Helping busy runners get healthier, happier and faster

Tag: Training Page 2 of 3

Running like clockwork

How to love running even when you’re busy

Most of us are busy. All of the time. We work all day in jobs that demand more and more of us, we have families to support and nurture. We have meals to cook, packed lunches to make, kids to ferry about the place. It doesn’t leave us with a lot of energy for ourselves.

We might be able to get motivated with our running for a week or two or three but then something unexpected crops up and we miss a day. Then we miss two days, three, a week. Suddenly we realise we’re back out of the habit and we’re losing fitness and confidence. The motivation has gone.

When we lack consistency we lack the ability to reach the potential we have. Not only that but it’s bad for our mind because we know we could do better. If only we had the time.

Enjoy running now

Part of the problem is that we’re very good at choosing outcome goals for our running – completing a marathon, running a fast 5k. We’re not as good at defining our process goals. What do we want our training to look like week to week? How much time do we want to dedicate to it?

If we want to run a marathon, we will need to do a decent amount of training. Does this fit in with what we want to do currently in our lives? Will we be able to keep up with it with the other commitments we have?

Maybe it is a goal for further down the line and actually we’d just like to run consistently for 30 minutes 3 times a week to enhance your physical and mental wellbeing. We can probably still have some outcome goals based around this as well but over a shorter distance.

You don’t have to do it alone

Talk to your friends, family or work colleagues. Explain why running is so important to you and that you need to spend X time on it a week. Try to offset that by sharing responsibilities (cooking, kids etc) so that they can also do something they want to do.

Finding time for anything is much easier if you don’t feel guilty for doing it. Think of the benefits for others as well as yourself. Your mood and health is likely to be much better from running and you’re also going to make sure they have time for things too.

Be specific with your plans

Once you know what you want to do week to week, the best way to stay on track is to have a plan. But most plans are not enough by themselves. They will tell you what type of session to do on what day. But you need to be more specific if you struggle with consistency.

What time are you going to run? Where are you going to run? Do you have all the gear that you need ready? What happens if something unavoidable crops up? Do you have a plan B?

If you only have a vague plan in your head then it is very easy to let your running slide. Excuses can creep in. Do a quick planning session once a week for the upcoming week. Identify any problem days or abnormal commitments and work out how your runs will fit round them.

But I simply don’t have the time!

Some people are incredibly busy but most of us just think we are busier than we actually are. There are 24 hours a day. Let’s say you are lucky and get 9 hours of sleep a night, that leaves 15 a day or 105 a week.

Maybe you work 40 hours a week and maybe you spend the same amount of time on your friends/family. You’ve still got 25 hours left. What do you do with this time? Could you cut a little TV or social media time? Are there times you’re not really doing much because you haven’t got a plan?

The NHS guidelines are to get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week for your health. We should all be able to find that time but we may need to be a little bit creative to do it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Go early! – Getting out for your run early gives you a head start on the rest of the day. In summer it has the added bonus of getting you out in the sunlight which helps sleeping patterns. (If you are doing this in winter make sure you are well lit and somebody knows where you are going. Only run on roads with proper footpaths and lighting.)
  • Run during your lunch break – This is an effective use of time that you might otherwise be reading a news website or trawling through social media. If you work in an office, check to see if you have showers in the building. Many modern offices now do.
  • Use school times or kids clubs Can you run straight after you’ve dropped the kids off to school or immediately before picking them up? Do your kids go to drama, sports clubs etc? These are often perfect slots of time for a run while you wait for them.
  • Struggling for childcare? Take them with you! – This can work for children of all ages. For very young children you can get a running buggy. Older kids might be able to run with you. For primary age kids, is there a football pitch you can run round while they play in the middle?

Start today!

Finding time is not easy but with a little bit of purpose, support and creativity, you can love running once again. What is your biggest struggle and what will you do today? Please leave a comment or mail me at alan@therunningrules.com.

Only two ways to get faster

Speed = Cadence x Stride Length

There are only two ways to get faster: increase your cadence or increase your stride length. Cadence is how many strides you take per minute. Stride length is the distance travelled per stride. Multiply them together and you will get the distance you cover per minute. Increase either one and the distance covered per minute (i.e. your speed) will increase.

