Maximise Running Performance – Avoid the Junk!!!

For aspiring athletes it goes without saying that you need to avoid lots of junk. Bad advice on running form, obvious food that is going to do little for your body shape and fueling, and of course the “junk miles.” For a long time as a marathon runner trying to improve my times, I just went out and ran. It was all about miles and trying to hit certain numbers when it came to the amount of distance I was covering. Most of the time I was running at a moderate pace roughly 25 seconds per kilometre slower than my goal race pace. I never ran fast and I never ran slow. Very little of my training was committed to developing speed, and the thought of using a run for active recovery was not even on my radar. In fact, the only time I ever ran at race pace was when I was racing. I had no inkling of what I was capable of until race day. There was too much guess work involved.

Every run should have a purpose – you should either be developing performance or recovering!

I do not want to down play the importance of covering significant mileage. The overwhelming majority of elite marathon times come from training programmes covering over 100 miles a week. Total distance is important. It is no secret that Mo Farah for example churns out in excess of 120 miles a week. However, for most amateurs the quality of training needs to be given more consideration, and not just distance covered.

In my view, there should be two basic types of run as someone who is covering 30 – 60 miles a week in training. These are performance runs and recovery runs. Let’s deal with these in reverse order.

Recovery Runs

The bulk of half and full marathon training should be built around recovery running. This involves a speed of 60-90s per mile slower than your intended race pace. This is very achievable, not overly taxing, and allows you to build that all important aerobic base, while at the same time promoting muscular recovery. You are getting the blood flowing which can help with the recovery process, whilst training at a light intensity and thus not creating any undue muscle damage. You gain the aerobic benefit and prepare nicely for the really hard stuff that is to come. This should equate to 70-80% of your training depending of your level of conditioning and experience.

Performance Runs

This leaves the other 20-30% of your training to develop performance. This should do exactly what it says on the tin, creating a finely tuned system that can run fast for long periods of time. It may involve interval, fartlek, hills, tempo and different forms of sprint training. No matter what the session, the intension is to stress the muscles in a way that create muscular adaptation enabling you to run faster, while also improving your lactate threshold so you can run at greater speeds for long periods without the onset of fatigue.

Here are four of my favourite sessions:

1. 15 – 20 400m REPEATS (with 400m active recoveries) – I look to cover each 400m interval at roughly 5K pace, not overly difficult in isolation, but it catches up in the later intervals. The intention is to develop the ability to run at speeds well above half marathon and marathon pace,making race pace far more sustainable.

2. 15 x 200m REPS (with 200m recoveries) – although the reps are not completed as a flat out sprint, I ensure I complete all reps in 30-35s. Again, it builds up on you as the session progresses and can be classed as an over speed session. The focus here is relax the arms and shoulders, driving the arms to set the rhythm and develop my cadence.

3. 10K TEMPO – after a good warm up I blast out 10k as fast as I can. Running this distance regularly at a very challenging pace really does develop your ability to run quickly for long periods. What a confidence boost when have do a good run!

4. 2nd HALF RACE PACE – as part of my long Sunday run, after covering the first half at very much recovery pace, I then run the second half at my intended race pace. It is tough on tired legs at the end of a training week, but it builds strength, resilience and confidence, that when you go through those moments later in races when the doubt creeps in, that you have the firepower to battle on and get the job done. With a second half distance of anything from 10k to 10 miles, this is a great way of developing sustainable speed.

There is no doubt that I am running faster after using a 30/70% (hard/recovery) split for training. The tough 30% is really helping, not to mention my body fat has dropped as a result. The final thing for consideration is planning. I would advise against doing consecutive hard days when it comes to training. Alternating from hard to easy allows you to get the benefit of tough training with recovery, and allows your body the chance to adapt and get faster over time. Lower body fat and faster times sounding good? Give it a go!

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Photo by Jamie R.Mink on Unsplash.