Run, run, as fast as you can…but how can improve your running? And do it safely? You can push your pace all you want, but the best way to shave significant time off of your run times is by integrating a holistic training plan to your running program.
1) Training Schedule – First, this is a must. You can’t just think you will “get a run in” each day with no direction or accountability. A training plan will help you figure how many days are your actual run days each week and what kind of running you will be doing for those days, what you will be doing on your “non-run days,” and how to recover in between. Even if you’re a seasoned running pro and you need some sort of plan; it’s your map to your event and without it, you’ll be wandering aimlessly.
2) Warm-up – Before each run, give yourself at least a good five-minute warm-up. This is where you can get your muscles warmed up and ready for your run, imitate your running movements with dynamic stretches, and work on running form drills to get your form ready. Warm-ups before running are usually missed because everyone thinks that running itself will get you warmed-up enough and they don’t have time to waste. You can use your run as a warm-up by easing into your first half mile with a jog and maybe some form running drills or plyometrics when you begin – quick feet turn-over, karaoke, high knees, butt-kicks. Just don’t start out at your max running pace with your first step.
3) Running Form – Many people heel strike with each step and this puts immense impact on your joints and back. You want to land on your mid-forefront to alleviate the joint impact and allow your muscles to catch the force of your body weight. Keep a high and quick turn-over rate of your feet (cadence) to keep a short stride under your hips and stay efficient by leaning forward just a bit. It’s hard to break running habits that have been used over a long period of time, so practice your running form with short runs built into your program with the focus solely on your form.
4) Tempo Runs – A good running program will have these scheduled out, but you want to make sure you get them in. A classic tempo run is a slow warm-up of about 10-15 minutes at an easy pace, followed by 20-30 minutes of a fast-paced run that is manageable to sustain, but uncomfortable, and completed by ending back on the easy pace for a 10-15 minute cool down. These are crucial to your running program because they train your body to sustain speed over distance.
5) Long Runs – These are a must, as you have to put in the miles to gain your running foundation. Long runs aren’t tempo, so you want to keep a consistent and sustainable pace to take you all the way through your miles set for you to log. Think about your form and breathing during these runs to find your meditative run zone.
6) Cross Train – Many runners understand the importance of this, but those that don’t are missing out on a huge nugget of knowledge. Cross training helps build up muscles and movements that you don’t typically use in running, and this will help with your running. Weight training, swimming, cycling, interval training – all of these are great workouts to integrate into your training program to become a stronger runner, and helps reduce overuse injuries and burn-out.
7) Yoga – Runners seem to resist yoga because they don’t think they’re flexible enough, however, that’s exactly why they NEED yoga. Yoga will help with flexibility, mobility, and strengthening muscles that runners never get to with running alone. Also, the breath work, visualization and meditation are great practices to integrate into your running routine to amp up your performance.
8) Post-run Recovery Routine – These routines, especially after a long or taxing run are pivotal to increase your recovery time in between training days. Recovery routines can include an ice bath after a long run, soaking in an Epsom salt bath, foam rolling muscles, stretching, self or an assisted massage, and post-run nutrition. While consistent recovery routines will give you results, at least getting in a few of these recovery practices will help your muscles recover much quicker in order to get the most out of your next day of training and greatly reduce the risk of training injuries.
9) Rest Days – Must be built into your training schedule, and are extremely important to adhere to. Rest days are important to let your muscle fibers repair and give your body rest so you don’t put yourself at risk for over-training injuries, let alone physical and mental burn-out. If you don’t give yourself adequate rest, your next training session won’t be to your full potential, so you’ll miss out on your maximum capacity.
10) Nutrition – Running doesn’t give you the license to eat whatever you would like in mass quantities, as some would like to believe. However, you do need to make up for the calories and nutrients depleted from a run; you just have to be aware of what those are and how much you are taking in. Carbohydrates from whole grains, vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats from nuts, avocados and oils are important staples of a runner’s diet. Electrolytes are also crucial nutrients to replace after hard training sessions and long runs, so making sure you take in sodium and potassium from an electrolyte replacement.
**Please be aware that this article is not a diagnosis, prescription or recommendation for any individual. Before you start a new exercise or food program, you should always talk it over with your doctor. He or she may have specific recommendations — or warnings — depending on your health and the other medicines you take.