That’s all there is to it. Simples.

Actually it is that simple, but how to do it is not necessarily as easy. The two factors are not independent so increasing one will probably affect the other either positively or negatively. Also, everyone’s build and technique differs, so how do you know which one you should try to increase?

Are you a shuffler or a loper?

At the two ends of the scale are the shuffler and the loper. A shuffler may have a high cadence but a small stride length due to little or no push off from the ground. Imagine sliding your feet out in front of you and doing that as fast as you can. The length of your legs is the limiting factor.

The loper uses a lot of energy to propel themselves in the air and may have a reasonably long stride length but the extra time in the air coupled with overstriding means their potential cadence is greatly reduced.

Overstriding, where the foot lands in front of the body at an angle which is not perpendicular to the ground, applies a braking force to the body (imagine running down a steep hill and actually trying to stop yourself going too fast).

This is a good way to get injured as it increases force through the ankle and knee especially. It also increases the ground contact time which reduces cadence.

The best way to see which you are is to get someone to analyse your technique or video yourself. Check that you are not overstriding by looking at the angle of your foot as it lands. It should be straight and under your body’s centre of mass.

Secondly, look at how far off the ground you push off. If you don’t get far off the ground, you may not be pushing off as much as you could. Of course too much is a waste of energy.

Finally, check your current cadence at a medium/hard effort – something you can hold for an hour. Your training should have a variety of paces included so we want to measure something that is in the middle. When you run faster or slower then cadence or stride length has to change but it’s likely to be a bit of both.

Although there is no hard and fast rule for optimum cadence, most elites are purported to run with a cadence around 180. However, runners have a big variation in cadence depending on many factors so cadences above 200 or lower than 150 are not uncommon.

The point is, the lower your cadence is now, the more room you probably have for increasing it. If you already have a very high cadence, you probably need to look more at improving your stride efficiency to get faster.

I know what I am, but now what should I do?

Knowing which end of the scale you are will help you to know whether you should try to increase cadence or stride length and you may actually have to decrease the other to improve in the long run.

Firstly, if you are overstriding, you should try and correct this. But the easiest way is to try and increase your cadence because, in doing so, it will likely force you to shorten your stride length.

Secondly, if your technique is not obviously at either extreme, try to increase your cadence very gradually but maintain your form. Adding strides to some of your sessions will give you practice at running with a higher cadence.

Increasing cadence is the easier way to get faster but it isn’t the most suitable for everyone. If you know that your cadence is high already and you observe little to no push off the ground, try some running drills like A-skips and bounds to improve your push off. This will help you increase your stride length.

Your cadence may actually drop a little at first as you put more energy into each stride but this will give you more headroom to increase your cadence again later.

If you make any changes to your technique, do it very gradually! Running in an unfamiliar way will put stress on places that aren’t used to it so only do this in small bits.

Keep analysing yourself

Most running watches will provide data for both cadence and stride length. Monitor these on a monthly basis on a similar type run to check for any noticeable changes. Try to video yourself monthly too.

The more you watch yourself, the more you are likely to notice anything out of place. If you’re unsure of what you are looking for then ask a coach or send me an email – I’d be more than happy to help.

Which type of runner are you? What is your cadence? How will you get faster?

What is your plan now?

Getting your focus right for the times

This week, after months of speculation, London marathon was finally cancelled. For the masses at least. (Hello to Eliud again if you’re reading this, you can probably skip this one…) I’d be amazed if that came as a big surprise to anyone. There just didn’t seem any way they could pull it off.

But even if it wasn’t a shock, it finally ends the last shred of hope for thousands of runners, many of which might have been running there for the first time. It may have been a lifelong dream for some culminating in the one event.

Of course, there are many in the world suffering at the hands of the virus and the cancelling of a race should be considered in that context, but the virus has far reaching effects for many outside the obvious factors.

It places uncertainty on almost all aspects of life and to many, running is a multi-faceted health benefit improving body and mind, not to mention generating huge amounts of money for charities.

