Aiming to run a personal record in the 5k? Trying to quality for the Boston Marathon? Most runners want to run faster but some find themselves plateauing too early or getting injured. Here are some easy habits that will ensure you get the most out of your efforts.
#1 Build an Aerobic Base Before Speed
Spend at least one month, and ideally 3 months, of gradually building your weekly volume while only running at an easy pace. The aerobic adaptations that occur with regular easy running will allow you to get more out of your speed workouts later on in your training. ‘Easy’ should be a pace such that you can more or less hold a conversation while running. Track how many miles you run each week and increase this by no more than 10% each week.
#2 Don’t Be Out of Breath
When first starting to run faster, start with just 20-60 second bouts and use your breathing rate to tell you when to slow down. Once you start to breathe faster, slow down your pace and/or walk until your normal breathing rate returns, then repeat the surge. As your body gets used to the faster pace you should notice that you can run longer before your breathing rate increases. Build to 2-3 minute surges throughout the run. Progressing your speed in this way will allow your body to first adapt neuromuscularly to the new pace, as opposed to metabolically.
#3 Get Pliable
Before increasing your volume or introducing speed workouts make sure your muscles are loose and pliable! This means you can strongly compress or “squeeze” any muscle in your lower back and legs, with your fingers or firm foam roll, and not feel any pain or hypertension. Many folks have hypertension that has accumulated over the years, but which can be greatly reduced with just 10 minutes per day of focused and effective self-massage. How exactly to do this? Pick up Pliability for Runners to learn all you need to know about building strong and durable muscles!
#4 Stay Symmetrically Strong
Subtle imbalances in our stride are the number one causes of running injuries. A great way to prevent this from happening is to attain and maintain symmetry of strength throughout the core and legs. At least once per week perform single leg exercises that test all movements of the hip and knee, i.e. exercise like single leg bridges, planks, squats, deadlifts and/or hops. Do you find one leg is stronger than the other? If so, start building to symmetry of strength on both sides by ‘weak-led’ strength training. This is where you challenge the weak leg fully, then have the strong leg only match what the weak leg was able to do.
#5 Stick to the “80-20” Rule
This classic rule still holds true! Make sure that the amount of time or distance that you are running fast is no more than 20% of your total volume of running for that week. If you run a total of 120 minutes in a week, any speed surges should not add up to more than 24 minutes. If running 40 miles per week, no more than 8 miles that week should be speed work.
Now that you are armed with some of the more important of the healthy habits, time to make this year your fastest!
Joseph McConkey, MS, is a running coach and exercise physiologist, specializing in injury-prevention. He has coached at the club, college, and pro levels and has been the director of the Boston Running Center’s Gait Analysis Lab for more than a decade. Joseph holds the highest accreditation by the USA Track and Field Association and the IAAF, as well as a Masters in Exercises Science with a focus on Injury Prevention and Sports Performance. He is the author of Pliability for Runners.