How to improve your running pace

It’s now over a month since the Bath Half. I have no doubt that many who took part have now signed up to the 2020 Bath Half or another event. So many times I’ve heard runners vow “never again” as they cross the finish line, only to sign up to another event within a week of making that promise to themselves. Many runners who choose to sign up to another event often set themselves the goal of improving their time in the next event. If this a goal you’ve set yourself, read on to find out exactly how you do this…

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Add in some intervals

Introduce some form of interval training into your running schedule. Look to include short periods of work at 90 – 100% of your max effort into runs. For example if you go for a 30 – 45 minute run you could either do 30 second bursts of 90 – 100% max effort every 90 secs – 2 mins, or you could use lamp posts if they line your route. For example you could run at a steady state for 10 lamp posts then at max effort for 10. During the high intensity period it’s vital that your pace is one that you could NOT sustain for a long period of time. This will mean you are working anaerobically, and doing this repeatedly will mean that over time your aerobic pace (i.e. one that you can sustain for a long time, as you would during a long-distance race) increases.

Stronger legs can exert more force and therefore can help improve your running pace

Strengthen up

Stronger legs can exert more force and therefore can help improve your running pace. Incorporating some squats, deadlifts and weighted lunges into your training regime can help build strength. Look to do 10 – 12 sets of 3 – 5 reps once or twice a week to improve strength. The weight should be heavy enough that it’s a challenge to complete the set, but not impossible. It’s also vital that form is tip-top throughout the movement. In other words don’t compromise quality in favour of quantity. Be mindful that this level of intensity is likely to result in some pretty severe DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness i.e. achy muscles after a workout), so try to schedule these weight sessions a good few days before important running training sessions. DOMs tends to be at it’s worst 24 – 48 hours after a session, so keep this in mind when planning your training programme.  

Power up

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Introduce some power work into your training schedule. Power exercises are those which see you moving weight quickly. Think squat jumps, kettlebell swings, jumping lunges, box jumps, skipping etc. It can be beneficial to perform these exercises in a HIIT format, as this not helps you increase your power, but also doubles up as an interval session that helps improve your aerobic performance at the same time. Ensure the weight is high enough that each set of exercises is a challenge but not impossible to complete, and that form is good throughout each rep. As with the strength work mentioned above, these exercises are likely to result in some DOMS, so think about scheduling these exercises a few days before important training runs. Avoid doing any of this work at all in the one or two weeks before an event to ensure DOMS doesn’t effect your performance on the day.  

Improve core stability

Your core muscles and very important for running. They help keep your body stable throughout your running stride and therefore enable you to run more efficiently. Incorporating some core work into your fitness routine can therefore be of a great advantage to your running performance. Think planks, sit-ups, leg lowers, back extensions, russian twists etc, bicycle twists etc. You could either schedule some bouts of core work throughout the week, follow each run with a few core exercises, or start doing pilates either at home or at a class.  

Hill training

Hill training is another form of interval training, as it enables you to switch between high and lower intensity intervals quickly. Hill running also makes a different demand on your muscles than running on the flat and therefore helps you ensure more of your muscle fibres are being “recruited”. This pays off because the more muscle fibres that you’re recruiting, the more power you are able to exert during your running stride. This makes your stride more efficient, which means you can cover more ground per stride, therefore helping you shorten the time it takes to complete a given distance.

Lose body fat 

I will caveat this tip by saying that this is only advantageous to anyone who is carrying EXCESS body fat. Those who are of a healthy or low body weight have nothing to gain by losing body fat, and actually doing so could reduce athletic performance because your health is likely to be compromised by doing so and you may reduce important energy stores. If you do have some excess body weight however, that is extra weight you’re having to carry with you around a course. Losing that weight in a healthy way, learning about how to use food to support your rather than hinder your run can be very beneficial to your running performance.

Think about caffeine

There are a few supplements that have been found to improve aerobic performance. The one I’ve had the most success with both personally and professionally has been caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and increases muscle excitability, meaning, essentially, that it helps improve the muscles’ output. If you choose to use caffeine to support your runs you need to practice using it in training sessions. Taking an ergogenic dose (i.e. tablets or powders vs cups of tea or coffee) is advised as they enable you to have better control your dosage more effectively. You should look to take between 2 – 6mg per kilo of body weight around an hour before your training session (endurance or resistance – caffeine aids both). Just be aware that caffeine has a half-life of between four and six hours, and therefore you should not use it before any late afternoon or evening training sessions or there is a risk that it will effect your sleep. Which leads me nicely to my next suggestion…

Caffeine is a stimulant and increases muscle excitability, meaning, essentially, that it helps improve the muscles’ output

Sleep

I hope that I’m not telling you anything new here, but sleep is vital to your body’s recovery. Ensuring you get enough will help your body achieve maximal training adaptations from your training sessions. In other works, it means you achieve the best possible outcomes from your training sessions. Evidence is a little fuzzy about the “right” amount of sleep, but current research suggests somewhere between seven and eight hours per night is a good amount to aim for for most adults. Most adults know the optimum amount for them. Some need far more than that, others far less. Try to achieve your optimum amount as often as possible to ensure sleep supports your training.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you have any questions about them or use them and find that they help, please let me know.

 I hope that I’m not telling you anything new here, but sleep is vital to your body’s recovery. Ensuring you get enough will help your body achieve maximal training adaptations from your training sessions. In other works, it means you achieve the best possible outcomes from your training sessions. Evidence is a little fuzzy about the “right” amount of sleep, but current research suggests somewhere between seven and eight hours per night is a good amount to aim for for most adults. Most adults know the optimum amount for them. Some need far more than that, others far less. Try to achieve your optimum amount as often as possible to ensure sleep supports your training.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you have any questions about them or use them and find that they help, please let me know.

Laura Hilton