London is just one of many races cancelled round the world and the chances are that if you had a race planned in 2020, you will have been affected. It is understandable that, for some, finding the motivation to carry on and build on their training will be difficult.

It might seem harder to focus now than during the first main lockdown in the spring. Back then, the messages coming out were to endure the lockdown for a few months then things would start getting back to normal. Now, there doesn’t seem to be a timeline. We’re past the first lockdown but things are far from back to normal.

However, the benefits of running haven’t changed and for most of us there are higher personal reasons for running than doing a particular race. Motivation will ebb and flow but if we have a solid routine and good reasons for carrying it out, lack of motivation can be overcome.

Can you run your race virtually?

A lot of races are offering a virtual option. Some of these, like the New York marathon, give guaranteed entry into a future race which might well appeal to some. Even if there is no virtual option it doesn’t stop you running the distance yourself.

There are pros and cons to running virtually. The plus side is that there is none of the expense and logistical problems of a big city marathon. You can just lace up and run from your front door if you wish. If there are no time constraints, you can pick the date and time to suit you too.

You can pick any course you like. You can make it flat as a pancake for a good time, you could choose something very scenic or you could challenge yourself with the terrain or elevation. Doing the latter can help ease any time pressures you might have otherwise imposed on yourself.

However, it is much harder to run a good time without closed roads, crowds cheering you on and aid stations. You may have to carry supplies or pre-plan to stash them en route. You need to be conscious of traffic if you are not off-road.

You may be able to get someone to support you or run some/all with you if you are running for a longer time or you could run loops from your house to avail of the facilities. My brother ran 20 5k loops from his house in 2013 to raise money for charity and was joined by many for varying numbers of loops.

If you do choose to run a race virtually, decide on your motivation for doing it and decide on your goal. Don’t shortcut your training just because it isn’t a ‘real’ race. Whatever you do, you want to be able to cover the distance comfortably without getting injured.

Try something new

Maybe like me, you were training for a marathon but don’t want to run one virtually. I love running but to me, the marathon is something a bit extra. With a young family, the weekend long runs are a big sacrifice of time and yet my weekly mileage has increased without doing these.

Instead, I’ve been training towards a 10k with slightly more sessions across the week but in general shorter. The change has been subtle but enjoyable and I feel in the best shape of my life. Tuning up for a longer race would not take too long either.

There are lots of things you could do to vary your training up. You could train for a shorter distance like me or a longer distance which might relieve any time pressure. You could train on new terrain such as on trails or in the mountains or even on the beach.

You could change your routine. This is something I have intentionally done since lockdown. Because I no longer have to commute to work, I get my run done in the morning instead of at lunchtime from work. This has also changed the terrain for me as it is hilly at home but flat near work.

Try tracking a different metric (see Trinity of Tracking). If you’ve never looked at your heart rate, buy a chest strap and start working out what your body is doing. If you’ve never kept a running journal, start giving yourself an RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) score after each run.

Work on a weakness

We all have weaknesses and with limited racing opportunities it can be a good time to try and plug the gaps we have. There are so many aspects of running that also spill into our daily lives and general health.

You might work on a technical element of running by incorporating more running drills into your weekly schedule. You might improve your strength by adding in some/more strength work. This is something I have been very bad at in the past but have been doing in the last few months.

Maybe hills are your weakness or you shy away from speed work. Maybe you run too fast on easy days or don’t get enough sleep. Maybe your diet could be improved. There are so many things you could focus on.

Don’t try and change everything at once. Pick one or two things to work on and track your progress. Commit to persevering with it for your next training cycle and you will definitely see progression. In fact, it can be more rewarding than focusing on something we’re already good at because the improvements ought to be that much more stark.

Set your dream goals for the future

Whilst it might be difficult to see how to achieve some goals now, set out what you want to do in the next 5 years. It could be some of all of the things above or something very specific. Making long term goals can help you set your short term sights in the right direction.

For most of us I think staying injury free and enjoying our running is high up the list and following some of the ideas above will help towards that. Specific goals might be very personal. They might be a achieving a time goal or qualifying for or competing in a particular race.

