So how do you run faster for longer? This involves developing two different aspects of your running, simultaneously: building endurance and increasing leg speed.
Probably the biggest fault that I see most runners make is that they tend to run all of their training sessions at the same intensity and distance. This is fine if you are running just to keep fit or to keep the weight off, but in order to improve significantly, you will have to shake things up a bit.
Let’s look at developing endurance first. This is actually easy to do, and basically involves around slowly increasing the time or distance on your Long Slow Run (LSR). The LSR should normally be run at an easy pace where your heart remains in its aerobic zone. This works the so called ‘slow-twitch’ muscles and also promotes the conversion of fat into energy in the body. If you are training for an event that is over two hours long, you will almost entirely be in this aerobic state for the duration, and your LSR becomes the most important workout of your training week. It is more about time on your feet as opposed to distance or pace.
When starting to lengthen your LSR, it is vital that you increase the time on your legs in slow increments, and never more than by 10% in any one week. The idea is to build up your endurance so that you are around your planned race length (for a marathon, for example, around 20 miles would be sufficient for a LSR ) but not over it (unless you are advanced). Part of the secret is to allow the body to recover from these long runs, and adding too much mileage will lead to over-training and possible injury.
Let’s add some speed
The second aspect is developing leg speed, and this will involve going into an anaerobic state, where training sessions will activate the so-called ‘fast-twitch’ muscles. The body also sources its energy from sugar (glucose) during this time.
In order to increase your leg speed, you would need to introduce one speed session a week. Once again, if you are new to these, you would have to build the intensity in small increments. A great workout for beginners is a fartlek session. The word ‘Fartlek’ means ‘Speed Play’ in Swedish, and involves interspersing easy running with harder sections. It does not have to be structured at all, and could even involve a mixture of walking and running.
If you prefer more a more structured approach, then you can run repeats over a 400m or 800m distance, at faster than 5km pace. The amount of repeats would depend on your fitness level and target race distance. The repeats session could also be run up-and-down an incline (hard up; easy down) every few weeks in order to build strength. The important thing with a session like this, is that you need to fully recover in between the repetitions, so that you can give maximum effort on the next one, whilst maintaining proper form. Start with 4 or 6 reps, and slowly build up to a maximum of 10. 400m repeats are better if you are training for a 10km race, whilst the 800 should be looked at if you are planning to run a marathon.
A second workout to introduce in addition to the speed session, would be a tempo run. This is where you run close to your lactate threshold over a set distance, and at a constant speed, (slightly under your 10km race pace). A good test, would be that you are unable to hold a conversation on the run, and would deem it to be an 8-out-of-10 on the toughness scale. This session will make running at harder paces seem easier as time goes by. This run could be held for a duration of between 30 and 45 minutes, and should be alternated with the speed session every second week.
A few things to look out for:
• Always warm up properly (especially for tempo or speed sessions), and then allow for a cool down.
• Never run two hard sessions on successive days
• Too much speed-work could lead to injury, and may result in regression, where performance actually gets worse.
If you only run three or four times a week, use the above, and I am certain that you will see a marked improvement. It would be a good idea to have an easy, recovery run during the week too, where you run purely for the enjoyment. It may be worth ditching the watch on this one – you’ve earned it.