Whether you’re a seasoned runner with your eyes on a new personal best, or a brand new jogger hoping to take on your first race this year, you might already be thinking ahead to this year’s summer race season.
No matter whether you’re attempting your first 5k or one of the world’s craziest ultramarathons, the sooner you get started on your training, the better. In today’s post, we will share some of our top tips to help you get in shape, boost your speed, and perform at your best on race day.
Gradually Increase Your Weekly Mileage
No matter what fitness baseline you are starting from, no-one should be going out and running their full race distance without building up to it. This is a recipe for injury and burnout. Instead, work out how many miles you’re typically running each week and build it up gradually.
Increasing your mileage by around 10% of your eventual goal each week is ideal. So if you’re aiming to run a standard 26.2 mile marathon, aim to increase your distance by 2-3 miles per week.
According to Runners’ World, increasing mileage too quickly is the cause of most overuse injuries suffered by runners. Slow and steady really does win the race here, as the saying goes.
Build in Speed Training
When you have built up some endurance in your running, it’s time to start speed training. This will help you to get faster, build cardiovascular fitness, and smash your personal best goals.
There are several ways to train for speed, including strides, fartleks (that’s Swedish for “speed play”), hill sprints, or fast finishes. Runners’ website All About Marathon Training offers some detailed breakdowns of beginner and intermediate speed workouts to get you started. As you gain experience, you’ll be able to devise your own according to your needs and goals.
Remember that running faster means pushing your body out of its comfort zone, so take care that you are doing so safely.
Listen to Your Body
There will be times during your training when running will feel easy, and times when it will feel very hard. This is normal, and pushing through a certain level of discomfort is part of increasing your fitness. Pain, however, is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and you should never ignore it.
Instead, listen to what your body is saying. If you are exhausted, take some time to rest. If you are in pain, don’t try to run it off. Instead, take a break and if the pain does not ease, seek medical attention. Trying to keep running through an injury will only hurt you and hamper your progress more in the long run.
Cross-Train for Maximum Fitness
Do you do any other form of exercise besides running, such as swimming, strength training, or attending a dance class at the gym? If so, congratulations, you’re already doing some cross-training! Cross-training simply refers to performing different types of workouts or fitness modalities to challenge your body, increase your overall fitness, and help to prevent injury.
To get the most out of cross-training, though, it is best to be more structured about it. In other words, create a weekly workout plan designed to complement your running, and stick to it.
When you decide how to cross-train, think about your goals. If you want to increase your cardiovascular fitness, an activity such as cycling, rowing, or using the elliptical could be ideal. If muscle strength is your main concern, focus on weightlifting or other strength-based workouts. The ideal cross-training program should include both cardio workouts and strength training each week.
Don’t Forget Nutrition
Have you ever tried to run on an empty stomach, after a heavy meal, or after a few days spent indulging in too many unhealthy snacks? If so, you already understand the importance of nutrition for runners. Your training will take you a long way, but without good nutrition you will never be able to reach the peak of your performance capabilities.
Every individual has slightly different ideal balances of the three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat), and seeing a qualified sports nutritionist can help you to find yours. As a general rule, though, make sure you are eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein.
Before a run, eat a carbohydrate-rich snack such as a piece of fruit, an energy bar, some cereal, or a slice of toast. If you are running for longer than 60-90 minutes, have a pre-run meal consisting of carbs mixed with some protein. Avoid high fat and high fiber foods before a run.
After your run, aim to eat something with both carbohydrates and protein within an hour of finishing. Trail mix, a sandwich or wrap, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, and bananas are all great choices.