When you run, it’s easy to settle into a comfortable routine of doing the same lap around the block at the same pace. If you’re a new runner, it can take a while to get to the point where you feel comfortable and your breathing is controlled. So once you reach that point, it’s tempting to stay in your comfort zone. Equally, more experienced runners are often running on autopilot, doing the same runs without variety.
If you’ve been running for a while and you want to run faster and feel stronger, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone from time to time. Your body adapts to the demands you are placing upon it in time. The only way to improve further is to create a new stimulus to encourage the body to adapt even more. This means you need to change the intensity, duration and nature of your runs – as well as the routes. “It’s very useful to mix up the types of runs you do, because different runs will have different effects on the body,” says physiotherapist Tim Allardyce from Surrey Physio (surreyphysio.co.uk). “For example, longer slower runs will improve aerobic fitness; shorter faster runs will improve anaerobic fitness (in addition to aerobic fitness). The slower steady runs are great for building up cardiovascular fitness, allowing you to gradually run further, whereas shorter runs are better for improving your speed, allowing you to run faster as you gain experience.”
A varied running schedule can also boost motivation. “Running the same routes can become boring, so you are more likely to give up,” says Kiri Norton, sports therapist and rehabilitator at Capital Physio (capitalphysio.com). “Plus, by running the same route every time, you will experience less training adaptations and could suffer from overuse injuries as you are effectively training the same muscles in the same way repetitively.”
Plan your week
To get fitter, it’s worth planning your running week to include variety. You can plan several different types of running sessions into your schedule and also add in cross-training, strength training and some yoga. A typical weekly running schedule for a regular runner could include the following:
- Long steady run
- Rest or gentle recovery run or gentle low-impact exercise
- Interval session or threshold run
- Rest or low-impact cross-training session
- Hill run
- Strength-training session
- Yoga class
The harder sessions like intervals, threshold or hills should be followed by an easier session the next day or some strength work. You might do intervals one week and then threshold the following, or you might have a week where you do intervals and threshold and do hills the following week. Have an easier recovery week at the end of every four weeks and cut volume back on your long run by approximately 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the duration of your longest runs. If you are a fairly new runner, you can still cross-train and do yoga but you would build up to the more intense sessions, like threshold runs and intervals, and avoid them straight away. Here’s how to structure each run:
Long steady run
This should be at a consistent, comfortable pace you can maintain for a long time and be able to hold a conversation while running. Depending on your fitness and what race distance you’re training for, you would run for an hour or more.
Short interval session
Run fast for one minute at a high intensity (so you can’t speak) and then recover at a slower more moderate pace for one minute and then repeat this six to eight times. Running coach and personal trainer Becky Hodgson from Hall Training Systems (personaltraineroxford.com) says: “You want it to be a quick, intense session. You’d obviously do your warm-up beforehand. It’s a session that is going to really raise your heart rate.”
During a threshold run you should feel out of breath and unable to utter more than a few words. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being sprinting flat out and three being very easy, you want to be at around eight. You should be on the edge of discomfort.
To start with, you might do blocks of harder intervals for four minutes and then recover by running at a slower, more moderate pace for two minutes, then repeat this a further three to four times. As you get fitter you would increase the duration of the harder intervals by a minute or two. As you’re running faster than your normal pace, a threshold run will boost your fitness.
Find a route that contains some hills, or a hill that you can run up, then jog down and repeat this for a total of 20-30 minutes. Tackling hills will get you fitter – you’ll find running on flat surfaces much easier by comparison. You can also use the hill programme on the treadmill.