A lot of runners get stuck into a rut of running the same route at the same pace week in, week out. Whilst this is a fine way of maintaining our current fitness level it is not going to be enough to help us run further or faster. Even just adding the miles at our habitual comfortable pace will only lead to modest improvements in our endurance.
To really get the most out of our training we need to add variety. This challenges both our muscles and our energy systems in new ways to increase the rate at which they adapt to our training. Not only that but it has the added psychological bonus of experimenting with new routes and new training regimes to help keep us motivated and reduce risk of injury.
If you’re short on time the great news is that you don’t need to spend hours pounding away on the tarmac to achieve significant changes in your speed and endurance – you’re likely to get more benefit from a 30 minute higher intensity interval session than from a 1.5 hour run, although they both have their place!
There are 4 main types of training every runner should have in their programme:
- Long slow run (LSR)
- Tempo run
- Speed/hill/interval session
- Cross training
Long slow run
The LSR should be your longest (and slowest!) run of the week, the one which you gradually add miles to. This steady state sub-maximal training helps to build capillary density and increases number of mitochondria in your muscle cells which are an important part of our aerobic energy system. By doing this we increase the endurance and efficiency of both our cardiovascular system and our muscles. It also primes our tendons and bones to increase their stiffness to cope with gradually increases distances.
Tempo pace is described as ‘comfortably hard’. It is the maximum pace that we can sustain for approximately 1 hour. You should not be able to talk in full sentences but also not gasping for air if you are working in tempo zone.
Training in the ‘tempo zone’ means you are working at or just below your lactate threshold i.e. the point where the bodies ability to remove lactate from the blood is overtaken by the amount of lactate being produced.
As lactate levels increase the body begins to feel fatigued. Therefore by training just below our threshold we gradually increase it – this means we delay the onset of fatigue, helping us run further and faster.
Tempo runs should start with a 10 min warm up then aim to run for 20 minutes at the fastest pace you could sustain for 1 hour. As this gets easier you can gradually increase the time in the tempo zone up to 60 minutes.
There are thousands of different ways to do interval sessions. These are the work outs that are going to increase your overall speed and power. They need to be short but hard – if you aren’t out of breath at the end you didn’t do it right! Don’t try to add intervals to your long runs, you won’t be able to work maximally and so you won’t get the full benefit. These sessions should last about 30 minutes in total, allowing 5-10 minutes for warm up and some recovery time in the middle. The fitter you are the shorter the recovery periods you’ll need between intervals and the more sets you can add.
Here’s a few ideas:
Begin with: 10 min warm up, run 1 min mod-hard effort: 1 min easy jogging x 5
Progress to: 10 min warm up, 1 min max effort with 90 secs recovery x 10
Begin with: 10 min warm up, 3 x 30 secs moderate effort uphill, walking back down
Progress to: 5 x 1min hard effort uphill, jogging back down with 30-60secs rest in between sets
Start with smaller hills then progress to steeper ones!
Cross training means doing something other than running! This allows ‘active rest’ – working different muscle groups to running which prevents muscle imbalance but also training our running muscles in different ways to allows greater strength adaptations without overloading the tendons and joints.
Low impact options are great so try swimming or cycling for cardio. Clinical pilates helps to build up your core postural muscles, making you more efficient when you run, and resistance training using relatively light weights and high repetitions allows you to strengthen and tone muscles without gaining muscle mass.
If you’ve got a race coming up, like the Winchester Half Marathon, which is particularly hilly, mixing up your training is crucial.