast sections, followed by slower recovery sections. True interval training is all about the recovery “interval” where instead of stopping after the fast section, you jog slowly or “freewheel” until you hit the next fast section. Just as in the gym, different combinations of weights, sets and reps will yield different results, so the pace, recovery, sets and reps can be tuned to get a specific outcome. The main benefit that you’ll notice is that running at slower paces will feel a lot easier in comparison – not just because it is, but also because faster running will work your limbs and core much harder and towards the limits of your range of movement. In turn, this builds strength in all the muscles involved in the “kinetic chain” (the sequence of bits of you that move as you run!) This type of run is easiest on the track, but with a known route can work anywhere. You could start with a pyramid session on the track, to get used to the idea: 2 sets of : 200m, 400m, 600m, 400m, 200m with a 1 or 2 minute jog interval in between each rep.
the fartlek run : this is a great way of running when you are outdoors on a known route. Fartlek is apparently Swedish for “speed play” and that’s exactly what you keep doing, adjusting your speed, so that you keep challenging yourself and don’t settle into a comfortable rhythm. It’s almost like “running like a dog” : bolt after a squirrel, trot up to meet another dog, stop and sniff something – you get the picture! So on a run, you might set yourself 3 gears : gear 2 is your usual long run pace, gear 3 is a bit faster than that and gear 1 is a recovery pace. Then split the run up, so “gear 2 until the next lamp post”, “gear 3 to the gate”, “gear 1 along the pavement” for example. There are no set rules, you run like you feel and the benefit of the run is to improve your aerobic endurance. Start with a 30 minute run and increase it when you can.
the hilly run: depending upon where you live, you might find that just about every run that you do falls into this category! If they do, then bask in the knowledge that your fitness will be fantastic as a result! Hill running allows you to work on leg strength, as running uphill is a form of resistance training with your body weight being the resistance. Hill repeats, where you seek out a “horrible” hill and run up it repeatedly is a form of interval/repetition training with the recovery taking place as you jog back downhill. Try 2 sets of 4 x 30secs uphill with 1 minute recoveries.
the recovery run: these are shorter runs at your long run pace or less, which allow your body to work at a lower level and help the blood flow to flush out any toxins that have built up in your muscles. These are the runs that are all to easy to skip, but they actually make a massive difference and help you to remain injury free. If you can, fit in one of these a week and you’ll also find that they’re also good for the soul. You can sometimes run and it’s just EASY! On the subject of recovery…it is vital to allow time for your body to recover from a hard session. This is when the body “adapts”, repairing and strengthening itself and what is known as “the training effect” actually happens. Ignore this and you risk injury, illness or both. Listen to your body!
Record your progress and how you feel during each run. Watch your improvement over time. Smile!