1. It's best to train long or hard but not both (at the same time).
Certainly within a training week or program you can do both hard and long sessions, I use that method in programs I write but don’t do both in the 1 session. For most people your 50 min + runs will need to be at a low-moderate intensity (I encourage new runners to have a ‘stop and smell the roses’ mentality with these long runs by relaxing and enjoying them as much as possible), while 15-20 min sessions will be closer to maximum effort.
It’s all about training to a level or amount which you can recover from and thus get multiple sessions in per week. Effective training comes from the cumulative effect of stringing together many sessions over months. Superhuman, gut busting efforts which take days to recover from and require immense motivation aren’t that useful in practice. Save the special performances for race day, once you’ve got quality training behind you and where you may well find you can summon some extra effort and get pulled along by the crowd and atmosphere.
2. A structured and progressive program is wise
At age 21 I diligently followed a basic 10 week running program which proved transformative. My running went ahead in leaps and bounds, I got leaner, felt more energised and most importantly it taught me the power of committing to a structured plan. In fact on reflection, it was probably the catalyst for deciding to pursue a career as a personal trainer. You need to stick to it, trust it, and it’s usually wisest to resist the temptation to up the ante because you think you need to do more, especially if you find others around you seem to be running further or faster. An appropriate and well-structured program not only maps out gradual, steady progress (an encouraging motivator) but also minimises risk of injury. It also provides enough variety to help maintain interest as the structure often actually makes it more enjoyable as otherwise there’s the tendency to fall into the habit of sticking to 2 to 3 different run’s, which lack variety in intensity and speed. A detailed program makes each session purposeful and makes it easy to accurately assess factors such as volume and intensity and then tweak things if need be. Achieving a Personal Best doesn’t happen by mistake- you need a plan!
3. You need to measure each and every session in at least 2 ways
This can include: distance, time, speed, pace (km or miles per min), heart rate or rate of perceived exertion (least objective & accurate but lowest tech). If you are just going out for a 30 minute run as part of a general fitness routine that’s fine but if you’re not timing it or measuring it in some other additional way then you’re not all that serious about achieving a goal time. Put simply 1 measure is simply not enough and just means training isn’t specific or precise enough. The intensity and purpose level of your training will increase substantially if you chose 2 parameters.
Consider the difference between just going for that 30 minute run as opposed to covering 6k in 30 min. It's a simple and small change yet it brings considerably more specificity and purpose to a basic run. There are so many heart rate and GPS watches and monitors available now, which allow you to measure so many things quickly and accurately, there’s no excuse really. Even if you are a bit old school and like to stick to a simple stop watch, you can do all sorts of different time trials around your local football field or own personal favourite running route and calculate the distance before the session.
For longer endurance building runs I like to use time and heart rate e.g. 70 minutes and keep heart rate between 125-140bpm. Whereas for an interval session with a friend yesterday we measured distance (1km efforts), time (90 seconds rest) and pace (3:45min /per km).
Generally you’ll find heart rate monitoring most effective for maintaining a sustainable intensity for the longer runs, while it isn’t as useful for the shorter efforts when the heart rate will likely fluctuate a lot and exertion won’t always be directly reflected by heart rate.
Properly measuring running sessions allows you to sustain appropriate intensity to build endurance, get definitive evidence you are indeed improving, train really specifically for your event and be able to tweak your training program if you sense you are under or overdoing it or getting run down.
4. Understand that you don’t get fitter when you run.
This can be a tricky one to acknowledge and accept, especially when you’ve got that real desire to run a P.B. Of course running does make you fitter BUT the process of actually getting fitter happens between training runs i.e. while you are resting, and primarily when sleeping.
The training places a stress on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems (& for that matter the immune system, particularly the more you do). The growth, repair and adaptation can’t occur to the fullest degree if you don’t take the time to rest and recover between sessions.
Look upon the running as just the stimulus for change but understand it is not when the change takes place. This perspective may temper your enthusiasm a little and help you be ok with resting and resisting the urge to run more than is actually good for your performance….and health.
5. Realise it’s not just about the running
Call it a holistic approach or simply being smart and organised but you need to be addressing some things, other than just the running. As just explained you need to ensure you recover well. That of course includes nutrition and hydration. Protein is imperative for growth and repair- to optimise recovery you need to consider how much and how often you eat protein. Similarly a decent intake of fruit and vege will go a long way to ensuring you vitamin and mineral needs are met. It’s probably also worthwhile considering a daily multivitamin to boost immunity and aid recovery. If you’re going to push your body to new levels of performance it’s a must to support it with adequate nutrition. Of course you’ve got to keep your fluids up too. Constantly taking the opportunity to have a quick swig of water is a great habit to get into, especially in the hotter months. Dehydration doesn’t just decrease performance but increases the likelihood of getting sore and injured. Avoiding and preventing injury is vital in order to keep your training program going. Besides which no one wants the cost and inconvenience of getting treatment. Take advantage of the period after a training run to stretch while your muscles are warm and hence most pliable. This is when you can stretch further and really improve your default flexibility levels, which for most means improved bio-mechanics and lower injury risk. Consider if you’ve got suitable shoes which minimise the effects of impact, fit properly and aren’t worn out. This too will only enhance your chances of staying injury-free. Admittedly injury prevention can get complex if you start to analysis technique, gait, biomechanics and then implement drills, rehab and stability exercises. However the benefits of just having an appropriate pair of shoes and habitually doing some basic leg stretches after each run can’t be overstated. In what ways could you be training smarter or more effectively to slash some time off a Personal Best? If you want the immense satisfaction and sense of achievement that comes from setting a new Personal Best why not get in touch or have a look at some training packages and sample programs to see how a professionally designed personalised program can help?