Okay, so you have committed to that deadline, have been consistent, everyone in your department is joining you for lunchtime runs, you are eating like an Olympian and dressed better than a Runnersworld cover model. So what to do next?
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE…
Training is a simple pattern of stimulus and response repeated over and over again. You make your body work hard by running, then it responds by getting “fitter”, in other words, it adapts to be able to handle the running easier. Every time you challenge your body beyond what it is used to, either by running further, or faster or on a tougher route, it will respond during rest and adapt to the new challenge. However, once the body is able to complete the running task easily, it no longer has any need to adapt and won’t. So in order to keep getting fitter, we need to balance a good variety of challenging stimulus with rest (the response happens during resting!).
For the average joe runner, here are some simple, safe and fun “Stimuli” that you can include in your runs once a week to push that comfort zone:
1. Lamppost Sprints – After you have warmed up with 10 minutes of easy jogging (or at the end of a long group run), spend 10-20 minutes alternating running fast for the distance of two lampposts, jogging easy for two lampposts. If your area has no lampposts, use markers such as trees or number of houses, anything that gives you a distance of about 100m.
2. Easy Out, Fast Back – On an out and back route, run out at a steady pace for 2 – 4km. Time how long it takes you. Now turn and try run back faster. This will prepare you for pushing hard in the second half of your 5 kilometer. You can also push the last 2-4km of your regular group long run for the same effect.
3. Fartlek – Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning, “Speed Play”. This is a session where you alternate fast and slow running similar to the Lamppost sprints mentioned above. You can alternate fast and slow running between landmarks or make use of time. For example: Alternate 1 minute of fast running with 1 minute of easy running and repeat 6-10 times.
4. Hill Sprints – You can never do too many hill sprints. Not only will they improve your strength and endurance, but hill sprints are excellent for developing good running technique. Always choose a gradual incline. You should be able to run up the hill with a fast rhythm and not be fighting gravity.
5. Time Tests – This is a great way to monitor improvement. After a short warm up, time yourself over a measured distance. Test yourself over a variety of distances from 1k – 5k.