Dream big! I still want to complete the six major marathons. So far I’ve only London on my CV and I’ve had Boston and Berlin cancelled this year. It means that I’ll need to stay fit for a few years yet as we don’t know what will happen over the next while and I’ll need to qualify again for some of them.

Most of all though I want running to be an effortless part of my life. It needs to be in balance with other things I do and I keep striving to find the optimum training schedule to do that. I think that is one of the most important keys to enjoying the process of training.

Start today!

Unfortunately, Covid-19 could be around for some time and our lives are constantly at risk of being disrupted. But time is not standing still. There is still so much that we can do to better ourselves and get fulfilment from our running. Take control of your running and make your plan today! Let me know what you’re focusing on right now.

The Trinity of Tracking

Triangulate your fitness and performance

Last time, we looked at how obsessing over pace can seriously affect our confidence. We touched on monitoring ‘relative perceived effort’ (RPE) and heart rate. But if you’ve never done this before, what do you do?

To get started with RPE, all you need is to score each running session out of 10 for intensity, making sure that the score fits in with the session purpose. For example, it is counter productive to run at 8 for an easy run or to run at 4 for intervals.

Another way to think of RPE might be to compare it to your starting effort for various race distances. I say starting effort because all races get harder towards the end when you fatigue. 1-2 could be a walk, 3-4 an ultra marathon, 5-6 a marathon, 7 a half marathon, 8 a 10k, 9 a 5k.

Different individuals may be inclined to underestimate or overestimate their effort but as long as the estimates are relative to each other they will be useful.

It is a more subjective metric but it gets you to think about how you feel rather than just watching numbers. This is important because it allows you to get more in tune with what your body is doing and allows you to decide when to push and when to hold back.

Heart rate monitoring is a little bit more complicated but is an invaluable tool. Firstly, you’ll need to invest in a chest strap monitor and a compatible watch (if you don’t own one already).

Many watches include wrist based heart monitoring but it isn’t very accurate compared to a chest strap. The wrist based monitoring can be very glitchy or generally non-responsive to intensity changes. However, most of the watches that have wrist based monitoring also allow you to pair a chest strap over bluetooth.

Next, you’ll need to work out what your ‘heart rate zones’ are. These are generally worked out as percentages of your maximum heart rate but it’s also difficult to find out what your maximum heart rate is.

The general rule of 220 – age is good enough to at least start off and see whether the numbers are in the right ballpark. Beware that some of the heart rate zones on tracking software like Strava and Garmin Connect also seem to be way off for most people.

To keep things simple for now, think of 3 intensity zones relating back to RPE, easy (up to 4), medium (5-7), hard (8 and up). You simply need to find your medium band. The lower end would be a pace and intensity you could maintain for a long time (several hours) and the top end is an intensity you could only keep going for an hour.

Using your maximum heart rate, try 80% for the lower end and 87% for the upper end. Over time you can tweak these numbers to be more accurate for you. Don’t forget heart rate is still a sliding scale not a stepped scale. The boundaries between intensity zones are not concrete so the bottom of the medium zone will be close to easy while the top is close to hard.

  • Example:
  • Runner Age: 36
  • Max HR: (220 – 36) = 184
  • Easy/Medium boundary (Aerobic Threshold) = (80% of 184) = 147
  • Medium/Hard boundary (Lactate Threshold) = (87% of 184) = 160

So all easy running should be 147 or below and harder interval sessions should be 160 or higher. Anything else such as marathon pace efforts or tempo running will fall between 147-160.

As said earlier, these are generic guidelines and you should fine tune these thresholds to what your body is telling you. At an easy pace, you should be able to maintain the same pace and heart rate for at least an hour. If you’re running harder than easy, your heart rate will drift up.

Just under your lactate threshold, the effort should feel ‘comfortably hard’, meaning that you feel like you are working hard but not struggling. It’s a pace you could keep going at for about an hour. Over your lactate threshold, you should start to feel heavy legs setting in and a feeling that you’d like to stop in much less than an hour.

As your fitness changes, so will your thresholds so it’s important to keep listening to your body and be honest about whether you’re pushing too hard or not hard enough. Over time, you can use the combination of all three to know exactly where your general fitness is and gauge your performance on any given day.

