When it comes to running, there are many different ways to improve your performance. However, by implementing certain changes to your training, there are things you can do to help you improve a whole lot quicker.
It goes without saying that your level of run motivation will rise and fall - you will have tough times and easier times. But regardless of whether a run feels smooth or is a complete grind, there are things you can do within your training to help you increase your rate of improvement and get you to that next level.
Add structure to your training
If you run the same route day in and day out at the same pace with a similar amount of distance you will improve, but at a very slow rate. By changing things up, this will increase the rate of improvement. You need to introduce easy days and hard days. Two harder days in the week should be sufficient and, of course, don’t forget to give yourself a rest day. Always aim to try and get one rest day in a week, to help the body fully recover and allow for that muscle regeneration to take place.
Your harder days could include things like:
Tempo or threshold runs: This is where you’re working harder than usual but not at racing pace - somewhere between your 10k to half marathon efforts. You can say a few words but not hold a conversation.
Hill repeats: You should always aim to get a decent amount of elevation during your weekly training. Even when training for flat races, hills are a crucial part of your run training. They make you stronger, help build muscle and aid in improving form too.
Track / Interval sessions: Shorter sections at higher efforts while getting your legs running faster than you usually would, but also allowing for sufficient recovery between reps in order to hit the desired speeds. This session in the week certainly makes you a faster runner.
Motivation often comes a lot more naturally when you know you have something to work towards. When it comes to goal setting, I encourage you to be bold. Set goals that scare you, but they must be realistic too. It’s always good to set your main goal, and then plot smaller goals en route to try and achieve, which helps keep you on track.
Race often. It’s by far the most accurate way to track exactly where your running is at and how your progress is coming along.
Remember that if you set yourself a bold goal and end up falling slightly short, most of the time this is still considered a win. These bold goals are a sure way to bring out the best in you, and ensure you give that extra effort within training.
Not only is a race a great way to stay motivated and have something to work towards, but it is great for when it comes to gauging where your fitness levels are currently at, showing you just how you’re progressing. Often in a run or a training session, you give yourself breaks and stop for drinks, which is completely fine, but this certainly makes it tricky to know exactly what you’re capable of.
This is why it’s important to race often. It’s by far the most accurate way to track exactly where your running is at and how your progress is coming along.
Remember that, when it comes to races, it does take time to recover from these hard, all-out efforts. You need to respect the process and not race week in and week out - it usually takes the body around a day to recover for every mile that it has raced.
Races force us to snap out of our comfort zone. Never underestimate just how much you learn from them.
Record your training and compare
Tracking all your training gives you a great overall picture of the work you’ve put in. This becomes a useful tool if you ever want to go back to look at your training, see when you performed best and have a look at what you did during that phase.
As mentioned earlier, you go through so many phases within training, but after continuous consistency you’re almost guaranteed to see results. Doing an assessment of your training going into a race will give you an accurate and realistic measure of the time you should be targeting.
The great news is that smart watches make tracking runs all that easier these days. Back in the day we had to use logbooks and often estimated distances. These days, you just stop and start your smart watch or tracking device and all the data is there. Pretty much all smart watches sync to Strava, and you know how the saying goes: if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count 😉
Focus on all the other things in addition to just running
This includes things like;
Recovery. You should take recovery as seriously as you take training. There are lots of things you can do to recover such as foam rolling, using a massage gun, sports massages, ice baths, good nutrition, and the most important form of recovery - sleep. You should aim to get at least 7- to 8-hours of sleep a night, especially if you’re getting your training runs in and your fatigued body needs rest. Sleep so that your body truly recovers. Try and fit in some of the other forms of recovery daily, with extra focus on recovery after harder days.
Strength and conditioning. This is very important for when it comes to ensuring you’re giving yourself the best chance at remaining injury free. Strengthening the body allows yourself to handle the load that comes with run training. I encourage you to do your strength training on harder days, to allow the body to recover as best as possible on easier days.
Nutrition: I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before: ‘You are what you eat’. Nutrition and running almost go hand-in-hand. You need to be fuelling your bodies sufficiently and giving yourselves the best chance of maximising the training effect. Good, clean, healthy, natural food is what we’re after.
I hope there’s some good takeaways for you to implement into your daily training. By doing these things, they will certainly help speed up the rate of improvement and get you to the next level.
Train smarter; not necessarily harder!
Onwards and upwards,