When it comes to increasing running speed, runners need to tread lightly. We risk not pushing hard enough and failing to improve or pushing too hard and ending up hurt. So how do you best train for timing?
Keep it simple.
With all the talk – especially on social media and blogs – about new workouts, it’s easy to get caught up in switching around your workouts to fit in with everyone else’s plans. This can be a fun way to gain overall fitness, but when you’re training for an endurance race, it’s better to go with a few workouts repeated regularly and to progress them as your body adapts. If you don’t give your body time to adapt to new stimuli, the frequent changes can cause more harm than good.
How to do it: Instead of changing workouts every week, assign yourself only two hard effort workouts – a tempo run and an interval workout – and focus on learning how to run these at the right effort. Run one hard workout, either a tempo run or intervals, once per week. Keeping the workouts consistent from week to week helps learn to run at the right effort levels, and only take on slightly tougher versions of those workouts every three or four weeks.
Find your flow.
When I develop a custom training plan, I look at a runner’s overall heath, injury history and risk, past races, running schedule, work life, family, sleep habits, and many other variables. In order for a plan to work for you, it’s got to flow with your life, your health, and your body. A plan for a 25-year-old will look much different than one for a 45-year-old. Start by taking an honest look at the stress in your life and how your body responds to workouts, then plot a program that allows you to train, recover, and adapt.
How to do it: If you’re exhausted, you need to change the flow of your workouts. Give your body time to record, which will allow your body to adapt to the workload and push harder as you improve.
Run by effort rather than pace.
The final step is learning how to train by effort rather than pace. Let your pace be the outcome of your workout, rather than your guide. In doing so, your body will train in the optimal zone consistently and able to progress through the season.
How to do it: Break the effort goals into three simple zones (see below). Your easy and long runs are at a conversational Yellow Zone. This is the zone where you can talk in full sentences. Tempo runs are done in the Orange Zone, an effort level where you can hear your breathing, but only talk in one to two word responses – it feels like it’s just outside your comfort zone. And the intervals are done in the Red Zone, a hard effort where you are running fast but in control, and your breathing is laboured. There’s no talking in the Red Zone.
Improvement comes from finding a balance between stress and recovery that leads to adaptation. The key is to find the right recipe for you.