This post is about what rules I’ve followed to improve my running speed and strength. I don’t possess the universal answer on how to make everyone run faster, although I am naive enough to think that if everyone would follow these rules and not just a plan downloaded from the Internet, they would become a lot faster. It’s not a sub 3h marathon guide, but it might pave your way there.
My PBs timeline
Even though I was running quite regularly, I had my first parkrun timed at 27 minutes during July 2014, just over two years now. One year ago, my parkrun improved to 20:44 and that’s the point where I got the idea of going sub 20 minutes, and then sub 19 minutes.
(Updated Dec 2017) So, my PBs are now:
- 5k – 18:04
- 10k – 37:17
- Half Marathon – 1h 21
- Marathon – 2h 56
Some of the people I’m following on Strava run a lot more than I do. I’m talking even 4000km per year. I have just under 1000 at the moment. Yet, some of the recreational runners that do run a lot have poor results during races. If running is not your day job, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more difficult to run and train daily, so you need to start training smart rather than a lot.
1. Strenght training
By far the most important technique to improve your running is strength training. I know, most recreational runners don’t like gyms, but the reality is that you can do lots of bodyweight exercises at home. You can allocate as much time as you have available, 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 1 hour, even more.
But you need to do these exercises correctly, maintain posture, etc. Target the whole body: core, upper body, lower body. It’s not obvious how upper body helps you run better, but a better posture will mean a more optimized energy consumption, which means you get more for the same heartbeats.
2. Running workouts
Next, you have high intensity running. Hill reps, intervals, fartlek, threshold running, all these contribute to your overall improvement. Don’t ditch any of them thinking they’re not for you or you’re not for them. Do every one of them. Take care with overtraining, you don’t want to injure yourself, and you don’t want fatigue to take over.
Both of the above techniques will make you stronger, but only and only if you push yourself. Raise the bar, find your limit, push it further. If you have one threshold run per month, you should continuously improve your pace, don’t aim for the same. You should be able to find yourself running faster just a week after a very intense and long interval training.
Have at least one of the strength training or high intensity running per week; I’d recommend both each week. That’s serious sweat with serious results. And when I say sweat, I mean it. If the training is asking for VO2 Max, do it, push yourself to the limit. It’s not easy, and it’s not as pleasant as a long chill run you’d do on a Sunday, but it’s the one that’s going to get you results.
Next challenge is a social one. Stop drinking alcohol. It slows you down and impairs your recovery. Just leave it aside, use the endorphins from a training session to get you relaxed. I’m not saying don’t meet with your friends, but water or lemonade should be perfectly acceptable if you’re trying to achieve a better and faster run. They might mock you, but they’ll get used to it in no time, and your body will have the healthy and quick recovery it deserves.
The nutrition aspect, like the drinking one, is not easy to tackle because it involves other people. Since it’s your run, it’s you who should be taking care of what you eat. Being vegan myself does have its advantage here because there’s a lot less junk food available for vegans. Along with Andreea, we’re cooking almost everything we eat. And this should be the norm, really, not takeaways or big portions.
Why is nutrition important? Because if you don’t eat well and balanced, it will impair your nutrients intake, will upset your stomach and your mood. And in turn, this means poor training. Poor training leads to turning to religion before a race, rather than knowing you’ll do good. Hoping that the stars align and you’ll get a good result.
Water is something to look out for before training (not during or after). Being dehydrated can affect your mood, thus your ability to push yourself, to achieve.
And while we’re at nutrition, note that when you’re training hard your muscles, bones and everything in between are affected. So taking in more calcium, vitamin D and magnesium along with sodium and potassium should be done as soon as your training is over, to make the recovery as quick as possible.
Now, there’s a lot of talk lately about the warm-up stretching. I usually do a really simple one, run for a km or a mile and then see which part of the body is stiff and continue to warm up only that part. It takes me 5-10 minutes to do that. Before my first Serpentine LFOTM 5k race, Andreea lead a very extensive warm-up training (for about 15-20 minutes), and I smashed my PB with over 30 seconds.
But the one stretching session I strongly recommend is the one after the training or race. I know yoga sounds very high maintenance, but there are loads of Youtube videos with very simple and short Yoga sessions. Better flexibility means better posture, better energy consumption, better performance. So it’s not only that you benefit from a quicker muscle recovery, you’ll get a lot better over time.
8. Mental preparation
I think it’s a bit stretched to ask someone to visualize the finish line when they have two more hours of running. But what I’m asking is to continuously check yourself physically and mentally. Don’t let yourself whine, don’t tackle that hill with “Whaaat?!”, keep telling yourself that you can do it because you trained for it. Count your steps, check your joints, muscles, your posture, look down at your trainers to see if there’s anything wrong there. And try to smile once in a while, it might give you a bit of a kick, but more importantly, it will relax your face, your jaw. And then repeat.
And last, while you should aim for big goals on the long haul, acknowledge small improvements in the short term. Just 5 seconds off your 5k PB is still an improvement.
What did you do to improve your performance? I’d love to hear more tips.