It’s no secret to close friends of mine that I hate running. Well, that is, I used to hate running. I used to run because I found the cardio fitness benefits to be phenomenal and it was one of the hardest workouts for the week. Nothing really challenges me as much as running. I can teach 3 aerobics classes back to back and still have a bounce in my step afterward. I can swim for kilometres and come out feeling refreshed. But running whoa! That’s a tough one!
Recently though, I have taken to pounding the pavement more. I gave up my aerobics classes to concentrate on doing my own challenging workouts. That means running and swimming are back on the permanent regime.
Last year, when I recommenced running, I was running a pace of 6.10min/km time, which is quite slow. I used to run with a friend who was totally into running as a sport and nothing else. At the time I couldn’t think of anything more boring! I never really understood the passion and drive to repeatedly run on a daily basis.
With my friend’s advice, I downloaded a running app, bought some new sneakers and slowly I have become hooked. Not only that, I have dropped my run times down to 5.10min/km. Not bad for someone who hated running!
I made a new friend with a fellow aerobics instructor who introduced me to the concept of Chi Running and its techniques. Running with friends is an awesome way to keep your motivation levels high because you don’t want to let them down.
It’s always good to learn new concepts and see things in a different light. We now run every Sunday together, which is fantastic motivation to get out of bed on a Sunday morning and avoid the lazy sleep in.
I wanted to share with you my DIY approach to improving your running. There are a few techniques I have used which I think have been the key to success.
Get a running partner
Run with friends who are faster than you. We naturally pace with whoever we are with. Running next to someone who is slightly faster than you is going to give you the mental drive to keep up. Plus, you don’t want to hold them back!
Learn to keep a steady run pace on a treadmill
Hop on a treadmill to learn to pace your running speed. My biggest problem running long distances was taking off too fast at the onset and conking out early. Half way through the run, I was spent, so I had to really push to keep going. Not a good way to feel!
The key to long distance running is to pace at 75% of your maximum. You need to hold back a bit at the start to last the distances. So once a week I hopped on the treadmill and ran for 5km at a set pace. The pace remains constant from the start to the end. This teaches your body to relax into the speed and follow a rhythm.
There is a little science behind this too. When I did university placement, I observed exercise physiologists carry out walking training with patients with Parkinson’s disease. If you’re not aware, people with Parkinson’s disease have trouble walking smoothly. They have poor muscle control and often tremor or drag their feet. They were placed on the treadmill at a moderate walking pace for 5-10min. Half way through the regime their walking improved. They were walking normally holding on to the hand rails. This was fascinating.
You see, walking is natural and automatic motor function. Everyone knows, neurally, how to walk. Meaning our brain instinctively tell us how to walk. In some cases, such as Parkinson’s disease, things go wrong in the process of nerve-to-muscle signalling. The theory is that muscles can be prompted to fire up these “automatic” neural responses through practice.
Why couldn’t this be the same for running? We can teach our muscles to automatically fire to produce a certain running speed. We just need to train them to do this through repetition at a constant pace. After all we can all naturally run. Just imagine if you were being chased by a lion, I’m sure you would put some pace on!
Sprint training for running
Do treadmill or hill sprints outdoors at least once a week. This is purely to build up fitness and muscular power. Sprinting or doing hill runs will increase your heart rate to close to maximum. This will allow a run at 75% feel easy, because you’re so fit. Short for time and usually because it’s hard work I do a 1:1 ratio on the treadmill 1min hard at 14km/hr and 1min easy at 11km/hr. I do this for 5 rounds and it only takes 10 minutes. If you manage this you will be super fit!
Get a dog to run with
Run with a fast dog. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one from your neighbour! They act as a distraction to the pain and they are good pacers. I recently inherited a new Afghan hound who runs at lightening speed. She loves running and certainly lets you know it’s time to put the pace on! Any dog will do, but make sure they are well leashed.
Cross train to improve your running
I know this is a running post but don’t underestimate the benefits of cross training. Bottom line is you can’t run every day. Well you can, but you’re likelihood of developing a repetitive strain injury is quite high. Running is a high impact sport, knees, hips, ankles and lower back are under a lot of pressure. You don’t want to start running, then have to give it up for a few months because you have done too much too soon.
This is especially true if you work an office job. Sitting down all day causes all sorts of things to go wrong. Tightening of the lower back and hamstrings and also weakening of core abdominal muscles. Wearing high heels shortens calves and hamstrings. You can imagine if you threw yourself into running, your muscular skeletal system may not be equipped to cope with the pounding every day.
Cross training with a variety of activities such as: swimming, dancing, weight lifting, team sports, yoga and Pilates, will allow your whole body to be used, stretched and strengthened. It will allow your training to last the distance injury free- hopefully!