This time of year the nights draw in and the weather worsens in the UK. It also coincides with the off-season for most triathletes. If this is the situation for you then it may be worth considering cutting down on your bike mileage and working on running through the Autumn.
Success in running boils down to four main factors.
- Your weight. Roughly speaking for every kilo you lose you can run about 5 seconds faster per mile. A number of my friends have had seen remarkable improvements after shedding upwards of 10 kilos. They lost the weight by lowering carbohydrate intake and increasing protein. A loss of 10 kilos for someone who is above elite athlete weight for their height will normally see an improvement in running speed around 1 minute per mile. So for instance a 8 minute miler of 78kg who is 5ft10" could expect to produce 7 minute miles after reaching 68kg.
- Remaining injury free. If you are carrying an injury you will never be able to put in the quantity and quality of training in order to improve your running. You will also be at a distinct disadvantage when racing, that is assuming you are still able to race.
- Getting consistent hard training. As the saying goes: "There is no such thing as a free lunch". In running this is certainly true. If you don't work on your aerobic fitness by cycling or running for many hours, and on your anaerobic fitness by running at or near your anaerobic threshold (roughly the effort that you could maintain in a 10k race), you will not get close to your potential. You also need to keep this type of intensive training up for between 8-12 weeks to reap all the benefits.
- Retaining elasticity in your legs. This is one aspect of fitness that often goes missing as we get older. However you can do a lot to spring around like a 6 year old, if you do the right sort of core conditioning and running drills. The drills that make a difference are to be taken on with care, as until you get your body used to them, there is a high risk of injury. However mastering the drills and performing them on a regular basis is one of the 4 keys to successful running.
This Autum I'm coaching a weekly one hour run session at a local gym. The sessions are progressive and incorporate a variety of training techniques and drills to give participants a broader understanding of what they can do to improve their running. It should also condition them at the same time. The 12 weeks are split into 3 mini cycles: 1) 4 weeks introducing different types of workout; 2) 4 weeks working the anaerobic threshold; 3) 4 weeks working above anaerobic threshold. This allows for a progressive speed increase over time, although what participants do on other days has a bearing on how well thay can hope to adapt.
- Fartlek - although not a true fartlek where bursts of speed are introduced into a steady run at the whim of the individual, with group fartleks we do a set number of timed intervals
- Hills are ideal for winter and help build strength and stride length on the uphills. The normally neglected downhills help us increase our cadence. By practicing on the hills we naturally improve our performance on them when they appear in races. Up hill running builds lung capacity and allows us to cope better at race speed and faster.
- Pacing sessions are aimed at instilling a sense of pace in runners so that they can train and race more effectively. Starting a race or training run too fast increases the risk of early burnout or injury respectively. The vast majority of triathletes will benefit by building their effort through their training runs, with a strong finish at the end of their hard work. This should always be followed by a good 10 minutes or more of warm down. Anyone who has watched Mo Farah this year will know that relatively slow starts are no impediment when it comes to winning races.
- Technique sessions looking at stride length and cadence are worth while to give runners a sense of the possibilities open to them. At the end of the day, running speed is a simple function of stride length and cadence (how many steps you take per minute). Most top athletes run with a cadence of around 180 strides a minute. If you are faster than this it may be worth considering getting a bit more bounce in your stride by carefully engaging on a progressive regime involving ballistic exercises using one leg (see session 7 below). If you are only managing say 140 strides per minute then you should work on speeding up your cadence as you are likely to be overstriding, with a significant heel strike which will brake your forward progress. The best running technique involves landing more on your forefoot with a slight whole body forward lean. Look at youtube clips of Bekele or Gebrselassie to get a clear idea.
There are a number of drills which can be used to warm up your joints and lligaments after a short warm up run. They increase your range of motion and ready you for any harder running to come. Standard drills that we use are side skips, heel flicks, high knees, forward lunges, A-skips, straight leg shuffle and fast feet. Type any of these terms into Google videos and you should get some clips that give you the picture.
The sessions planned for my triathletes this Autumn are: