For today’s run, how far are you going, how fast, and with whom? If you’re following a structured training plan, you will know the answers. But plenty of runners make those decisions as they head out the door based on the weather, time constraints, and how they feel.
If your goal is to improve, before lacing up your running shoes, ask yourself: What is the purpose of this workout?
If you can’t answer that question, why bother doing the run. If you want to get fitter and faster, having a goal for the day – and sticking to it – will develop the physiological systems that make you stronger. Without it, you risk doing too much, too little, or just enough to stay in a workout rut.
You run a specific pace because you’re trying to achieve a specific physiological adaptation. You need to respect the purpose of the workout.
Here’s how to reap the rewards of whatever is on your agenda.
Run long and slow. These runs force your heart and lungs to adapt to working overtime, which beefs up your cardio-vascular system. The prolonged impact also strengthens muscles, joints and connective tissue.
Once a week, run one and a half to three times longer than you typically run. Every three weeks, increase the distance by three kilometres.
Run one of three types of speed workouts: short all-out intervals; longer intervals close to race pace; or short periods of faster running (fartleks). These sessions all recruit fast-twitch muscle fibres, which helps to build overall strength and power.
- Run 15 to 30 seconds all-out up a short hill.
- Jog down, then rest one minute.
- Repeat twice.
- That’s one set.
- Do two to three sets, with three minutes rest between sets.
- Run 400 metres at 5-K pace.
- Jog or walk one minute.
- Repeat two to four times for one set.
- Rest three minutes.
- Do two to four sets.
- Run one to two minutes moderately hard, then run three minutes easy.
- Continue this ratio for a total of 5 to 12 kilometres, including a warm-up and cool-down.
Practice your overall race strategy, including your warm-up and fuelling, while running your goal pace and/or running a route that simulates the course. Doing so will help prepare your body and mind for your big day – whether you’re looking to achieve a PB or just finish,.
If you’re running a 5-K or 10-K, do a goal-pace run of half the race distance, plus an easy one- or two-kilometre warm-up and cool-down. Half-marathoners should work up to 6 or 8 kilometres, and marathoners between 10 and 21 kilometres.
Leave the watch at home and forget about pace or mileage. When life overwhelms you, doing a difficult workout can be dangerous. Stress can cause physical symptoms like muscle tightening, and trying to do a tough workout could cause injury.
Hit the trails. A 2010 study found that exercising in nature improved self-esteem and mood. Off-road obstacles will also force you to slow down and pay attention to your surroundings.
Be flexible! Depending on your running buddy, social runs can be a breeze or a challenge. Slower friends can help keep your pace in check on easy days, and a few faster friends can help you push your limits and boost your fitness. Running with friends allows you to go further and sometimes faster because you’re in the middle of a conversation and suddenly you’re at the end of a run.
Plan to do your recovery runs with slower friends. If you’re joining someone faster for a social run, make sure it’s not your longest run of the week. Set some guidelines with this person up front. You can only speed up so much before you end up hurting yourself.