By Coach KB
Running. Some of us love it. Some of us hate it. But like it or not, running is one of the most innate movements our body does. It is also one of the most revered exercises for its simplicity and ability to provide a power-pack of benefits, including increased cardiovascular, pulmonary, and muscular strength, increased bone-density, and a rush of happy-causing endorphins.
Despite its amazing outcomes, I hear self-deprecating remarks from runners (or, as they might call themselves, “people who run,” because, apparently, there is some sort of imaginary status requirement to be considered a “runner”). I hear everything from “Well, I run, but I’m really slow” to just straight up “I’m not good at running.” Well, you have three options here: 1) keep beating yourself up over something that doesn’t actually matter; 2) change your attitude and keep running the way you run and be happy that you are doing anything at all; or 3) you can do something about it!
Here are a few mental and physical training tips for those of you who would like to improve your running time:
1) First things first – Determine WHY you want to improve your time. If it just sounds like a good thing to do because that’s what other runners do, you will probably fall short of your goal. There are many reasons to want to cut your time. If you have trouble pin-pointing your feelings around it, a few common reasons are:
- To be able to run with a certain group of friends.
- To keep you accountable to a running schedule.
- To be done with your regular loop faster, thus freeing up more time in your already busy schedule.
- To qualify for a certain event.
These are just a few, but you should really solidify your purpose if you want to find success with your goal. (Bonus tip – Do this for any goal you set, fitness-related or not!)
2) Change up your routine. We’ve all heard the quote from Albert Einstein – “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This could mean adding a variety of loops to your schedule and increasing the number of hills in your loops, but the most important training you can do to improve your running time is to incorporate speedwork into your runs. The three main ways to train with speedwork are:
- FARTLEKS! These are my personal favorite because it is super fun to say and makes you sound like a real “runner” when you use the term to talk about your training. *Caution* - using this term can also make you sound like a real douche, so, as with everything, make sure you have a purpose when using it. The term fartlek is Swedish for speed play. Incorporating fartleks into your training is easy – you just add in sprints of varied speeds and lengths into your existing loops. The good news is for every sprint you add in, you should also add in a recovery period. This might look like a short 5-second all-out sprint with a 10-second recovery walk afterward and then a 45-second fast-but-sustainable pace with a minute recovery slow jog afterward. Have fun with these on your run. Pick landmarks in the distance like a telephone pole, the third tree on the left, or where that shady spot is on the trail. The best part about Fartleks is that you can make them up and they change every time so you don’t have to feel like you need to create and stick to one specific plan.
- Hills! Hills are my other favorite because they are hard. Hills force you to recruit your big muscles and, because gravity is working against you, it is natural resistance training, much like swimmers wearing drag-suits. When running uphill it is easy to slump down into the hill. Instead, keep your chest up and take short, quick strides. Do not underestimate the power of your arm-swing on hills. Use the way down for recovery, whether that means a walk or a jog, but as soon as you hit the bottom go again! Start with 3-4 repeats and work up to 10-15, depending on the length of the hill.
- Strides – This is the most basic form of speedwork and especially great for beginning runners. At the end of your run, preferably on flat ground, accelerate slowly up to your sprinting speed and then decelerate back to your jog. Do this a few times until you make it back to your house or your car. Each acceleration/deceleration should last 20-30 seconds.
3) Cross-train and recover. Runners often fall into the trap of thinking that the only thing that will make them better runners is more running. Eat well, sleep well, and cross-train! Your muscles make the most changes when resting and recovering. This does not always mean to do nothing. Utilizing different muscle groups through other activities such as swimming, biking, yoga, and POINT classes gives support to your running muscles and makes them function better.
4) Give yourself a deadline. Just as we need a reason for our goals, we must also set a deadline to ensure we stick to it. Races are a great way to track progress over time. Register for one each month over the next few months and see how you do. Don’t want to pay for races? I don’t blame you. Hit the track and drudge through a mile once a month or turn your favorite running loop into your own personal race once a month or every other month, depending on what your goals are. You might even decide that four to six months is a better gauge for the type of training you are doing. Regardless of the timeline, make sure to pick something and stick with it. *DO NOT CHANGE THE DEADLINE JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T THINK YOU WILL MEET YOUR GOAL. INSTEAD, GO FOR IT ANYWAY! You might surprise yourself. If you do not hit your target, assess reasons why, make necessary changes, and try again next time.*
5) Fake it ‘til you make it. Start talking about yourself in terms of success. “I am a runner.” “I am strong and fast.” At the very least you can say that you are more of a runner today than you were yesterday or that you are stronger and faster today than you were yesterday. Whatever resonates with you, do it. Even if your training hasn’t been perfect and you’ve missed days and you ate a whole cake alone by yourself, go into each run or race confident that, regardless of how you feel now, you will be stronger and faster by doing it.