Millennium Running Club Tips – 10 Ways to Improve Fitness or Race Times
10 WAYS TO IMPROVE FITNESS OR RACE TIMES…REGARDLESS OF AGE AND ABILITY.
There are at least 10 things that each runner can control, and change, in order to run faster race times. Some of these things just take commitment, while others take time, energy, and drive! It all depends upon what the athlete is willing to sacrifice. My top 10 list is as follows:
1. An increase in mileage: This will improve your running economy (efficiency = less energy used), strength of muscles and connective tissue, and the aerobic energy system (the amount of oxygen taken in, transported, and used by the muscle). A shift in weekly mileage from 10 to 20, 20 to 30, up to 60 miles weekly has demonstrated improvements in performance.
2. An increase in the long run: The long run is another important factor in developing muscle strength, as well as further enhancing the cardiovascular system, particularly improving the body’s ability to use fat more efficiently (a major source of energy in longer runs). An 8-10 mile (1 hour) long run may be enough for a 5 km race, but 12 miles (1:30) may be better for the 10 km to 10 mile distance, while running 16 to 22 miles (2:30 to 3:30) may be optimal for a marathon performance. This does not mean that the long run needs to be done each week throughout the year, but it should be done during most of the weeks in your build up period to the target race.
3. Hill workouts: Another excellent training tool is running hills. This develops running economy by improving running form or mechanics. Hill running also improves a runner’s leg strength and power, thus increasing stride length when running on the flats. A 30 to 60 second, rather steep hill is all that is needed. Run hard up the hill, then jog easily back down. Begin with 6 repeats, working up to 12. This workout can be done once or twice weekly during the training period that precedes interval training.
4. Tempo training: Running 2 to 4 miles (20:00 to 30:00) at anaerobic threshold pace will delay the accumulation of lactic acid, allowing us to race faster. Excess lactic acid can immediately slow you down…feeling like a cinder block was just placed on the top of each thigh. Your anaerobic threshold pace depends on your fitness level, but should be 30 to 40 seconds over 5 km pace, or roughly your 10 mile race pace. Basically, it is the pace where conversation becomes increasingly difficult.
5. Intervals/Repetitions: The primary purpose for running interval sessions is that it allows a runner to train with more intensity for a greater length of time when compared to running continuously. Post workout recovery will be enhanced by taking short rests or recovery jogs between each speed segment. Take your current 5 km pace and try running the speed segment just 5 seconds quicker per 400 (1 lap of the track or 1/4 mile). Speed segments can be 200 to1200 meters in length (30 seconds to 4:00). A recovery jog equal to, or half of the speed segment should be taken between each. A total of 2 to 3 miles of speed work, once a week leading up to the race season should be enough. Interval training will maximize your aerobic capacity (the ability to take in, transport, and use oxygen) by pushing that heart rate close to 100% of your max HR during the workout.
6. Strides: Running fast, looking good, and feeling smooth over a short distance can best describe strides. It is not meant to be a workout, and it should not feel like one. In fact strides can be run after the completion of an easy run three or four times weekly. Perform 6 to 10 strides of 50 to 100 meters in length with a full recovery between each, working on running form while running fast, but in control. Strides should also be done prior to any speed workout or race.
7. Drills: Running drills are another important part of a runner’s program. Performed after a light warm-up period, they will stretch out muscles, improve running form, and running economy. Drills can be done 3 or 4 times weekly and should also be a part of every runner’s pre-race or speed workout.
8. Strength training: Due to a variety of strength protocols, exercises, and programs, I cannot give specific examples here. However, what we are trying to do, is improve over-all skeletal muscle strength, particularly core body strength (mid-thigh to mid-chest), so we can eliminate wasted motion and energy, and direct most of the force into propelling our bodies forward. Improved strength may allow our bodies to recruit less muscle for a given speed, thus preserving valuable energy. And finally, improved strength may add inches to our stride length due to a stronger push-off with the rear leg and a stronger knee drive with the forward leg. All of this adds up to faster race times.
9. Nutrition: Energy sources for exercise are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates are the food of choice, although some fat and protein are used as well. In fact, fat is used as energy in a “carbohydrate flame,” i.e.. it takes carbohydrates to use fat. The higher the exercise intensity, the greater percentage of carbohydrates used. When the heart rate is at 50% of max, the body is using about 50% carbs and 50% fat. As the exercise intensity increases (% of max HR), the percentage of carbs used increases while the fat percentage decreases. We have enough fat on our bodies to sustain exercise for days. However, we have limited carbohydrate stores. In fact, an endurance trained athlete is capable of storing just 1600 to 2000 calories-enough to sustain a 16 to 22 mile run. Carbohydrates are needed in order to burn fats efficiently. If we run out of carbs during a run, our pace will slow by 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per mile. We not only need to replace carbs during a single long run, but we also need to replace those carbs for the next day’s run. Think of your body as a car with a full tank of gas. If each day, we take the car for a little drive without replacing the gas, by the end of the week, we will be on empty, unable to move. Likewise, if we do not eat properly, replacing those needed carbs, by the end of our marathon or running week, an easy 3 mile run may feel like we are climbing Mt. Everest! Fluid replacement is essential too. For every pound of weight lost during a run, we need to drink a pound (16 oz.). A runner can easily lose 3 to 5 pounds of fluid through perspiration during a run. Your performance will be negatively impacted with as little as a 2% weight loss due to dehydration.
10. Body weight: Everyone has an optimal body weight. Thinner is not always better or faster. Of course, carrying excess weight can seriously impair performance too, particularly with the longer race distances. Maximal aerobic capacity is one of the markers for fitness. It is the total amount of oxygen taken in, transported and used by muscle per kilogram of body weight. A loss of body weight will increase the aerobic capacity value, assuming there is no loss of strength (muscle). As runners, we want to increase strength without an increase in body weight due to fat or muscle increases.
So there you have it. My “two cents” worth of running tips that may improve your running performance, whether racing or just training. One more bit of advice. Try to incorporate just one or two of these tips at any given time. More than this could be a bit overwhelming and lead to frustration, fatigue, overtraining and possible injury. Keep the body fresh and keep the mind hungry for more!
See you on the roads,