There is a lot of information presented here and you can get even more detailed. However, if you have only ever tracked pace then getting started on heart rate and/or RPE will open up a new dimension to your training tracking. The key takeaways are:

  1. Ensure your easy runs stay easy allowing you to hit harder workouts at the intensity required.
  2. Use heart rate and/or RPE in tandem with pace monitoring to better gauge your performance in a session.

As always, if you find this helps or have any questions about getting started, please mail me at alan@therunningrules.com.

Obsessing over pace?

How to avoid losing your mojo

Most of us know our PB times. They’re etched in the memory banks eagerly waiting to be overwritten by new ones. We probably know roughly what pace we ran to get those results. And those paces are almost always a little scary. How did we manage to run that fast for that long?

We forget that those are by definition personal bests. We forget that we can’t be at our best all the time even when we’re improving in general. We forget about outside factors such as weather or terrain. We forget that we aren’t machines.

At a recent interval training session, I asked everyone how they would track their intensity for the session. Almost all said they would monitor their pace. It didn’t surprise me that pace was the majority answer but the extent of the majority was surprising. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

There is nothing wrong with monitoring pace sometimes, especially in a race where we have a target. After all, pace is what determines the result we end up with. Nobody ever posted up a comment on Strava boasting about a new low average heart rate for a 10k race.

The problem is when we obsess over pace all the time. On easy runs it can stop us running easy enough. We don’t get the full benefits of a recovery run that we should. It can lead to feeling burnt out from too much mileage at too high an intensity.

On harder sessions, tracking pace can really knock our confidence when we can’t quite hit the pace we are aiming for. We spend the whole session nervously glancing at the watch and thinking ‘I’m not getting this, I can’t do this’. We’re not focusing on good running form and consistent effort.

Quite some time ago I moved to tracking heart rate in training. Heart rate monitoring is not without some flaws and does require some experimentation to get right but it can really help you hone in on your actual effort level.

It flips the mindset of an easy run on its head. Instead of trying to hit a certain pace and feeling like something is wrong if you fall short, the emphasis is on staying under a target heart rate. Pace becomes irrelevant. You run slow enough to achieve an easy pace for you that day.

Harder sessions are similar. Instead of beating yourself up that you didn’t hit the right pace, you know that you put in the required effort for that session. In fact, you may even exceed your pace expectation by targeting heart rate instead.

The main problem with monitoring heart rate is that whilst general guidelines can be given which are useful as a starting point, every individual is different so ‘heart rate zones’ will differ. This is where a third metric, ‘relative perceived effort’ (RPE), can help.

RPE requires you to give an honest assessment of the effort you feel you are putting in. You score your effort out of 10. You can make up your own scale but I suggest up to 4 as easy, 5-7 as steady to tempo and 8-10 as threshold up to an all out sprint.

By combining and monitoring pace, heart rate and RPE, you can build up a far more complete picture of how you are performing and in turn improve your confidence in your training and progression.

In the next article, I’ll talk about how to track heart rate and RPE but for now please think about your own training. Do you solely track pace? Did tracking pace ever leave you dejected? Please let me know at alan@therunningrules.com.

Training through social distancing

The current Covid-19 crisis is changing rapidly day by day. Restrictions on our interactions and movements affect what we can do from a training perspective but it is also important to keep fit physically and mentally. Here are a few suggestions for what to do in the coming weeks around training and general health:

  1. Do not take any risks with your health or others’ health. If you are in a high risk category then stay at home and do what you can there. If you do go out for a run, go where you know there will not be many people or there is a wide open space where you can avoid coming into contact with other people.

Examples of suitable places would be playing fields, quiet country roads or wide roads with wide pavements, preferably quiet.

  1. Stick to the same number of sessions during the week to maintain fitness. You may need to do different sessions from normal depending on your location and circumstances but keeping up a regular routine will mean your fitness does not decline. Remember that running easy still burns calories and builds your aerobic base.
  1. Work on a weakness that you normally neglect. Maybe your balance isn’t great or you neglect strength training. Maybe hills are your nemesis and you have some near your house you can train on. Whilst races are postponed, it is a perfect time to fill some of these gaps if you are able to.

