Stuck in a rut with your running? Sometimes it feels like you are constantly training yet never getting any faster. You’re running regularly and keeping on track with your weekly mileage goals, but are you training at the correct intensity and incorporating the right recovery into your plan?
It wasn’t until I was stranded at an internship all summer away from family and friends that I really started taking running seriously. It’s always been a life-long hobby of mine and still is, but having nothing else to do all summer really made me focus in on truly developing into a better, more efficient runner. I delved into running books, researched breathing techniques, yoga exercises, weight-lifting, you name it, and I studied it! I started incorporating the things I was reading into my training, and all of a sudden my speed started to improve, I could run longer distances at increased intensities without getting burnt out, and I was actually less sore even though I was running more miles. That summer I cranked out my best running times since my high school training days! But how did I do it? I accomplished this through incorporating the following 4 simple techniques into my weekly training regime.
A 2007 study confirmed that incorporating high intensity workouts into your training improves performance more than simply training at a moderate intensity. When you run at the same pace and distance every single week, your muscles become accustomed to that movement and it no longer seems like a challenge. When this happens, you are no longer improving your running ability; you are simply maintaining. In other words, your muscles have plateaued and they are ready for a new challenge!
In order to keep improving in pace and distance, you have to keep increasing and fluctuating your distances and confusing your muscles through varying speed workouts. Pushing them a little more every week will force them to become stronger and will make you faster without even feeling like you are exerting extra effort.
Example workouts include:
- Interval training. Start out with a nice warm-up of half a mile, and then incorporate sprinting distances broken up by light walking or jogging periods. For instance, sprint for 30 seconds – walk for 15 seconds – sprint for 1 minute – walk for 30 seconds – sprint for 2 minutes – walk for 1 minute – sprint for 1 minute – walk for 30 seconds – sprint for 30 seconds. Then end the workout with a slow cool-down jog for half a mile.
- 1 mile repeats. This is a different variation of interval training, but one that I find highly effective. Run half a mile at a slooooow jog, and when you hit that half mile mark pump up your intensity just enough so that you can’t talk, your breathing is slightly labored but under control, and your muscles feel like they can maintain the distance for at least one mile, but no more than that. Do you normally run 9 minute miles during your longer runs? Shoot for running an 8 minute mile. If it feels like you can’t maintain that pace after you start, slow it down a bit. If it feels like you could run more after that mile, speed it up! After the one mile is up, rest by slowly walking or jogging for half the amount of time that it took you to run that mile, and then repeat the mile again. Build up each week until you can complete 3 or 4 mile repeats in a single workout.
Long slow distances
Believe it or not, but you have to run slow to get faster. Incorporating longer runs into your normal training not only builds well-rounded muscles that are fast-twitch and slow-twitch, but it also builds your endurance, which can benefit you as you are working to build speed. You need to be able to maintain higher intensity running for longer periods of time, but in order to do that you have to build your stamina through these longer, steady paced runs.
To run longer:
Increasingly add 5 – 10 minutes to your longest run every week, or increase your longest run by a half mile to one mile every week. It doesn’t have to be much, but you will definitely notice that those distances get easier the more you do this. When you increase your mileage by no more than 10% every week, you are building endurance and muscle without risking injury. That is, as long as you aren’t pushing the pace! Those long runs should feel relatively relaxed, and they should be run at an easy pace that allows you to maintain a conversation without feeling winded. The heart rate should remain stable as well.
Oh my gosh! Where would I be without my foam roller?! That very summer that I increased my pace and mileage I actually didn’t use a foam roller at all until after my half marathon when my muscles were screaming at me. To be honest, I was a skeptic. I thought, “What’s that really going to do for me that stretching doesn’t?” Boy, was I wrong. It’s like heaven for the legs! Well, it actually hurts like a b**** as you’re doing it, but it works out any knots or tenderness you have in your muscles so they are able to recover faster after stress. Faster recovery means that you get back to training faster than you would have previously. It seriously seems to cut my recovery time in half so I’m able to train more without feeling any additional stress in my legs.
How to foam roll:
Lie on the floor and place the foam roller under one of your calves. Gently rest your calf on it and use your arms and body weight to roll your calf over the foam roller gently yet firmly so you are putting pressure on the roller. Roll your calf over it back and forth a few times, and then adjust to rolling your hamstring. Repeat with the other side. Then turn to face the floor and place your quadriceps over the roller and use your arms and weight to roll them out. You can then twist to roll your hips and lower back and so on. It may hurt, but in the end it’s helping your muscles recover faster. Need a better idea of how to use a foam roller? Check here.
Focus on breathing
Have you ever paid attention to how you breathe when you run? I mean, how your breaths in and out coincide with your footing? If you tune in, you may notice that you actually breathe out whenever you step on a certain foot. For instance, when I run, I naturally tend to breathe out when my left leg lands. As you exhale, you are relaxing you diaphragm which destabilizes your core. If you consistently exhale on a single step, you are putting excess stress on a single foot, ankle, and leg which ups your chance of injury.
To prevent this from happening, try rhythmic breathing. Rhythmic breathing incorporates breathing with cadence to spread the stress evenly over both of your legs. The book, Running on Air discusses how the optimal pattern is 2:1, so 2 steps per one breath for faster running, but I often found that I needed 4 steps per one breath during my slower runs. So inhale (right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot), exhale (right foot) – inhale (left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot), exhale (left foot), and so on. It takes a while to get used to this type of breathing, so make sure to dedicate a few runs just to practicing this task. It’s found to not only prevent stress of a particular leg, but also improve respiratory efficiency.