Wednesday, August 10, 2011

3 Essential Running Workouts

Recently, in my newly discovered zest for running, I've taken some time to research and practice some of the workouts needed to improve performance as a runner.  In addition to these articles (21st Century Runner, Simple Cardio Options, Part I, Simple/Complex Cardio Options, Part II ), there are a couple pieces of the running puzzle that can help you put together a program.  If you're thinking of running anywhere between a 5K to a marathon, you need to know and practice these 3 basic workouts, but only after you know one key piece of information:

Your fastest race pace (minutes per mile)

You need to know this as a reference point, of which these workouts are based. If you haven't run a race yet, test it out with a workout on a track, using your GPS, or running a race course that has been published online (NYRR makes this easy with their maps of Central Park).  Typically, anywhere from a 2 mile test to a 5 mile test (depending on your current training level) will suffice.  Run for the certain mileage, working as hard as you can for the duration you chose, and average out the time per mile.  Example: if you ran a 3 mile test, and it took you 27 minutes, then your fastest race pace for that distance is 9 minutes per mile. 

That leads us to the 3 Essential Workouts

1) Long Slow Distance (LSD): This is the workout most runners are familiar with.  Pick a mileage (usually in the ballpark of your longest run to-date), and run it.  Here's the key though: run it at a pace 1-2 minutes slower than your typical race pace.  The idea here is to increase your bodies ability to utilize oxygen as an energy source, and to help your body get accustomed to the longer distances you are trying to run.  Not trying to run longer?  Then your LSD runs might only be 3-4 miles long, and may count as a 'recovery' run where you increase blood flow to tired or sore muscles.  But if you are a triathlete or marathon runner, this run is a MUST to increase your ability to prepare for the actual demands of a 2-4 hour race.

2) Hill or Interval Runs:  Some say this is where most of the performance improvement happens, and others say it's because of the LSD runs, but here's the real story: if you're looking to lose a few pounds, with the expectation that a lighter load is easier to run with, then hill and interval workouts are your best bang for your buck.  Specifically, with intervals (who are the focus of many fat loss studies) you can expect to increase your top-end speed (meaning how well you can maintain effort above 85% maximum heart rate or MHR) while burning through a significant amount of fuel during and after your workout.  I've written about the benefits of interval training before, but here's what you need to know to get started today:

  • pick a distance (if you have a GPS or access to a track), a certain time (30 seconds is the minimum, 4 minutes is for elite athletes), or a hill
  • Pick a rest interval, usually 2-4 times the work duration (example: if your sprint is 30 seconds, rest at least 60 seconds to allow for adequate recovery).  Active recovery (light jog) is your 'rest'.  If you are having trouble recovering from each interval, increase your rest duration or decrease the interval speed. 
  • Repeat the intervals for at least 6 times, trying to increase either a) the number of intervals b) your distance covered in each interval, or decrease c) the rest period or d) the time it takes to complete each interval
  • A Hill workout example: 
    • Run up hill
    • light jog down
    • repeat 6-10 times
  • Speed workout example 1 (distance):
    • Run lap around track (1/4 mile) or using GPS, run 1/4 mile
    • Light jog for at least 2-3 minutes
    • repeat 5-10 times
  • Speed workout example 2 (time):
    • Run for 60 seconds as fast as you can maintain
    • rest for 2 minutes
    • Repeat 5-10 times
3) Tempo Runs: The final piece of the running puzzle, tempo runs are crucial to increasing your performance in each race.  Using our first example of a 9 minute mile runner, we take a distance a few miles shorter than their longest run (let's say it was 6) and have them work on running at a faster pace than their previous best.  In this case, our 9 minute mile runner would aim to run 3 miles at a pace 15-30 seconds faster per mile.

This increases the bodies ability to work at higher intensities for longer, and gives the runner the confidence to push forward when their heart rate starts to climb higher than before.

Looking to make your own running schedule?  Here's an example:

  • Runner has a busy schedule, can only run 3 times per week
  • Fastest pace in a race: 9 minute mile
  • Longest run: 6 miles
  • Has GPS and HR monitor unit
Workout 1: Long Slow Distance, run 5 miles at 10 minute/mile pace.  If competing in a half marathon or more, each week add 1/2 mile to the distance, keeping the pace the same.  After 12 weeks, this individual will be able to run 10+ miles at a 10 minute/mile pace.
Workout 2: Speed workout, run 1/4 mile as fast as can be maintained, and light jog in between intervals (2 minute rest).  Repeat 5 times, increasing the number of repeats each week, up until 10 repeats.
Workout 3: Tempo Run, run 3 miles at 10 minute/mile pace.  Each week, add 1/2 mile to the distance.  Keep the pace the same, unless the athlete competes in a race and their average mile pace decreases.  In which case, keep the Tempo Run pace a minute slower than your race pace.

Okay, so we're starting to put together a running program.  But what about stretching?  And warming up?  And shouldn't we be recommending strength training?

So glad you asked.

Except be patient.  Shooting those videos next week.  Stay tuned!!

-Coach Kev

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