Do you want to run less, yet run faster? Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but stick with me on this one because today I’m going to be explaining how you can get fitter and stronger without having to run any further. Irrelevant of the distance that you’re training for, there will be ways in which you can change up your training to help you run faster that doesn’t involve running further and fact, you might even be able to reduce your weekly mileage.
So it’s about making the running you do count, as well as a few extra exercises away from the track. Combined, these will improve your running economy and your speed.
Strength as a runner might not be at the forefront of your mind or your training program, but it doesn’t mean heading to the gym and getting big. You can get stronger from running and without having to run more. So bring on the hills! Hills will naturally make you work harder and build that strength because thanks to gravity, you’re going to be working harder when you’re going uphill.
You’ll be turning on your quads, your glutes, your calves, more than you would do if you were in the flat. So even if it’s going slowly up a hill or maybe even walking up a steep hill, you’ll still get the benefits, and if you’re not feeling the burn, then find a steeper hill.
We might question the relevance of doing hill reps if you want to get faster on the flat, but the strength you’ll gain from this will transfer to any terrain that you’re running on. If your glutes maybe aren’t so good at firing, then you’re going to have to utilize them to run uphill, and also, running uphill going to help you to encourage that better knee drive, which will correlate to improved form when you do come back onto the flat.
And on top of that, just running uphill will increase your heart rate more than running on the flat, so you get a cardiovascular benefit. And as lovely as it is to head out for a run, even on undulating terrain, that’s still going to give you some benefit, but to get the most out of your time that you put in if you have a structured session and go to set hill and you’ll certainly benefit there.
For the warm-up, it’s 15-minute steady jog over gently undulating terrain if that’s available, and then five minutes of building to a strong pace, followed by two minutes of an easy job until you get to the base of your chosen hill. And then for the main set, it’s six slots of two minutes hard up the hill with a recovery jog back to the bottom, and finally for your warm down, just 15 minutes easy.
The angle of the hill doesn’t matter, but do make sure that its steep enough to cause you to work hard, but it’s not too steep that you can’t run up it. Don’t worry too much about the distance you travel on this, it’s more about the time, so if you’ve got a set time, aim to run for that intensity and try and pick a point that you can repeat on each rep. Running on the track is a great way to be time-efficient with your training. You’ve got no obstacles, you know exactly what to expect, and it’s really easy to pace yourself. So it’s perfect for doing speed sessions.
Just make sure you’ve got a planned session with you when you do head to the track. Speedwork will improve your running irrelevant of what distance you’re targeting.
Running faster than race pace will help you get fitter, but it’ll also make you more economical when it comes to your actual race. Also, if you practice running at a faster pace, when it comes to race day, that pace should feel far more comfortable than if you’ve done all your training at a set, steady pace. And there’s no need to complicate things here, make sure you’ve done a thorough warm-up, so you’re ready to run fast.
For the warm-up, do four laps of easy jogging and then two laps of building for 200 meters, followed by a jog recovery for 200 meters, and then a choice of warm-up drills and dynamic stretches, followed by four sets of 80-meter strides with a walk back to the start, and then onto the main set. For this, it’s four 200 meters hard with 45 seconds rest, two 400s with 90 seconds rest, one kilometer with two minutes rest, two 400s with 45 seconds rest, four 200s with 90 seconds rest. These all need to be at the same pace, so as fast as you’re able to hold for all of them, but bear in mind that the first couple of 200s should feel quite comfortable.
It’s as you head into the 400s that it’ll begin to get tough, so focus on form and run at a perceived effort of around eight out of 10, but maybe keep this to six or seven for the first set. Keeping that pace will naturally increase the perceived effort. For your warm down, two laps easy jog, one lap barefoot if possible.
And then finish off with some stretching while you’re still warm, you should feel like you’ve worked hard after a session like this and don’t be surprised if you feel it a bit in your legs the next day. Leading on from a track session, drills are a great way to improve your running, and they don’t involve very much running themselves. So it’s working on your technique by improving your form and reducing that all-important foot contact time. It does depend on what aspects of your run you need to work on, but this section of drills is a great place to start.
As it says on the tin, it’s a simple yet effective drill, so start on the spot by jogging, getting your knees up to hip height. Then, as you get into that rhythm, start progressing with a forward motion, thinking of keeping your torso nice and upright, really driving through as you bring your legs up. This isn’t your standard shipping with a skipping rope.
This is about skipping with height, so on each skip, you’re going to be reaching to the sky with your spare arm and trying to get your opposite knee up to right angles in that same position. It’s not about moving forward, it’s about trying to get height and power, as well as a short time of contact on the ground. This is all about reducing your contact time, so that’s the amount of time that your foot spends on the ground for each stride.
So for this, if you start with your legs almost straight, and you’re trying to land on the ball of your foot in a backward and downwards motion. You want to try and make this stride very fast, and you’re reducing that time; it should have a short and snappy feel to it. Heading to the gym will help you get stronger and improve your running without actually adding more pounding onto your joints, and going to the gym doesn’t mean you’re going to get big.
It does mean that you’re going to get strong and more resilient and, therefore, easier to cope with the loading that comes from those quality sessions. And adding in single leg work makes it even more specific to running, as it’s going to turn on those stabilizing muscles and allow you to have a smoother, more controlled gait. Glute activation is key here, as well.
So, look to include exercises such as dead lifts, squats, weighted hip bridges, and single-leg versions of those, as well as split squats, all of which are compound exercises helpful for runners. But if you do want more details on what s&c to do for running, we’ll share a video on that in just a moment. And then finally we’ve got your easy run, which you can if you want, actually replace that with an easy swim or a spin on the bike to help for your recovery but make sure that you do your easy so that when you come to these quality sessions, you can give 100%.