FIGURING OUT WHAT MAKES YOU TICK AS A RUNNER
Recently new to running, or looking to step up to the next level and looking at where to begin? Yeah… I hear you, it’s hard to know where to start, basing most of our assumptions from running at high school or looking to see what others do. Before any of us became runners, before we knew about the long runs, the easy runs, tempo runs, fartleks and intervals, we all had the picture in our minds of what a runner in training looked like.
A person out for a run along a canal, running around a park or just down the road? That’s a jogger. A person giving it all they’ve got around a track? Now that’s a runner!
Or so we’ve been conditioned to believe…
For as long as we can remember, we’ve often had it ingrained in to us that the only way we can achieve faster speeds is by attending weekly track sessions. Even if you have no intention of running a 5k or 10k pb, even if your intention is just to become a better and faster trail runner – we are told time and time again that we must run around a track to achieve this.
The fact is…
THE TRACKS NOT FOR EVERYONE
And if you are within the first two years of your running journey? Don’t even think about it! When we first decide to consistently train and become more than just a ‘jogger’ trying to get fit, we see quick improvements simply from just getting consistently out of the door. Once we’ve reached a plateau in training, it’s our first assumption that it’s time to jump on that track and begin bashing out 10 x 400m, just like the pros.
The plateau you are experiencing will likely be more due to impatience of seeing results, as our quick improvements begin to slow. However, how we interpret how we feel and the condition of your body are two very separate things. We may believe we’re ready to reach critical speeds, to push our bodies as fast as we can, after all, we’re feeling great, have bottomless energy and are eager to get our improving results back on track.
In truth, our bodies are FAR from ready to handle such adaptions, the cardiovascular system gets fitter and stronger way before our tendons, joints and ligaments. It won’t be long before you’re suffering your first in a long line of injuries.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO INSTEAD?
The only thing you have to worry about in the first year or two of running is just getting out the door and discovering what it is that you enjoy about running. Run around town, run around trails, run up hills, climb fells, go short, go longer – just explore how you cope with different terrains, different paces, different locations and different lengths of runs.
It is very important that we allow our bodies to adapt to the new stresses we put on it, and overloading our joints and tendons will have disastrous impact.
How do we get faster in this time then?
Your body will naturally get quicker over time by slowly increasing weekly mileage and intensity of our runs. Sometimes we will notice, sometimes we won’t. It is not even recommended, nor necessary, to do track sessions until you have a larger base of fitness. Once you are comfortably running 30 – 50+ miles a week, then you’re body, your tendons, your muscles and joints are now likely to be ready to handle track sessions. Even then, unless you wish to be a track star, you still needn’t attend track sessions.
There are many ways to build speed, choose the session that suits you
THERE ARE MANY OTHER WAYS TO INCREASE SPEED
Firstly, we must understand what it is when we refer to speed or pace. A fast pace is the ability to quickly turn over your legs for the required time you wish to hold it. For this we need to build strength, cadence and endurance. This means we must work on both our aerobic and anaerobic systems (last week’s blog is a good example of how to do both in one fell swoop). Speed isn’t just built on the track, it’s built in the slower long miles, the hill climbs and steady miles that develop your aerobic system, which allows you to build your anaerobic system to accompany and compliment it. To be a holistic and complete runner, you must build both, you can’t just rely on one.
Running around a track will only ever work a certain set of muscles. Even worse, going in one direction round and round the same way is somewhat unnatural to us and works the same side, overdeveloping one side, and under-developing the other. To avoid injury and to be the best runner you can be, you must work all muscles and run at all paces – touch all bases! An example of this could be an up and down an off-road hill climb. Run out hard, but steady enough to maintain a good pace throughout. This will work your muscles and build strength. On the way back down is where you can work on quickening your cadence.
Don’t think about running as fast as you can back down, this will lead to over-striding and can lead to injury. Instead, think about getting your feet back down on the ground as quick as possible. The more you make contact with the ground, the faster your leg turnover will be and the quicker you’ll be able to propel yourself forwards. Overtime your body will naturally learn to cope with the quicker cadence you ask of it. Of course, you won’t always be running down hills in races, you’ll be running on flat sections too and that’s where you’ll look to dig in and find some speed. You don’t build the speed just the down hill – remember, strength + cadence + endurance is how to build speed, and this you build UP and DOWN the hill.
That is also not the only way to build speed either, there’s many possible ways to build speed, and it’s about finding the right method for you. You also don’t need to run at critical pace to improve lactate threshold. You only need to include ‘efforts’ that activate the adaptation signals in the body that build the tolerance to cope with more intense running. To do this, you need to tap into it in all different ways, cover all bases.
If you do the same speed session over and over again, you will start to see diminishing returns on improvements and overtime will again, begin to plateau.
At the beginning of the post I mentioned how we have had it ingrained into us that the idea of a runner in training was of a person running around a track.
As such, we must…
How we train is up to us, there’s multiple ways to arrive at the same destination, but we must work to our individual strengths
DEVELOP OUR OWN RUNNING PHILOSOPHY
No two runners are alike, we all have our ‘craft’ when it comes to running.
An analogy of how you can become a better runner is this:
Think our yourself as a sculptor, and you are given a rectangular slab of plaster. The idea is that overtime we will chip away to something that resembles the perfect runner, or as close as we can get to it. Some of us start with a smooth slab, others start with sections already chipped away (we all start at different abilities and different levels).
Slowly we should chip away at the slab with a whole set of intricate tools (these are your training runs, never overdoing it, simply learning how to use them and increasing their use over time).
Coming in with a track session when you’ve just started ‘sculpting’ is like using a sledge hammer to chip away at the ideal runner you wish to create. Yes, at first you’ll chip away big chunks, but it won’t be long until you go too far and smash right through where your knee should’ve been – now you have an injury. You must re-plaster (recovery/physio) the slab, slowly build it back up again and then after a few weeks begin to delicately chisel away.
The problem is…
WE AREN’T ALL GIVEN THE SAME SET OF TOOLS
One person’s chisel and hammer looks different to another. Or in other words, what works for one person, might not work for another. You must pick the correct set of tools to suit you (the right training sessions). This can’t be achieved unless you spend a good amount of the initial time chipping away exploring what tools you like to use best. The ones you don’t like to use? You can pick those back up again later once you become a more accomplished and acclimatised sculptor (runner).
Over time, we’ll start to feel confident and proud of what we’ve sculpted, and when we take it to exhibitions (races) to see if it will win a prize, you’ll then learn even more from other sculptors (runners) about what you’re lacking, what you excel at and what sections need working on.
This blog isn’t to discourage the use of the track, for the right, experienced runner it can have excellent advantageous effects. For the rest of us who like to run up and down hills, fells and trails, there are plenty of other ways to reach the same goal.