The extended base training phase we've been in due to the coronavirus provides many opportunities to work on areas of weakness that we normally don't like to take the time to address. As endurance athletes, we like to spend the majority of our time logging the miles and training hard. Training hard is certainly important, but from a longterm development perspective, becoming a better and faster ATHLETE can pay big dividends down the road. For myself, I absolutely love the easy run workouts, drill routines, and strides. It's fun to feel fast, even if just for a short time. I think we often take the wrong approach to running, especially during seasons such as this. Coach Jerett wrote about how to check your aerobic efficiency, and in this post, I give some pointers on how to structure your run training to lead to better, faster, healthier running for the rest of 2020. Here are the guidelines that I've been using with my athletes the last few months. We've also built these guidelines into our COVID-19 Training Plans.
Increase Frequency Before Duration
Running is a skill. Just like anything in life, if you want to get better at doing something, you need to do it more. But running MORE doesn't have to mean running longer. If you are already running three times a week for 30 minutes, then instead of increasing to 40 minutes each run, try to add a 4th run of 30 minutes on a different day. More advanced athletes may run twice a day some days. Two runs of 45 minutes each still equals 90 minutes of running in a day, but you stay fresher and run with better form and quality. One thing I do with some of my high school runners who are prepping for track season is an easy "shakeout" run in the morning that lasts 20-30 minutes. This run is very, very easy. Then I'll often have them do some light drills and strides to open their hip muscles and prepare their body for a hard workout in the evening. This is common practice with many cross country programs.
Two-A-Days aren't always practical for the working professional, but increasing frequency before duration can be a great way to train your musculoskeletal system to handle a higher weekly load and give you more frequent doses of aerobic training.
We all know that technique is important in running but we often don't take the time to perform running drills that improve technique. It's easy to forget technique when you're at mile 24 of the marathon and you just want a hamburger and something soft to lay down on. This time of year is the time to work on technique so that it becomes a habit and you don't HAVE to think about it when you're grinding out 20 milers in the death of summer. I like to have my athletes do drill work consistently throughout the year. Below are a few simple, basic running drills I like to incorporate with my athletes and run groups on a regular basis.
Most of these drills are fairly basic, and if you find yourself struggling to complete them, then you know what to work on! As we run, we want to have a quick ground reaction time. Running drills will help you feel light and bouncy. Plus, you may learn some sweet moves you can break out on the dance floor.
Strengthen the Supporting Muscles
Many of us simply aren't strong or flexible enough to maintain good technique throughout the duration of a run or workout. No matter how hard you try, if your body isn't strong and engaged, just thinking about it isn't going to magically make you run better. The best way to improve your running technique might not be by thinking about it, it might be by addressing areas of weakness in the body so that you CAN run better. I hate doing these ancillary exercises but have realized over time that it's the only way for me to stay healthy and fast while maintaining a high training volume. Nine times out of ten, you will be better off cutting your run 5-8 minutes short and leaving time for some of these quick exercises before or after a run session.
Run Really, Really Fast
Running very fast for a short duration can help you run more efficiently and with better running economy. Short efforts of 10-30 seconds in length with a full recovery in between aren't long enough to accumulate lactate or cause your form to break down because of fatigue. Instead, they will engage your neurological system and help you recruit all sorts of extra muscle fibers you don't normally use. You can do the sprints on the track, a grass field, the road, or a treadmill. You can do them on flat, up a hill, or even downhill. A simple set of 10x :30 on/:30 off will do wonders for your leg speed and turnover. Just make sure you are fully warmed up and build into the efforts before you try to lay down some mad 100m speed. I learned my lesson a few years ago at our summer running camp where I decided to show the high schoolers I could still sprint. A year and a half of plantar fasciitis later and I take about 5% off my max speed now when doing the sprints.
Run Really, Really Slow
No, I'm not contradicting myself here. I recommend that the vast majority of your running during this time be done at a very slow pace. If you're not doing drills, strides, or specific overspeed work then keep your run workouts easy and at a conversational pace. Maybe even walk a little. If you're running at an easy pace it gives you a greater capacity to think about your form while running. Think about not having any "bad footsteps." Many, many people I see get carried away while running and every run ends up being a tempo. They don't realize it, but they want to "get a good workout in" and so they slowly ramp up the pace and end every run breathing hard and feeling accomplished. The problem with this is that you may have just sacrificed your form and created extra fatigue for no additional aerobic benefit. Running slow can sometimes be a challenge because you don't feel like anything is happening. But that's not true. There are plenty of positive aerobic adaptations that happen at slower speeds. Enjoy the feeling of running easy and feeling fresh. It's ok to pick it up occasionally if you're feeling especially frisky, but don't turn every run into a Z3 tempo run. It will be time to start running some hard workouts soon enough, so enjoy this time of year to increase your frequency, work on your technique, and get some pop in your step. I'll be happy to challenge anyone in a dance-off competition as long as it consists only of running drills.
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