It’s easy to get comfortable running the same route, at the same time of the day, at the same pace.
This is of course good for overall physical, mental, and emotional health. However, those seeking to improve their speed and endurance should consider changing the intensity and duration of their sessions. Whether you are training for your first 5km race or an Ultra Marathon, improvements can be made by incorporating some of the following runs into your training program.
Put simply, this session focuses on periods of ‘work’ followed by periods of rest or recovery. The work periods are high intensity as you are aiming to recruit different muscles while under fatigue. Intervals are also a great way to develop your running form and strength. Runners working at an increased pace will tend to run with better technique. Over time this technique will become ingrained and you’ll find yourself running more efficiently- even during easier paced runs. An effective running technique will also decrease the chance of injury. Some common interval sessions are
- Fartlek- This Swedish word means ‘speed play’ and the session is characterised by random changes of speed over different distances. After warming up, change your pace from high to low intensity over a variety of distances using landmarks. For example, you might work at 90% of a sprint to a large tree that’s 100m away and then jog easy to the street sign that’s 300m away as recovery. For added variety change up your terrain during a session. This is a great session if you’re running with a partner or group as you can alternate who decides the next landmark to work towards.
- Pyramids- This session can be based on time or distance. Once warmed up, follow a pyramid shape set of intervals followed by periods of rest. For example, run with intensity for 1,2,3,4,3,2,1 minutes with each work period followed by the same period of light jogging or complete rest. Beginner runners can follow a similar pattern with periods of jogging followed by walking. Distance pyramids work in a similar way- try 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 800, 400, 200, 100 metres of work followed by the same distance of easy recovery jogging in between.
- 400m and 1km intervals- Common sessions for a beginner through to elite. Focus on running form and work at an exertion level of 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10. Recovery can either be complete rest or light jogging. Aim to run your last interval at a similar pace to your first. Keep the session mentally stimulating by changing running locations and running surface.
A great run if you only have a small amount of time but want to complete a challenging session that will get the heart pumping and sweat flowing! Tempo runs allow you to develop your Lactate Threshold, which is the point where lactic acid builds up in the muscles and causes fatigue. By increasing this you’ll be able to run at a faster pace for a longer period of time. For example, beginners should start with a warm up and follow it with a 10-15 minute run at a “comfortably hard” pace. For those who train more regularly and know their 10km race pace, aim to run at 10-15 seconds slower than that for anywhere from 15-40 minutes. Increase your tempo run time and distance gradually as your fitness and confidence increases.
The format of this session is to start easy and gently increase your pace until you’re running at a higher intensity by the end. You can break down the session by increasing the pace per kilometre. For example, up your pace by 5-10 seconds per kilometre over your desired distance. Progression runs are perfect for maintaining and increasing speed while fatigued. They also help with your sense of pacing which becomes important if you’re training for a race. If you’re heading out for a progression run just remember the words “steady acceleration”.
LSD (Long Slow Distance) run
Typically associated with runners who are training for a half marathon or longer, the LSD run is a staple part of a weekly program. Decreasing your pace but increasing the distance is a great way to increase base aerobic fitness and build mental strength. Longer runs put the body under stress which then causes cells to rebuild and make you stronger. These sessions are typically done at one pace but for variety you can set a goal to run the second half slightly faster than the first. This run is also a chance to trial any nutrition or fluids that may be used on race day.
Hill running helps develop power and strength. Incorporating hills into your training is beneficial twofold. Firstly, if a race or event is hilly your body will have adapted and you’ll find yourself overtaking lots of other runners. Second, hill sessions will improve your efficiency and stride pattern. After finding a suitable hill and completing a warm up, complete a series of repeats up and down. Shorten your stride length, keep your torso tall, and swing your elbows back when going uphill. Slightly lean forward when going back down. Use the downhill to pull back and act as your recovery. Beginners should try walking downhill, while more experienced runners can jog down as recovery.
Harder sessions should be followed by an easy paced run within a day or two to allow the body to recover. Continuous long distance or high intensity sessions can result in overtraining injuries. Recovery runs should be done at an exertion level of 3 or 4 out of 10 and you should be able to hold a free flowing conversation if running with a friend. Ensure you follow the run with a good stretch. If you have access to a foam roller this will further promote recovery and loosen any tight muscles.
The key to running improvement is to be consistent in your approach. Resist the urge to do too much too soon. Slowly implement variations in your running sessions including changing your intensity and duration. If done correctly these sessions will further develop your speed, endurance, and mental strength. They will also keep you more mentally stimulated, resulting in a greater chance of sticking at it over a longer term. So lace up those shoes, give one of these sessions a go, and see you out there on the pavement!