If you recently completed the Couch to 5K training program, featured in this column back in March, you’re probably wondering how to keep your newly formed running habit on track. The answer depends on your goals. Do you want to get faster, go longer or both? Perhaps running 5K a few times a week suits you perfectly and you’re just looking for some variety. Or maybe you miss the structure of a training program and need some guidance on how to organize your workouts.
Whatever goal you have in mind, consistency is important. Lacing up your running shoes three times a week for the past couple months has given you a solid foundation from which to set a whole new series of goals. Don’t mess that up. Sure, you can miss a day or two here and there, but if a few days turns into a few weeks, before you know it finding excuses not to run becomes the norm.
To help nurture your running habit, here are a few workouts designed to keep you motivated and take you to the next level. I suggest making each of your runs slightly different, playing with speed, distance, route and terrain. Hit the hills, find an outdoor track, wind your way through wooded trails or repeat a fast loop around the neighbourhood. Mixing it up keeps the legs fresh and the mind fresher.
Fartleks (the Swedish word for speed play) are intervals with no predetermined time or distance. Simply look down the road, find a landmark and pick up the pace until you reach it. Slow back down for a couple minutes, then look down the road for another landmark. No need to look at your watch, measure out a specific distance or keep each fartlek the same. The whole concept revolves around an unstructured workout that alternates between picking up and easing off the pace.
Two to four fartleks in the middle of your run is a good first effort. Make sure you’re warmed up before picking up the pace for the first time. If you’re still having fun, try a couple more.
Tempo runs are longer and more structured than fartleks, requiring a single sustained effort in the middle of a run. Designed to improved speed, tempo intervals are performed at an intensity just beyond your comfort level, pushing your normal pace up a notch or two. Ideally the workout should be broken up into thirds: warm-up, tempo, recovery. So if you’re running for 30 minutes, the tempo interval should be 10 minutes in the middle of your run.
To start, limit the tempo interval to five minutes, adding an extra minute every week until you can sustain the effort for the full middle third of your run.
Long, slow, distance workouts are the cornerstone of every runner’s training. Not only do they build endurance, they boost confidence in your ability to get through those days when even a short run feels long.
How slow is slow? Turn off your pacing app, turn on the tunes, find a comfortable pace and stay there. Think cruising, not pushing your limits. As for the distance, add an extra five minutes onto your LSD run every week until you reach your goal — be it seven, eight, 10 or more kilometres.
The rule of thumb is to follow a LSD run with a day of recovery, allowing your body time to recuperate and come back stronger for the next workout. Most runners schedule one LSD run a week, with a weekend morning being the most popular time to churn out those extra miles.
Some runners take hills slow and some climb at full throttle. Whatever your preference, search out the hills in your neighbourhood and include them in at least one of your routes.
Why are hills an important part of a runner’s routine? Climbing builds lower-body power and mental toughness, which are important elements in becoming a better runner. You can either map out a route with several hills or find one good hill and do a few repeats. If it’s a small hill, pick up the pace until you reach the top, walk back down and repeat the quick ascent/slow descent a few times. If it’s a long, gradual climb, maintain your pace until you get to the top, descend slowly and repeat. Your heart rate should climb as you do.
When running uphill, lean slightly forward from the ankles (not the hips) and keep your eyes focused on your destination, not on the road. Make sure you time your hill repeats toward the middle or last half of your run, when you’re warmed up and primed for the challenge. Don’t plan to take on a hill workout the day after an LSD or tempo workout. You need fresh legs and a can-do mindset when taking on hills.