If you want to improve your running, get better times or just stay fit, here are seven tips to keep you on track, stride after stride.
1. Build an Aerobic Base
As endurance runners, the bulk of our training (80% or more) should be aerobic in nature. This is done primarily through a combination of easy and long runs below the ventilatory threshold (when we start breathing at an accelerated rate).
2. Vary the Terrain
To maximize the benefits of these easy and long runs, we should run them on rolling terrain to provide variety and reduce the risk of overuse injuries by requiring the legs to adapt and adjust to the varying surfaces. These undulating runs will prepare our legs for the fatigue they will experience late in races. They will also prime them for harder efforts in the future.
3. Vary the Intensity
In addition to easy and long runs on rolling terrain, about 20 per cent of your runs per week should be at varied levels of intensity. By adding a bit of speed to our otherwise aerobic base training we can improve running economy which makes it easier to sustain the same pace for longer.
4. Strides & Short Hill Sprints
Before tackling long, hard intervals or races, however, we should start with short, fast strides and hill sprints. These short bursts work our anaerobic and neuromuscular systems. They are HARD (9-10/10 rate of perceived exertion (RPE), but they are also short (10-30 seconds) providing time to catch your breath between bouts. Strides and short hill sprints prime your legs and lungs for longer, harder efforts later in your training.
- Easy run (5/10 RPE) of 30-45 minutes with 4-6x 20 second strides (9/10 RPE) throughout the run jogging between the harder efforts.
- Easy run (5/10 RPE) of 30-45 minutes with 8-10x 8-10 second short hill sprints (9/10 RPE) at the end of the run with walk recovery down the hill before the next HARD effort.
- 15-20 minutes of easy running followed by 4-8 laps around a standard track. Sprint/Floats: Stride out/sprint the straightaways. Jog the turns. 15-20 minutes of easy running as a cool down.
5. Speed Play – Fartleks
After a few weeks of adding strides to some of your easy and long runs, you can replace some of these workouts with longer fartlek intervals equivalent to your 5K to 10K pace/effort. These can start organically, as the name Fartlek suggests. Fartlek is Swedish for ‘speed play,’ so they should be fun and not overly regimented.
After working your way into a comfortable, sustainable pace, start surging at a 5K to 10K effort up or down a hill that you are running. Rather than stopping and jogging after 20-30 seconds of intense running, continue to push for up to a minute. Then return to your comfortable run pace. Run easy until you catch your breath and then repeat.
Do this 6 – 8 times on one run each week until you feel like you need more. Then add a few more harder efforts for about one minute each. Once those feel manageable, increase the duration of the harder efforts or decrease the duration of the rest intervals.
Include a 15-30 minute warm up and cool down.
- 6-8x 1 minute HARD (9/10 RPE) with 1 minute recovery jogs.
- 8-10x 2 minutes HARD (8-9/10 RPE) with 2 minute recovery jogs.
- 5-6x 3 minutes HARD (8/10 RPE) with 3 minute recovery jogs.
- 5x 5 minutes COMFORTABLY HARD (7/10 RPE) with 5 minute recovery jogs.
- 3-4x 8 minutes STEADY (6/10 RPE) with 5 minute recovery jogs.
Remember, these don’t have to be overly calculated. If you’d prefer, you can use landmarks and vary the durations and distances of the hard and easy efforts. The goal is to gradually introduce the stimulus while still keeping them playful.
I recommend that you keep your running fun and playful for as long as possible. If adding strides and a few fartlek intervals to a few rolling runs per week keeps you fit and having fun, then you are certainly doing something right.
As we get more and more focused on time goals, sometimes it’s necessary to test ourselves mentally and physically at a given pace. Marathoners, for example, often want to make sure that they know what their goal race-pace feels like before toeing the line on race day. The same can be said for most competitive runners preparing for any distance from the 400 m to a 100 miler.
Aside from running shorter races at goal pace in training, interval workouts are a great way to test yourself at goal pace (or faster) so that you know ahead of time that you can, indeed, sustain the effort and race at the desired pace.
Unless you are training specifically for a very hilly course or you don’t have access to rolling terrain on a regular basis, you can likely get all the hill running you need by simply running regularly on rolling terrain for easy, long, and fartlek runs.
However, there are some reasons that you might consider adding more deliberate hill repeats into your routine:
- You don’t live near hills so you have to either drive to a hill or run laps up and over the same hill.
- The race you are preparing for has much more vertical gain and/or loss than you normally encounter in your daily or weekly runs.
- You want to increase your power uphill or your speed and confidence uphill.
If any of these are true for you, then you might consider alternating between fartlek workouts, speed intervals, and hill repeats.
Include a 15-30 minute warm up and cool down. Hill should have a 3-5 percent grade. Effort should be 8-9 RPE.
- BASIC: 6-8x 45-60 seconds uphill (Intermediate go for 90 seconds, Advanced go for 2 minutes), downhill jog recovery.
- LONG HILL REPEATS: 6-8x 3 minutes uphill. Downhill jog recovery.
- UP-DOWNS: 6-8x 60-90 seconds uphill with downhill at STEADY effort.