Running Training Tips
Spicing Up Everyday Training
It's easy to fall into a routine during everyday training if a goal is not on the immediate horizon. Since I don't race anymore, I have discovered my daily running routine can quickly turn into a rut.
Every morning I head out the door for my trail run with no plan and only my dog Towhee for company. She's a willing and compliant training partner so it's up to me to think of things to spice up our forest runs. I am rich in choices in terms of which trails to pick and how far to go, but I need more than just plain vanilla running to keep my cardiovascular system and legs tuned and firing. So I augment the natural beauty of trail running with speed elements to keep my feet fast and my lungs tested.
Every week I make sure to add three elements into my everyday running: hill work, fartlek and fast strides. Best of all, I don't need to go to a track to incorporate these. Adding these to my weekly training means I am improving my fitness and staying in touch with faster running - even though the only racing I will admit to is chasing down whoever is unlucky enough to be ahead of me and within sight on a trail in Forest Park!
Hill work can be done in a structured or unstructured way. I've had enough structure to last me a lifetime, so I prefer the unstructured approach. This means that on one or two runs a week, I tell myself that I will run hard up every single hill I encounter. I will push the pace enough so that I am breathing hard and pumping my arms for more power. I run hard to the top and continue just a bit past the crest before I relax into a trot for recovery. Then I continue on until the next hill where I do it again. By the end of a 6 - 9 mile run, I have thoroughly taxed myself and incorporated speed, power and strength into my run.
Fartlek is a terrific and useful bridge between easy running and more structured interval work done on the track. It can also be a handy way to keep in touch with leg speed and the faster movements needed to produce speed. I run 2 or 3 miles to warm up and then move from the winding trails to a road for the fartlek - it's easier to go faster when I'm not dodging roots and ruts. The fartlek segments range from 30 second bursts up to 2.5 minute longer segments. I do enough segments to make the fartlek portion of my run about 2 or 3 miles, always finishing with an easy 2 or 3 mile warmdown.
I concentrate on having good running form and being light on my feet. I rarely use a watch. Instead, I pick out landmarks that are closer or farther away, starting with shorter segments, building to longer sections, before shortening the higher speed bursts as the fartlek session winds down. In between faster segments, I segue into a slow jog. As soon as my breathing has recovered, I set off on the next fast burst. Fartlek should be intense enough so that conversation is not an option during the execution.
I do these two or three times a week after a run. I'll do 10 of them and even though I feel awkward and slow at first, I smooth out by the last few. I think of them as a chance to remind my feet and lower legs how to move quickly for 70 or 80 meters after they've been slogging along on the trails. I get up on the balls of my feet, swing my arms with a sprinter's precision, run tall and try to channel my inner Jesse Owens. These are not all out sprints; rather they are a chance to move quickly and lightly which can be challenging after a long run. I will mill around and run a few small circles at the end of each stride and then set off on the next one. After I am done, I will walk for 5 minutes or so to cool down.
The key to including these workouts in a week's worth of running is to remember that they are supposed to be relatively unstructured ways to introduce or incorporate speedier running into your training routine. Not everybody has the track access or the inclination to do formal track work, especially if training solo. By removing the intimidation factor of the workout, a runner can enjoy the benefits of speed training without the anxiety of distances, stopwatches and pacing - to say nothing of breaking out of the day to day training routine.