Running drills, strength work and balance / coordination can all be worked on at home. You may be able to cross train at home if you have an exercise bike or similar.

  1. Don’t be tempted to let your diet run away. With all the extra time at home it is very easy to overeat and drink. Stick to your normal eating routine and even try and cook some healthier meals if you can. Make sure you keep drinking water through the day as it will help curb appetite.
  1. Take time to switch off from the day to day and focus on where you want to be at the end of the year. It’s easy to focus on the fact that there are no races right now and switch off from training but by keeping a good base going now, you will be in a much better position to tackle races later on in the year.

Keep yourself and others safe and focus on the running you have ahead of you. The situation will pass eventually so be in the best shape you can to come out the other side raring to go.

Sometimes the best runs happen when you least expect it

I’m sure lots of you have been in the same boat this week. Checking and checking to see if your target race is being postponed or cancelled. It doesn’t half sap the motivation. I canned two runs already this week and half arsed another couple.

Today Boston marathon was postponed. I’ve been looking forward to it since I qualified for it 18 months ago. I knew it was coming. I nearly didn’t bother with my tempo today. But I did. And it was awesome. It took me by surprise.

Sometimes the best runs happen when you least expect it.

The race is just the culmination of the process and if we can’t enjoy the process then we’ll spend a lot of time being unhappy. Sure it is incredibly disappointing but sometimes there are more important things in life.

This weekend get out and run. Enjoy being able to run. Let everything else take a back seat for a little while and remember why we love the process. Remember what running means to you. There will be other races but they’re for another day. Enjoy today.

Love/hate relationship with the half marathon

The half marathon is my favourite distance. Long enough to be a great physical challenge to aim for but not so long that training for it need take over your life. It is short enough that you can run at a decent pace without carrying lots of supplies while not so short that you feel you are running out of control with every step.

Some of my best races have been half marathons. It’s as close to the fabled runners’ high that I have experienced. You are running at a pace which feels tough on the one hand yet you feel you can keep it going almost indefinitely.

Your body is working hard but your mind is only switched on enough to check your pace is consistent. Miles have passed in half marathons where I couldn’t recall a thing and almost felt trance-like, so focused on maintaining form, cadence, effort and pace.

I have also had good races where external factors have been able to penetrate the trance. I have run half marathons with spectacular coastal or mountainous scenery and ones with great support or out and back routes where you pass many other runners.

External factors are really important to help you along when you are struggling but it is also great to enjoy them when things are going well too.

However, get the half marathon wrong and it can be a soul destroying experience. Let me reframe my opening statements:

A half marathon is long enough that you must do a decent amount of training to be able to complete it well. It is too long to run at your fastest pace. You have to know where the line is to be able to regulate your pace correctly for a half marathon.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and run some pretty horrific half marathons. I was so under trained for my first half marathon that my brother had to drag me round the last 4 miles listening to me whingeing ‘I can’t do this!’. We finished 11 minutes slower than I did for the next half I actually trained properly for.

In 2019 I ran a fairly flat half marathon 6 weeks after running a half marathon PB on a similar course. I started far too fast, neglecting the fact that since the last half I had run London marathon and not really recovered properly and my training had been reduced for taper either side of it.

After 2 miles at 5k pace the damage was done. The last 11 miles seemed like the longest, toughest miles I’d ever run, though in truth they should have been relatively easy. By the end I was running a minute a mile slower than my London marathon pace and finished 6 minutes slower than 6 weeks earlier.

You can definitely avoid the woeful runs I’ve had throughout the years. Obviously having strength in the legs and some decent long runs in the bag is essential. Base training of strength and conditioning sessions combined with some hill runs can build up your strength.

This phase should precede your half marathon training. During the plan your long run will increase gradually over each week. I recommend building up to at least the same elapsed time you plan to run on the day. 11 miles at easy pace should take you the same time as a half at race pace.

