I have been running for several years now and I have always classed myself as an amateur. This is because I have always focused on surviving a race and the distance rather than speed but they both have the benefit of giving you personal achievements.
I remember running my first 10k race when I had been running a short time. My brother in law had roped us in to it. I remember feeling dread but at the same time excitement to be in a race. I had no real idea what to expect.
I ran it in just over an hour which isn’t too bad.. but ever since then I have never really tried to improve on my technique to help improve my speed. My races have always very much been similar times and although I have pushed myself during the race I have never put much effort into the training.
Hill sprints, tempo runs, interval training fartlek training amongst other types of training and terminology are all a bit alien if you are new to running. I’d like to understand how they benefit your running not just what they actually mean so this is a blog written to help me on my quest to becoming a better runner.. and hopefully a little faster.
Hill runs help you to build leg and lung strength. They target your thighs, calves (stronger calves help prevent shin splints) and bum.. why have I not started this sooner! Stronger legs make faster runners and better still it burns more calories (Starting to wish I lived somewhere more hilly now!). They should be incorporated into your runs at least once a week. Eyes straight ahead, shoulders down and imagine the road is coming up to meet your feet. On the way down be careful not to lean back and use your quads to slow you down and keep your effort going up the same as on the way down…
This is where my weakness lies. And having researched hill runs I now know where I have been going wrong. I very much give it my all on the way up, over exerting myself and on the way down during a race I always use it as an opportunity to make up for any lost time I have made on the way up.
When I was in France a few years a go I went on a run in the mountains and the decent was actually far worse than the climb as it was so difficult not to make the mistake of using your quad muscles to slow yourself down. It took me a little by surprise as you instinctually think the way up will be harder… it was but less damaging to the muscles.
I will be practicing hill runs while in the Lake district this week as its too good an opportunity to miss. I will probably focus more on time spent running than distance as its hard to plan a run when you have no idea where they will take you!
Strength is gained when we face our weaknesses! Hills are mine.
I’m quite good at pacing a consistent speed that I feel comfortable with on that particular day or race but… I struggle to know what speed to run when a training plan says “easy” “steady” and “Tempo” and actually even if the plan I am using gives a rough guide I still can’t seem to set myself into that pace.
But now I have discovered the Royal Parks Half training plan and its so detailed. The explanations make so much more sense to me than any other plan I have ever followed or tried to follow… It gives you a break down of speed you should be aiming for based on me wanting to achieve a sub 2hr race time.
A tempo run is a faster-paced run. Slightly quicker than your normal pace. Comfortably hard! Tempo running improves our metabolic fitness (to improve the maximum uptake of oxygen by the muscles and using fat for energy), and increase your speed.
Interval training is where you throw in sprints at staggered intervals with a slower paced recovery run. They help you to burn more calories, build endurance, faster and a stronger runner. Apparently they help to fight belly fat but how true this is I do not know as its impossible to target a particular area… having said that I may just give it a try just in case!!! You never know.
Similar to interval training but less structured, Fartlek training involves varying your speed and terrain that you run on. It helps to improve aerobic (“exercise that requires pumping of oxygenated blood by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles.”), and anaerobic fitness (“Anaerobic exercise is a physical exercise intense enough to cause lactate to form to promote strength, speed and power”). You alternate moderate to hard efforts of running. Focusing on a land mark such as a lamppost or tree you run fast to it and then slow it back down to recover… then repeat.
Negative splits is where you run the second half of your run a little bit faster. This allows your muscles to warm up and you can increase your pace comfortably! Now this I am good at. I didn’t realise it was what I was doing but I do it all the time. Especially during races. This is how I feel comfortable with my running. Learning to step out of my comfort zone and set off during a race faster could give me those valuable minutes I need though!
However putting my already well rehearsed technique into practice may do me some favours if I can use it to my advantage. If I can preserve some energy for the second half and concentrate on speeding up my second half I may well get a PB that I am after!
It could prevent injuries as the muscles are warmed up properly. Less shock to your heart and lungs if there is a gradual increase in speed.
When you run you produce mood boosting endorphins which will have increased your energy allowing you to run faster with out too much effort.
And this benefit I can vouch for as I do it… you will feel strong and confident as you pass other runners as you have reserved your energy for a stronger finish. The one time I didn’t practice this technique was in my last half marathon where it all went horribly wrong because I was trying to catch up to my husband! I lost my head and the reward was an emotionally draining run!
This sounds like a technique I can be very good at! Its the method I used unknowingly during the St Neots half marathon where I did achieve a sub 2hr after many years of running!
Active rest day
Cross training with other types of cardio strengthens your heart. Mountain biking, hiking, and walking all at a vigorous pace are good training alternatives to do on an active rest day (rest day from running).
Strong legs are important to help you up those hills so strength training focusing on your quads, calves, shins, hamstrings and bum as well as your core and upper back should be incorporated into your training. Lunges are a good exercise to perform and help to strengthen the gluten responsible for keeping your pelvis, hips and knees stable during your run. Watch this video to see how to do a lunge correctly. Another exercise that is good for strengthening your glue muscles is a side lying clam which you can watch here.
The training plan above for my Royal Parks Half marathon has incorporated some strength training moves but I have been following a plan I found on Bodybuilding.com although I have to admit some of it I have found very hard and with out someone to direct me where I am going wrong it is perhaps not a good one for beginners.
There is plenty out there to try and youtube is a great place to look.
So that is a little bit of a run down on a few things I will be trying to improve my running. There is so much advice out there it can be a little bit overwhelming but it shouldn’t need to be complicated.
Just get out there and enjoy it!
Next I will be looking into weight loss and running and why it can grind to a holt…. and how to change this!