When you first start a running routine, your goal is very simple: just get from point A to point B. You’re less concerned with your time, as long as you keep moving for a determined distance or period of time. But as with any sport or workout regimen, practice and commitment leads to growth. As you start to increase your endurance, naturally you want do more than just finish. You gain the motivation to start setting goals for yourself, increasing your training hours, and investing in resources to help you meet those goals. Still, there comes a time for every runner when we hit a runner’s block—despite the added training, we don’t seem to be getting any faster, better, or stronger. Here are some simple tips for improving your runs so you can start breaking those personal records.
Tip #1: Work In Some Hills
, or hill sprints, is another form of resistance training that can significantly enhance your performance, while strengthening the muscle fibers that activate during a run. While a hill workout done at the highest intensity will yield the best results, any hill will lead to improvement in your runs. Hills also boost the power and efficiency of your strides, allowing you to go faster on a run without exerting more energy.
How To: Hill Training
If you primarily run flat courses, start slowly by integrating hills and steeper slopes into your running routine for 4 to 6 weeks. After you feel like you’ve adapted to the mental challenge, begin working hill intervals into your weekly workout routine. Here are some helpful tips from running experts and coaches:
- Start with a steep slope that is anywhere from 30 to 250 meters long.
- Run up the hill at an intensity that is slightly tougher than your best 5k pace and then jog back to the bottom for recovery.
- Once you reach the bottom, run up the hill at the same speed and intensity as your first interval.
- Repeat with four to five intervals.
After a few weeks, you can gradually start to build the intensity by increasing the number of intervals or shortening the recovery time.
Tip #2: Tap Into Tempo Runs
Also known as a threshold run, a tempo run helps improve your overall speed. In fact, it is believed that tempo runs are the single most important workout you can do to improve your speed because it trains your body to sustain speed over distance. Kenyan marathoners point to tempo training as a crucial driver for success.
How To: Tempo Run
A tempo run consists of a short period of warming up at a comfortable pace, followed by a period of running at a medium- to medium-hard speed, and completed with a cool down at a comfortable pace.
- Run a slow 15-minute warm-up at a pace that feels comfortable (i.e. don’t push yourself).
- Run 20 minutes at a challenging but manageable pace (i.e. push yourself).
- Run a 15-minute cool down.
- Repeat once to twice a week.
Tip #3: Strengthen With Intervals
Interval training is a type of workout that involves a series of low- to high-intensity “bursts” met with short rest periods. Why is interval training important? When you run at a comfortable pace, your body easily obtains energy from the oxygen you inhale. But once you push yourself, your muscles struggle to process that oxygen so they exert extra energy rallying other chemicals in the body to assist. As you become more accustomed to operating at a higher threshold your body becomes more efficient, enabling you to run faster and stronger.
How To: Interval Training
- Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Run at a fast pace (medium-high to sprint) for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Walk or jog slowly for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Repeat this combo four to five times.
Tip #4: Join A Running Group
Push your boundaries by running with a friend or group. Not only are you less likely to skip your runs when you have made a commitment, but companionship enhances the enjoyment of a run or workout.
How To: Join A Group
Do your research. Do a Google search or check out Meetup.com for running clubs in your area. Before joining a running group, check to see what their average pace and distances are to make sure you and the group are in sync. (It’s always great to push yourself, but if the group is averaging 7:40 miles and you are averaging 10:30 miles, it might be best to find another group. You don’t want to risk injury.) If you’re not ready to join a group, ask an active neighbor. Since you can become dependent on a group for pacing or distraction, switch between solo and group runs. This helps you develop your own mental coping strategies to work through discomfort or fatigue.
Carly Harrill, Natural Health Care Expert, Zax Health. Follow her on Twitter at @carlyharrill or visit her blog.