As a coach, I often hear of runners coming down with injuries or not getting faster as they build throughout their racing season. After digging a little deeper, it generally becomes apparent that these runners are making training mistakes that seem to occur all to often. When looking at training flaws, I often find that athletes are compensating for either a lack of preparation or a lack of understanding basic principles. Within this blog I hope I’ll touch on these and help you become a faster runner overall.
Lack of Preparation
This one happens often, especially for some triathletes. Athletes will finish a season in late August-October and immediately make goals for a PR at a October-December race. Or, we will get a runner that has a big goal race coming up in 4 months and wants to set a PR or qualify for Boston. While running generally takes less time overall from a week-to-week commitment on you, it doesn’t mean that it takes any less time to build the proper engine and efficiency as a runner. The best runners I have are runners that have been hitting consistent weeks over many many months. When an athlete comes to me with less than 4 months to build for a running event, they often become discouraged when they didn’t have a huge PR because I wasn’t willing to risk injury by ramping up their training. I’m not saying that we can’t hit a PR, I’m just saying that if you intend to be a serious runner or have big goals, you need to have the proper build for that which is often between 8-12 months.
Lack of Distance
This is a big one for me. Somewhere in the realm of training circles, individuals believe that running a 5k for competitive reasons requires far less distance than running a 1/2 marathon or full marathon distance. I understand that the requirements of the race are nowhere near the same, but if your true goal is a competitive placement, then your volume needs to be far greater than that of which I often hear. At the end of the day, a 5k is still an aerobic event. Therefore, the larger your aerobic engine, the faster you’ll be at a 5k. Now, I understand that you can be very competitive at a 5k on 25-30 miles a week with the right structure, but I bet you’d be even faster on 40 miles/week. Even faster on 55 miles/week. And even faster on 75 miles a week. I understand those numbers are far-fetched for many due to commitments and recovery times needed, but I am here to tell you what is needed for optimal performance and not sugar coat the lack of miles that often go around race distances of 5k’s and 10k’s.
Lack of Training Principles
This is where the injuries come in. This stems from my point above about lack of volume. Many runners looking to increase speed will focus on 1-2 track sets a week if not more. More is more right? Not exactly. The highest probability of injury in running comes from over stressing the legs. This can happen from running too much to soon, or running to fast for too many times. Often, runners looking to PR at a 5k or 10k will neglect volume because their race is only 3.1 or 6.2 miles and instead focus on quick turnover and high intensity. Without the proper base in place, this is going to end in injury and have you out of the sport for a couple weeks if not more. I often find runners will add in track days with friends (which is great if done correctly) to try and off-set a lack of training. Well, Intensity is the highest cause of injuries in runners and therefore by focusing on Intensity first, you are flirting with fire.
So What is a Proper Build
Well, this comes back to my point about preparation. Be willing to give a coach 8-12 months if you are serious about running. Allow the first month or two to build frequency until you’re running 6-7 days a week easy. Then allow some time to build volume on top of that frequency while still running easy. Then allow some time to start adding in some tempo workouts to start building towards race day goals. Finally, start to add in the intensity that your body is prepared for and can handle! Remember, fitness builds through frequency, volume, intensity. If you build all 3 at once you are likely to get injured. If you focus only on intensity without a base you are likely to get injured. There is a right way and a wrong way to build, therefore giving your coach the proper amount of time is critical for overall running success.
Running is simple. You lace up your shoes and head out the door. However, once you get out the door, what do you do? If you give a coach the time needed, I can nearly guarantee that everyday you head outside will be productive in your overall goal. Not only will you be building fitness gradually, but it will be sustainable and allow you to do so in a way that doesn’t result in injury. It isn’t that running is some mythical creature that results in injury, its just that many athletes are making basic training errors. By understanding what running is at its core and what demands are in place at each distance, you will be in a much better place to run your best and make calculated decisions to meet your future racing goals.