7 Simple Ways to Refresh your Running Routine
You don’t have to totally overhaul your training to become a better runner. A few small adjustments can bring great rewards, making you fitter, faster and more motivated. – By Bob Cooper
1. Add one kilometre to long or tempo runs
Endurance. It takes just six weeks of covering the same distance on long runs before they start to lose effectiveness, says running and triathlon coach Troy Clifton. ‘By adding a kilometre, you gain endurance as your lungs and muscles make new adaptations, and by teaching your body to hold on to the pace of those runs for longer, you’ll also increase your VO2 max, which helps you run faster at all distances.’
When you add a kilometre to a string of weekly long runs, drop back to your starting point every fourth week. ‘These breaks in mileage increases will allow your muscles to adapt to your fitness gains and to rebuild,’ says Clifton. For example, your long run distances for eight weeks might be seven, eight, nine, seven, nine, ten, eleven and nine kilometres. Experienced runners who also do weekly tempo runs can apply the same pattern. Just don’t do this at the same time you’re increasing your long run distance, as that can overload your mileage. And if you find your pace slipping on any runs, or if muscle soreness lasts for longer than 48 hours, take a day or two off, then switch to more gradual mileage increases.
2. Add a strength training move
Injury prevention. ‘Building strength in your lower body and core means you can handle the three to four times your body weight that’s absorbed with each step you run,’ says running coach Jasmine Graham. ‘A stronger runner is not only less injury-prone, but also a more efficient and, potentially, faster runner.’
These simple moves can be done, prop-free, at home. Add one to your training routine whenever you remember to do it.
Do five sets of eight reps twice a week. This will strengthen your lower body and stabilise your core, to improve stride and make you less prone to knee injuries.
Planks: Try to do one plank a day for a stronger core, quads and upper body, which will help improve your running form.
Reverse lunges: Do five sets of eight reps on each leg twice a week. It strengthens your lower body and hip flexors.
3. Step up your race distance
Sustained motivation. Maybe you’d like to burn more calories in training, or make the transition from spectator to participant in a long-distance race. Whatever your initial motivation, moving up from 5K to 10K, 10K to half marathon, or half marathon to marathon can help maintain your drive. ‘Racing the same distance over and over again doesn’t push you out of your comfort zone,’ says coach Susan Colarco. ‘A longer race distance will add new excitement, new goals and new accomplishments.
Be patient; increasing mileage by more than 10 per cent every week may lead to injury, says Colarco. Plan your training carefully; gradually increase your weekly distance until it’s at least 10 miles greater than your training mileage for the shorter races you’ve been doing – add distance to your long and hard runs. If you want to be more precise, get a training plan from staging.runnersworld.co.za/training. Then it’s time to register for an event. Your new goal race shouldn’t be more than twice the distance of your previous longest race.
4. Add one dynamic stretch
Range of motion. ‘Muscles are more powerful when they can move through a full range of motion,’ says physiotherapist Ellen Walker. ‘Dynamic stretches, not static stretches, have been found to be most effective in increasing range of motion in joints.’
Add one of these three dynamic stretches to your post-run routine.
While walking or running for 20-30 steps, exaggerate the bend in your legs, as if you were repeatedly kicking yourself in the rear. This stretches your quads and hip flexors, and leads to softer landings when you run, which reduces your risk of developing an injury.
Take a big step forward, with your trunk upright, back knee bent and front knee not extending past that leg’s toe. Hold for five seconds. Do five lunges with each leg. These stretch your calves, quads, glutes and hip flexors, and increase stride length by moving your legs through their full range of motion.
Take 20-30 steps while kicking your leg straight up and out as far as it goes, while propelling the opposite arm forward. Do the same with the other leg and arm on alternate steps. Keep your trunk upright. These will stretch your hamstrings, and improve your running posture and stride.
5. Add one extra serving of fruit or veg
Nutrients. We’re sorry to tell you, but a runner cannot live on bread alone. ‘More than half of a runner’s calories should come from carbohydrates, and fruit and vegetables are the best sources because they’re so nutrient dense,’ says dietitian and personal trainer Jenny Maloney. She adds that fruit and veg fill you up better than other foods, too. And with less room in your stomach, it’s easier to resist low-nutrient, empty-calorie snack foods and drinks. Dozens of studies have shown that fruit and vegetables protect you against a huge range of health problems, such as respiratory illnesses, heart disease and many cancers.
You can add one daily serving at any time, but Maloney says breakfast works well from a practical perspective because you’re at home and you can tick it off your list early. Or replace a junk food mid-morning snack with a piece of fruit, which turns a bad choice into a good one. However, because the fibre in fruit and veg digests slowly, avoid eating them in the last hour or two before running or sleeping (although juices are more easily digestible).
6. Add one non-running cardio session per week
Variety, for your mind and body. ‘If all you do is run, the muscles that aren’t targeted by running will not get any stronger,’ says Jeff Horowitz, coach, author of Smart Marathon Training and finisher of 170 marathons. ‘Weakness in those muscles can result in inefficiencies in your running form that can, in turn, lead to injury.’
If you cross-train less than twice a week, replace one easy run with a cardio cross-training session. Indoor or outdoor cycling is a solid choice, says Horowitz. ‘It’s non-impact and it strengthens the quadriceps. Standing over the saddle also engages your core and lateral stabilising muscles as you balance, which can improve your stability and form when you run.’ Cycling is just one option, though. Swimming or rowing engages the entire body while keeping your heart rate elevated. Even brisk walking or hiking does the trick.‘ But activities such as yoga, Pilates and strength training, although great supplemental workouts, can’t be counted as cardio cross training,’ says Horowitz. ‘They don’t raise your heart rate high enough to build endurance.’
7. Add 30 minutes extra sleep each night
You’ll be healthier, happier, and better prepared for your next run. Numerous studies have correlated more sleep with fewer illnesses and chronic diseases, as well as improved mental performance and mood. And extra quality sleep will do more for your running than give you time to dream about that sub-3:00 marathon – it’s crucial in terms of ensuring you bounce back from your sessions and get the most benefit from those training miles: ‘During deep, restorative periods of sleep, our bodies secrete human growth hormone, which can help muscle recovery following exercise,’ says Dr Matthew Buman, a sleep researcher.
‘If you’re constantly tired, make your sleep a priority that’s on a par with other aspects of your training,’ says Cheri Mah, whose ongoing studies of athletes at the Stanford Sleep Center in California have shown that athletic performance improves in line with increased sleep volume. The most effective way to add good-quality snooze time is to get yourself to sleep earlier at night, because a consistent bedtime and wake-up time is key to getting into a good sleep rhythm. Set a nightly alarm for half an hour before you want to hit the pillow as a reminder to start your winding-down routine. Then, during that final half hour, avoid bright lights, computer screens and the TV. Also, in the last two to three hours before bed, reduce your liquid consumption and avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages. Which in our book is yet another good reason to pop to the pub that little bit earlier.