So there is a new year lahead of you and for some, you may be wondering what goals to aim for next. Maybe 2013 saw you run that marathon or complete a Tough Mudder, and now you need a new adventure. If you successfully completed last year’s challenge, then you need to find what will drive you like the last one. You may be aiming for a charity 5K run, or you may be aiming to break a new time or personal best in a particular event. Here are my top five tips for succeeding at your running goals, now matter what they are.
Scale it Down.
I have worked in the fitness industry for nearly ten years and the one thing that sells is the “Quick Fix” and this is the same in every industry. Results are an urgency, and this is just not the way it works. You cannot ‘cheat’ the body. So, for my first point, I am saying to go back to basics, get the quality in and then, only then, can you move onto the quantity of longer distances. No matter what your distance of choice is, you will benefit from focusing on shorter events first. This is not to say you will neglect putting the miles in, though running shorter and faster tempo races will help for future events. For example, one of our club runners has completed four marathons times from 2:56 down to 2:33 and whereas he is wanting to break the magical 2:30 barrier we are working on him getting a faster 5K (17:01) and 10K (33:07) PB. This is usual practice at all levels within performance running. Training and racing at the shorter events will, eventually, run through to a faster marathon with good planning and practice. Work on everything from your consistency in the 400m intervals, and build on this to get a faster mile. Think of the marathon as the summit of the mountain. There is a lot of work to do before you get there…
Practice Your Drills More
A part of every session at any club, whether it is a Harriers or athletics club or international programme will be a drills component. Drills are used to emphasise running technique and teach the body to run properly. So knee lift, leg recovery, forefoot landing, running strongly are all running factors that are gleaned from practicing drills. In the winter months I like to focus on forefoot landing and leg recovery because the longer miles create fatigue, and when fatigued you will lose your form. This is then progressed until the summer when focus is on knee drive and power of footstep.
This goes for the end of a run. When you have gone out and done a seven mile hill session or a five mile fartlek or a ninety minute long run I want you to do 4 to six strides. Find a stretch that is about 70-100m long and do some strides. Strides are meant to be technique driven runs and NOT flat out sprints. Run lightly without landing heavily and as smoothly as possible – you should almost float along the ground. Use the arms to propel the body too. Your thumb should go from cheek (face) to cheek (bottom).
“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice so you can’t get it wrong!”
Gym Will Fix It
No not the late marathon running presenter, the fitness gym. If you are serious about running faster and longer then you simply have to affect this with supplementary strengthening work. Have a look at my article on Building a Robust Runner for some exercises and Developing Core Strength. This has a major benefit of improving the neuromuscular system, which in effect is the central nervous system and the muscle fibres it is attached to. So not only will it allow you to push harder and stride out longer, but will also come into effect with balance and coordination so will prevent injuries when you are out on a trail or fell for a run in the fresh air.
Doing a variety of bilateral exercises (two-footed or two-handed), such as push ups; unilateral (single-limb exercises) such as pistol squats; and core training exercises will help you with your running no end. Apart from feeling stronger towards the end of your runs and battling up hills with more ease you will be significantly reducing the risk of an injury. Runners put a lot of impact through their bodies (up to five times their bodyweight with each foot strike) so it makes sense to get your musculoskeletal system accustomed to this.
Training with a partner is not something you have to do for every session, but it is safe to say that training with someone at a similar level as you, and with a similar goal, is a great way to stay motivated and keep going. From a social and performance perspective this is a great way to run and psychologists believe that this ‘social facilitation’ will help you to exceed, not just believe your expectations. This does not have to be the same person all the time, but a mutual one, so you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This will keep you both focussed on the session ahead.
Writing your runs down allows to you monitor your fitness over the course of your training. It has also been shown that those who write their objectives down, with quantifiable time-scaled goals are more successful in achieving them. This is the case in most walks of life, but when you are involved in a quantitative sport where times, distances and league tables are involved you would be doing yourself a disservice by not recording your data. This goes for gym work as well as your running as you need to systematically progress your sessions to gain fitness.
Now there are different ways you can do this with the simplistic pen and paper approach, or you can use some technology. For mapping my athlete’s training I use Microsoft Excel where I have ‘session boxes’ – these include all the info I need to monitor them and includes: date; time; distance; duration; weather; environment and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) which is basically how hard you felt the session was. Now you could do this yourself or ask me for some assistance. However if you were to purchase a training watch/ heart rate monitor/ GPS system then you will probably get most of these as part of the product. Garmin, Polar and Nike all sell items which allow you track the distance, duration and get your average pace for each run and this can be mapped into a graph so you have a visible feedback system. Again, this information will let you know how your training is progressing as you watch your times get quicker and feel easier.
If you only took on one of these tips I would strongly advise to log your sessions. The motivation you will get from seeing your workouts and how you do on them will maintain your efforts.
© Olympic Fitness Coach 2013. All rights reserved.