I have two clients running marathons this weekend, one has already qualified for Boston next year and the other is looking to get his qualifying position. This would make three run clients who will make it to Boston next year, which is the world championships for running, kind of in line with the Kona Ironman. A lot of people spend years trying to get here. My approach to running is a bit unconventional compared to most programs, but the physiology and biomechanics of running lend well to the devices I use. Plus, you can’t argue against the results. So today, I’m going to break down what the main factors are that I use when designing run programs and how you can become the best runner you have ever been in the coming year.
Step 1: Run Less to Run Faster.
Most marathon or even half marathon runners get it into their heads that they have to run every day and clock hundreds of kilometers a week to become a fast runner. What they forget about is recovery and regeneration being the main component to becoming stronger at anything, including running. Let’s say you train every single day and slowly build up an accumulative stress on the body that has no time to recover and rebuild before being hit with another load of stress. The eventual process will result in injury, which leads to the average conversation between two endurance athletes:
Runner 1: “So are you training or injured?”
Runner 2: “Well, I pulled my (insert body part here), so I’ve been doing a lot of water running lately. I want to get back at it soon, though. You?”
Runner 1: “I just got back to running after hurting my (insert joint here), and I’m slowly building back into it. I’m getting about 50 miles a week right now, and want to bump it to 75 in a few weeks.”
That’s one fast track way to being in a perpetual cycle of injury.
Running is hard on the body. Each foot strike you hit the ground with the cumulative force of 7 times your body weight. If the foot strike is less than biomechanically optimal, you hit with more force, and less control and amortization of that force, which leads to increased stress on the connective tissues. Repeat this 50,000 times, and you have a recipe for disaster. Without recovery, there is no way to stay injury free, So the absolute most I have my runners running is 4 days per week, with a preference to 3 days per week. One of my clients is a doctor who works a crazy busy schedule, but can manage to work out three days per week. The awesome thing is he is in better shape now than he was when he was 20, and he has no chronic hip pain that was holding him back from running as he did when we first started training.
Volume can have a big detriment to performance, both in the too much direction and the not enough direction.
Step 2: Train Slow to Be Slow, Train Fast to Be Fast
Runners who run marathons do it in a very slow speed that is more akin to shuffling than to running. How else can you complete 50-100km a week in running and still be alive? Well, if you’re goal is to complete a 5 hour marathon, be my guest, but I’m guessing you would prefer to actually post a time that isn’t this pathetically slow. So how do you become faster? Well, the answer is simple:
I know, crazy isn’t it? Maybe throw in some intervals, do shorter runs (GASP!!), at a higher speed, or do some sprint work that focuses on leg turnover and stride frequency more than just clocking mileage. The two basic variables than make speed are run stride frequency and run stride length. Take bigger steps more frequently and you’re going to go faster. Playing with these variables can have a big impact on your efficiency, as well as your overall performance when it comes to running. Additionally, by running shorter distances, there is less required to recover, which means you don’t have to run on dead tired legs anymore, which will make you faster!!
Step 3: EAT
As simple as this sounds, many runners are training to lose weight, but forget that they need fuel to power their workouts in order to get any appreciable performance. Muscles require fuel for movement, which can only come from stored glycogen and blood sugar over the short-term burst of exercise. The body doesn’t use that much fat for exercise, and the training will only result in a small decrease in body fat. However, the majority of fat burning will come from having fat stores broken down to replace the stored glycogen that was burned off from the workout, but only if the workout was intense enough to slip into the aerobic and anaerobic glycolysis energy systems (roughly 10% below and above lactate threshold heart rate). If you have no stored fuels, you can’t slip into these intensities because there is no gas in the gas tank, which makes burning fat that much harder.
Also with this point, make sure you are drinking lots of water. I have all my runner do a “Sweat Test,” where they weigh themselves before an hour run, weigh after the run, and find out the weight of the missing water. For each 2 pounds of weight lost, the equivalent of 1 litre of water was used up and would need to be replaced. Additionally, for every litre of water burned, you would have to consume roughly 100 grams of carbohydrates to fuel the activity to prevent a decrease in performance.
Step 4: Strength Train to Keep Balance
Running is a linear exercise over and over again, which leads to muscle imbalances galore. Train muscles in movements to the sides, train the core in flexion, rotation and side flexion, and involve the arms to keep the spine happy, and you can have a ridiculously strong and fast person running. Also, Strength training helps increase run performance by increasing power and reducing force-time relations.
Step 5: Train with a Heart Rate Monitor
This is a no-brainer, but stupidly simple to over look. Using a monitor tells you how hard you are working and whether you need to step it up or back off. By finding your optimal training zones, you can tailor your workouts to work the energy systems you want to target to get the best results possible.
Step 6: Stride Analysis
Everyone pays attention to the shoes, clothing, and nutrition, but no one ever really pays attention to how they run in the first place!! Through a video analysis, I figure out where their foot strike occurs, and whether they hit the ground on their heels acting like a brake versus running up on their toes putting excessive stress on their feet and calves. Finding that perfect balance point where force attenuation and spring effect are maximized becomes crucially important, as does determining if their footwear causes them to pronate excessively or hit in a neutral position. Finding out how to become an efficient runner can limit injuries and prevent slow progress from happening, giving them the best chance of increasing speed and decreasing times.
I still feel that if you have any appreciable distance to cover, it would be much easier taking a bike or driving there, but if you insist on running, you might as well get it done right, as efficient as possible, and get stupidly fast while doing it.