In the more advanced half plans we go up to 16 miles. With proper fuelling beforehand this should be over before any ‘wall’ you may encounter in marathon training and races. You may still feel you need energy boosts for a half marathon, especially if you are running 2 hours plus, but unlike marathons, it isn’t as critical. One less thing to think about makes things easier.

If you are new to half marathons then ensuring you can complete the distance should be your main focus. If you have run a few and are looking to improve then you may want to focus more on speed but never forget your long runs are still key.

The short intervals are great for increasing raw speed and improving your 5k time. If your 5k time is improving then it is very likely that your half marathon time will improve too if the rest of your training is going well.

However, the tempo or progression runs are my favourite for the half marathon. Typically you will run 3 to 6 miles in the middle at half marathon pace. If you can hold this pace then it’s a great indicator that you’re on the right track for the race.

Technically, this pace is slightly below ‘lactate threshold’ pace. This is the pace at which the body can clear out lactate faster than it is produced in the muscles. Once you go over this pace you will fatigue very quickly – which is what happened to me in my ordeal in 2019.

My biggest tip is to understand and be honest about exactly what shape you are in when you take on a half marathon. This can work both ways. In the past I have been overly optimistic of what I could achieve leading to some spectacular blow-ups.

However, sometimes when the training has gone well, you have to back yourself to maintain a pace during the race that you’ve only held for 5 miles in training. You have to remember that the race is a culmination of all the different parts of training coming together combined with the freshness of rest and the adrenaline of race day.

When you get it right the half marathon can make you feel almost invincible.

The breathing maximisation technique

How to control your breathing and your pace

Do you ever find your breathing is out of control on a run? Do you find yourself running faster than you can manage? Do you need to stop just to get your breath back? If so, following this simple technique can help eliminate your breathing problems on a run and help you run and train more efficiently.

Have you ever thought about how you breathe on a run? Quite possibly not, why would we? We don’t think about breathing the rest of the time, it’s something that just happens.

Most of us just run without thinking much about what we’re doing at all. If we do think about anything it is likely to be focusing on how fast we’re going or some aspect of our form, maybe foot strike, swinging arms or running tall.

However, it goes without saying that breathing is critical when running. Breathing is what gets oxygen to your muscles to give you energy to run. You need enough oxygen to sustain the effort you are putting in.

The worst thing that can happen is if you start to panic that you are not getting enough air. This is when you start breathing uncontrollably to get more air in and will most likely have to stop to recover.

The key is to moderate your pace and breathing together so that they are in sync with each other. i.e. the faster you go, the faster you need to breathe. However, if your breathing becomes too fast you can reduce it but only by reducing your pace at the same time.

To do this, you take the same number of strides for every breath in or out. The number of strides will be dictated by the intensity of the workout and also your average cadence (how many strides you take per minute).

The numbers below are my suggestion but you may want to add 1 to some if you have a particularly high cadence (200+).

Interval pace (more than 90% effort) – 1 stride per breath in or out

Tempo pace (80-90% effort) – 2 strides per breath in or out

Marathon pace (70-80% effort) – 3 strides per breath in or out

Long run pace (60-70% effort) – 4 strides per breath in or out

Easy pace (less than 60%) – 5 strides per breath in or out

Taking marathon pace as an example, you would start breathing in when your left foot touches the ground. You would keep breathing in while your right and left touch the ground again.

Start breathing out when your right hits the ground for the second time. Continue to breathe out as your left and right touch the ground again. The cycle starts again when your left foot hits the ground for the fourth time and you start breathing in again.

If you’re having difficult getting the rhythm right simply start by counting rather than breathing. Count as your feet hit the ground, replacing ‘One’ with ‘In’ or ‘Out’ depending which way you are breathing – ‘In, two, three, out, two three’.

If you’ve got the rhythm but finding you need more breath then try breathing a bit more deeply. You can practice breathing more deeply without running just by sitting and trying to breath in counting up to ten and out counting up to ten.

If you’re still having problems and need to breathe faster then try dropping your pace slightly to make it easier. It may seem counterintuitive to take fewer breaths when running at an easier pace but because you are not working as hard you won’t need to breathe as fast.

