Things I've learned about running through trial and error.
Before I get into this, let me first say I'm not an excersise physiologist. I did a BSc (BioChem) and a Masters in Healthcare Managment and Administration so most of what I learned is from reading and studying what professionals do and some trial and error on myself. When I started running at age 23, four years ago I had no idea what I was doing. I jumped into a 5km and ran 20:04 at 200lb's as basically a hockey player/weight lifter. But since then I've gotten down to a fitness level of a 14 minute guy so I have some idea as to what works and what doesn't. I'll just hit things in point form as I go.
Consistency/long stretches of uninterrupted training - This is the single most important thing besides staying healthy that will determine how good you will get. You need to adopt a plan of attack with your training that is repeatable long term. Not just put in a block of 8 week of crazy mileage and intensity. You need to think long term. Continually progress and add overall volume, intensity and specificity to your training. Rome wasn't built in a day. From my experience there are those out there with the talent to run a good 5km off the couch but these people are very few and far between. Be diligent and patient with your training and approach your goals in a seasonal/yearly fashion.
Mileage is HUGELY important - Now don't take this as me saying start from 0 and jump into 100 mile weeks. There needs to be progression. And I believe that it's best to do the least amount possible to still see improvement and then add volume. But in an aerobic sport like running the larger the aerobic foundation that is laid the better off the athlete will be. If you don't believe me go read some Arthur Lydiard literature.
There is no "off" season - What I mean by this is there isn't a time in your training where you should be running without purpose. Every time you go out the door you should ask yourself "What is the purpose of today's run?". You should be able to answer it. There are different times of your season with focus being put on different energy systems and there are even times to take breaks after heavy training/racing seasons but don't ever run without purpose or a goal. In Newfoundland we are the worst for this. I'm lucky I only wasted one year of my running career listening to people who I thought knew what they were talking about and took about 5 months of the year to run half hazardously. I see so many people locally wasting most of their year "building their base". Basically what this means is they run easy every day. No steady state running, no hill work, no lactate development, no purpose driven long runs and no strides which leads me to my next point.
Strides......DO THEM - Why oh why do so many people not do strides, like it's only going to take 5-10 minutes after your run 3-4 days a week. And the benefits are super high for such a simple habit to form. What's worse is people who think strides are a 100m dash.....no dude, sorry. You do strides to reinforce the feeling of good biomechanics and to focus on fluidity and running relaxed and fast. Start a little slower and accelerate as the stride progresses. This is super simple and something we should all be doing more of.
Tempo running - Tempo running is one of the most important runs in any training plan and it's something I'm still working on getting right. Your tempo needs to be a controlled effort. It's not an all out effort. You want to finish a tempo feeling really strong and confident. Obviously the goal is to run at lactate threshold and to push the line down over time to where your velocity at lactate threshold pace is closer and closer to your velocity and VO2 max. Obviously there will always be a big gap there as there should be but great runners have this energy system developed supremely. I also think this is what enables some older runners/masters runners to produce such great times as they get older. They have a tremendous ability to buffer lactic acid. I saw on a post that Steve Boyd posted on trackie that he ran a 65 minute half as a masters runner. That's incredible and for sure with the nature of a half marathon he had to be tremendously strong in his threshold running.
Hill work - every runner who is serious about performance should have a healthy diet of hills in their routine. Not only does it reinforce proper mechanics but it also builds the muscles that makes our strides powerful. If you look at the training of world class 1500m runners you will see lots of hill sprints and intervals.
Train at current fitness NOT goal fitness - This is something I still struggle with but having a coach to keep me accountable has really helped. Let's say you are a 35 minute 10km runner and your goal for the season is to get your personal best down to 32 minutes. This is a decent analogy as some cross country guys who aren't super accomplished on the track and are trying to make their university squad face this situation each fall. You need to train at paces of your current fitness. Sure, you might be able to hang with 30-32 minute guys for intervals and tempos but you certainly will be putting forth a way harder effort to do it. This will lead to burn out and you also will be using different energy systems to hang with the 32 minute guy and be missing the point of the workout your coach prescribed, therefore, not getting the correct stimulus and thus you will be missing out on the adaptation from said workouts. So keep it simple, keep the ego in check and stick with your own paces.
Easy days should be easy but not a jog - I used to run my easy days at like 7:30-8 minute pace most of the time even when I was at a point where I was somewhat fit 15/32 minute 5km/10km shape. At that pace I'm not getting any aerobic benefit from my easy day at all. The only thing I was doing was burning calories and wasting my time. A good place to run your easy aerobic runs are 90 seconds/mile slower then 5km pace. Obviously some days after a workout you may back off a little but not much more then that. Currently my 5km pace is between 4:40-4:45 depending on the road or track so I need to be 6:10-6:15. That's a pace where I'm not killing myself but I can't get lazy and just have a chat with my training mates either. Again, like I mentioned before there needs to be purpose during each and every session. If you are coming from a point where you run slower on easy days like I was. It takes about a month to adapt, you will be pretty beat down at the end of the week for the first month or two but after that you will feel great.
Long runs are NOT to be LSD runs - LSD meaning Long Slow Distance. I mean if you run for fun or for your health then by all means give er' at whatever pace that tickles your fancy, but if you want to improve your long run needs to be run at an honest pace. If you are a serious marathoner you need to treat this as a workout and make sure your hitting marathon pace on tired legs during your long run. As for the pace at which you should be running for these long runs I'd go with the 5km + 90 seconds rule and even pick it up the last half if you can. If you are in a place where you are sacrificing the quality of your long run in favor of squeezing 1 more workout into your week I'd cut it back to two quality sessions and a strong long run. You'll develop a lot of aerobic fitness and strength with taking this approach.
Don't race workouts or your training partners - This is another one that I learned the hard way. My first season of running as a 20 minute 5km guy I started training with a 16 minute 5km guy and was trying to match him stride for stride and we would even get competitive. This doesn't help anyone. If you don't have the type of relationship with your training partners that you can't run without one stepping each other then train alone. Hit your own paces and keep things civil in workouts!
Practice running fast but relaxed - This is something that my friend Mike Greene would always tell me in emails and it's only now that I'm realizing how important it is. We must focus on staying relaxed and holding good form even when we are tired. Lately when I'm at the end of a hard interval I'll always just keep telling myself to stay relaxed, through my face, hands, every part of my body just focus on floating along and not working harder, when you try to tell yourself to just work harder then you tend to get tense, or at least I do. So when I'm ripping out really fast workouts now it's all about running relaxed and thinking about the frequency of my turn over.
Anyway I'll stop there, I'm sure I will think of about a million more points to make but this is what I can come up with right now. How running is, we are always learning from trial and error. I'm sure this time next year I'll have other things that I'm questioning or thinking about.
I should clue this up as it's starting to get a little long winded but next week my post will resemble all of my other ones with a little rant at the beginning about the world of pro/collegiate running and then my weekly training recap. I'll save my break down of the CIS champs, NCAA champs and the NYC half for that post as well as my race recap which I talked about last time.
So like I mentioned I started back on Saturday and just got an easy 10 miles in a 6:19/mile pace and did the same on Sunday with the average being a little quicker 6:11. Not exciting but I'm back at it hard this week and crushed a workout today. I'm feeling fit and ready to roll. Bring on the season!!
Thanks for reading and stay frosty,