Running copious amounts of miles on end in that “gray zone”, not too hard or easy, is a recipe for not reaching our true potential. It’s time to mix things up on the run so we can run faster, stronger, and healthier.
Anyone who has dipped their toes in the running world has probably heard of the tempo run but might be unsure about what it truly is. Tempo runs are a key workout for runners and triathletes of any skill level and allow us to push the pace for faster and longer. These runs are meant to be hard, only being able to speak a couple words at a time. Typically, they are run at around your current 10k pace, or about 20-30 seconds slower than 5k pace and the amount of time at that effort can vary (If you've never run a 5k or 10k, this pace should feel uncomfortable but not unsustainable). For the more advanced athlete, tempo runs can be as long as 45 minutes however, they can also be broken up into shorter segments.
Try it : After a 10-15 minute warmup, run 20 minutes at tempo pace, cool down. You can also substitute mileage for minutes, anywhere from 2-5 miles. If that long effort feels too hard, break it up! Run 2 x 10 minutes or 4 x 5 minutes at tempo pace with 2 min recovery between each. This run is highly adaptable to fit whatever race distance you are training for.
As runners, you have likely encountered a hill at one time or another. And when you approached that hill, you most likely had an internal discussion with yourself that probably included the words “just keep moving”, “get to the top”, or “this sucks”. If there is anything hills can teach us as athletes, it’s adversity. Powering up a hill in a race or on a training run can be demoralizing but that feeling you get at the top makes it all worth it. Hill running can also be an extremely beneficial training tool. Not only do hills build strength in your calves, glutes, and quads, they also improve our running economy (how efficiently we utilize oxygen), increase our speed, and prevent injury. To get the most benefit out of hill running, keep your upper body slightly leaning forward with your head looking up the hill and pump your arms a little more enthusiastically to power your legs up the climb. And don’t get discouraged about your pace because naturally you’re going to be slower running uphill! Just stay focused on your breathing and your form.
Try it: Find a hill in your neighborhood about 100 to 400 meters in length. After a warmup, perform anywhere from 4-8 reps at roughly 80% of your 5k effort. Rest on the downhill.
Once you’ve established a good running base and your season kicks into gear, it’s time to start adding fartlek runs into your weekly training. Fartlek is a Swedish term meaning “speed play” and these runs are a form of high intensity interval training that’ll spike your heart rate, increasing your Vo2 max allowing you to run faster come race day. There’s typically no structure to fartlek runs as you vary your speed throughout, picking targets along the way to ramp up the intensity to.
Try it: On one of your usual 3-6 mile training runs, find a tree or a mailbox in the distance and run hard, faster than 5k pace, till you reach it. Allow yourself a brief recovery and continue this trend throughout the run.
Incorporate these runs into your weekly run training and after a few weeks, you’ll feel stronger and be on your way to faster running. Your competitors might smirk at the reduction in mileage you’re doing but come race day, you’ll be the one with the smile on your face.