You should be able to reach a point where you can take three strides per breath but you cannot run any faster. This is fine – your breathing is now limiting your pace not the other way round. Breathing is the most important thing, pace comes second.

Now that you’ve mastered the trick, you can run faster by changing your breathing pattern. If you want to run at tempo pace, just take two strides per breath instead of three. You can even change it mid run if you’re doing a session with variable pace in it.

There are three great benefits to this. Firstly, your breathing is now controlled. Secondly, your pace is now controlled. The third benefit is more subtle.

You may think you have no issues with breathing and always feel comfortable. But it may be that you always have the same stride to breath pattern and it may be inefficient. If you are only taking two strides per breath even on long or easy runs, the chances are those breaths are quite shallow so you are not practising the deep breathing you’ll need when pushing yourself.

You may also be running those long or easy runs faster than you mean to. Following this technique and taking 4 or 5 strides per breath will really limit the pace you can manage. However, it should still feel easy because your breathing is slow, deep and controlled.

Try following the breathing maximisation technique next time you’re out for a run and let your core control your legs not the other way round!

 

Recipe for improving your 5/10k times

Small improvements in your training can lead to minutes off your 5/10k times. You’re already making the effort to go out for runs during the week so you’re 90% of the way there. The last 10% ingredient is variety.

Weekly Ingredients

1 x long run at ‘easy’ pace for endurance

1 x interval session at ‘target pace’ for speed

1 x tempo run with middle half at ‘threshold pace’ for stamina (speed over distance)

1 x medium run (with hills if possible) at ‘steady pace’

or

1 x hill repeats session for strength

Preparation of pace

The key here is that every session is different and builds a different dimension to your training. You will notice that the pace of each session is different. This is important because you at least get some training at target pace but don’t burn yourself out going too fast. There are lots of terms for different paces but here is how I like to think of different paces:

  • Target Pace – This is how fast you will run in your race.
  • Threshold Pace – 10% slower than target pace
  • Steady Pace – 20% slower than target pace
  • Easy Pace – 30% slower than target pace

You can play around with these values as it is not an exact science but another way to think of it is how you feel when running at these paces:

  • Target Pace – No talking – fully focused on running. Pretty close to your max. A.K.A. ‘Silent Pace’
  • Threshold Pace – You can utter a few words but not much. Still challenging. A.K.A. ’20 Questions Pace’ (i.e. you can only answer yes or no)
  • Steady Pace – You’re able to have a conversation but you won’t want to talk the entire time. A.K.A. ‘How do you do? Pace’
  • Easy Pace – You’re able to chat throughout the run. A.K.A. ‘Conversational Pace’.

Preparation of distance

Another varying factor is distance. For 5k and 10k, it is possible and advantageous to train above the target distance. The long run builds up strength and also psychologically gives a boost of knowing you can run further. Again, there is no exact science but changing km to miles gives an idea of a suitable distance for a long run. i.e. 5 miles for 5k training and 10 miles for 10k training. This is less advisable for longer distances, especially marathons as the fatigue it produces outweighs the benefits.

The interval sessions build up speed over short distances. This allows you to practice the speed you need to run at but allowing your body to recover in between. The jog recovery should be even slower than easy pace, literally just to keep moving.

Typical sessions are:

  • 6 x 3 minutes with 90 seconds jog recovery
  • 8 x 2 minutes with 1 minute jog recovery
  • Pyramid (1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1) minute intervals with half time recovery

The tempo run is an important ingredient. The distance can be in and around your target distance but a typical session is split as follows:

  • First mile at steady or easy pace
  • Middle 1 to 5 miles at threshold pace
  • Last mile at steady or easy pace

Preparation of terrain

The medium run can be any distance up to your target distance but will be more beneficial if it involves hills. Or instead, you can do hill repeats which involves running up a hill for 60 to 90 seconds and walk or slow jog back down. You can start with just 6 and build up to 16 and this will improve strength. Most races will have some hills in them and if not, running on the flat will be much easier after training on hills.

Result

By varying your pace, terrain and distance through your training program you will develop speed, strength and stamina. A lot of people only focus on distance; by incorporating all three, you will see your 5k and 10k times drop by minutes.

 

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén