The Runner’s Program: Defining Your Options
The reason I wanted to cover fitness training first in this series on running is that over the years I have seen way too many de- conditioned, overweight people attempting to lose weight by running before they have “learned to walk”.
The idea of preparing thoroughly before beginning a rigorous program such as running in order to become healthy and fit seems like an obvious step but most people want results NOW so they skip preparation.
My goal is to help people prevent injury when starting and maintaining a running program – and help them stay on track in achieving their health and fitness goals for the long term.
In this article I will review several approaches to running and programming (there are many more to be sure) that supports anyone who is interested in becoming the best runner that they can be!
Six Effective Training Methods for Runners
The idea of running is to enjoy it. The freedom that comes with running well generates a feeling that I can’t describe. When I am running well everything that is unimportant seems to disappear. I end up focusing only on my stride, my breathing, the rhythm created by my body as it moves through space and over distance. Nothing else matters and at the end of a run there is such a sense of peace and happiness – that you did something well – and accomplished something important – both for your body – and your spirits as well.
Here are some of the training methods I use as a runner for my own purposes – and that have been proven to work over many years by runners of all levels of ability – and accomplishment.
1. Hill strides
Hills strides are conducted on any hill that has an up and a down. Running uphill builds power and strength in the quads while enhancing the cardio-respiratory system’s ability to transfer oxygen to the cells, while running downhill strengthens the calves, hamstrings, and the overall muscular-skeletal system as well. Running downhill requires control and balance because the pressure on joints can be severe depending upon the steepness of the hills. I run the Turtle Rock hill in Irvine – a mile climb up at about a 40% uphill grade. It is a tough training run and I do it only periodically because it requires so much energy and effort. I need to do this run again this year and I need to prepare mentally beforehand!
Pickups are designed to build speed for interval training. I use them on the roads. They are usually small intervals of 30-45 seconds followed by approximately 2 minute recovery periods of decreased speed. Over a distance of 7 miles I will generally average about 25 pickups. They are challenging but very good for building leg speed and a balanced stride.
3. Tempo runs
Tempo runs are good for race preparation and generally involve 5-10 minute periods of increased speed followed by a relatively shorter period of recovery running. They are good for simulating “race pace” and can give you an idea of how your body responds to the increased demands of race conditions. This is more of a training tool for race preparation but they are useful also for testing your progress.
4. Long runs
Long runs are used to increase endurance and are used for the purpose of increasing your daily mileage as well as for increasing your cardiovascular conditioning. Long runs can vary depending upon your training schedule and experience – and goals – and can be from anywhere from 5-20 miles. The marathon obviously requires one become accustomed to distance so by the end of marathon training the long run is traditionally a “20 miler”. It is scheduled and generally completed about two weeks before the event so that you can build confidence and “mental toughness” for the actual event. Long runs are NOT run at race pace (or even a training pace for that matter). You pick a comfortable pace at the start of your run and maintain it throughout the course of your run. Distance matters – not time!
5. Interval training
Interval training is a classic and is designed for the purpose of learning to run faster more comfortably. The speed one uses for each interval is determined by the level of fitness of the individual and is broken into “small bites” that can be readily accomplished without exhausting your cardiovascular system. The most advanced runners – competitors such as Olympic track athletes – run intervals at competition pace for whatever their event requires (400 meters etc.). This is often called “anaerobic training” because it is conducted at levels of exertion requiring the body to work in the absence of readily available oxygen.
The rest of us use intervals as a way to learn to run faster and maintain that level of speed over the distance we prefer – half mile, mile etc. (I want to run under a 5:45 mile this year so intervals will be a big part of my training).I generally schedule one interval workout per week. The ideal location is a track for this type of training and mine is the one at UCI where I need to go this year for my speed work. You can do intervals on the road by timing yourself but it is higher risk because of cars and traffic, heat, cold, air quality etc. Even bike trails can be dangerous so be careful when planning your interval workout!
6. Negative splits
One of my favorite workouts on the treadmill – yes I have been training on the treadmill – is one I call the “negative split” workout. I start at a 7 minute per mile pace (generally – an “8”) and increase the speed incrementally every 3-5 minutes over a 7 mile distance. This is how I got to 38:28 for 7 miles last year. I ran at speeds that ended with a 5:15 per mile pace (11.5) and that meant each interval got faster than the last one, allowing me to finish my workout at my fastest speed. It is a challenging process but I repeated it over and over again and became quite capable of sustaining incredible speeds over time. This year I want to translate that progress to outside “timed trials” and see what is possible. I want to run faster this year but do it with FEWER miles (not 2100 miles!) of total training time.
The runner – whether beginner or advanced – is a unique “breed of animal”. I have spent the entire 49 years of my running history running alone – by choice. It is totally an individual sport – and process.
Running does not require a significant investment in gear or equipment and you can run anywhere, anytime you want. When I traveled to Japan to be with my daughter and see the country I ran with her – and alone. I ran around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo by myself and along a river shaded by beautiful cherry blossom trees in full bloom with my daughter. It was one of the most incredible runs I have ever done and it was with Lisa – and speed never entered my mind. I was just “in the moment with her” – and the trees and the sounds of Tokyo – and the people. It is a memory I will always treasure.
I hope to run on the Great Wall of China someday or up a pyramid in Mexico. Who knows where running will take me? I just know that being a runner has amplified and uplifted my experience in life as a human being, helping me to see the beauty and diversity of life on this planet.
Becoming a runner was the BEST decision I ever made and I hope that will be yours as well. It is well worth your time, energy and devotion. Running gives FAR MORE than it takes and I will run until I no longer can do it – and I hope that is years into the future!