The rules of running are beautiful in their simplicity. Running is a sport that is black or white and is clear cut in its nature. The primary goal for any competitive runner on race day is to get from point A (the start line) to point B (the finish line) in the quickest time possible. There is no discrimination between the winner and the loser, it purley comes down to who was prepared most going into the race and ofcourse, who crosses the finish line first. This is exactly what makes this primitive sport one of the hardest and most demanding forms of endurance on the planet, both physically and mentally.
It’s no secret that the elephant in the room for all runners across the board is fatigue. If you want a better time in your next race or if you are looking to become your own form of a champion, you need to be able to run faster for longer. This notion applies to the vast spectrum of runners, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or an advanced runner.
Over the past two years I have expanded my knowledge in running and have applied this research to my own training. This year alone I have recently managed to shave off 30 minutes from my half marathon time and 45 minutes off my full marathon time. I don’t consider myself an expert runner or advanced at running. However, as a coach, I recognise that it is imperative for me to constantly note the underlying faults in my own past experiences in order to make consistent progress toward the future whilst ofcourse, sharing this knowledge with others.
Throughout this blog I am going to share with you my top 5 tips to assist in building your endurance up so you can perform at your best and run faster for longer without succumbing to fatigue and hopefully you can apply these tips towards better preparing yourself for your next race. Lace up your running shoes and put your thinking visors on, it’s going to be a marathon!
TIP 1: ENERGY SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT (ESD)
In order to become more precise with tracking your running progress and building your endurance, you need to know your max heart rate and familiarize yourself with the 5 heart rate zones. Through this, we are able to train our different energy systems appropriately (aerobic & anaerobic) to yield a positive return of our investments. A simple formula you can use to workout your max heart rate is:
subtracting your age from 220 (AGE -220 = ~MHR)
*Bare in mind this isn't 100% accurate, it's an average gauge that applies to the vast spectrum of individuals, if you want to learn your true max heart rate specific to you, you will need to partake in a V02 max test in a laboratory*. From this metric your training can be split into the 5 different heart rate zones.
If you are a beginner or haven’t trained your cardiovascular system for a while then approach your training by using the “80/20 method” This guide is the safest and most effective approach to build your cardiovascular fitness and running efficiency (may also be applied to any endurance sport you train)
80% of your weekly mileage should be within the zone 1-3 range (aerobic); this is 50-75% of your max heart rate. Otherwise referred to as your “easy pace”, (if you don’t own a heart rate monitor and run based on feel) it’s essentially a pace where you could still comfortably hold a conversation at. This can be applied to long slow runs, incline hill hiking, jogging or any other steady state cardio. This will help you build your aerobic base, build endurance, help you recover faster and utilizes/burns fat (the macronutrient) as the main energy source.
20% of your weekly mileage should be near or at max heart rate, your zone 4-5 training Range (Anaerobic). This is 80-100% of your max heart rate. If you are going based on feeling; this is a really, really, really hard effort, you certainly won’t be able to speak words let alone full sentences during these runs. Think interval training, time trials and race pace efforts! This will help you improve your lactic threshold, V02 max, assists in increasing your overall work capacity and should increase your speed overtime, making it easier to run at a faster pace whilst using less energy. Glycogen (Carbohydrates) is the primary energy source required for anaerobic efforts. Ensure you are fueling your body with the appropriate amount of carbs prior and post sessions to optimize your performance and recovery. Remember these runs are extremely taxing and take a long time to recover from, which is why we only do them 20% of the time.
TIP 2: PERIODISE YOUR STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING TRAINING
For any athlete, especially runners due to its nature of being an extremely high impact and demanding sport, strength training is imperative for both increasing performance and decreasing risk of injury. Strength training helps runners improve their overall muscle mass, assists in protecting joints, ligaments and tendons and will improve your running efficiency and endurance. Strength training is just as important as the running itself and should not be avoided!
Make sure you have a road map before you even consider jumping into training for any event. “Periodisation” Is simply a fancy term coaches use to make a blueprint of the athlete's annual training program. Periodisation is broken up into three main cycles (Macrocycles, Mesocycles and Microcycles. For the purpose of this blog we will be purely focusing on the Macrocycle in order to understand the fundamentals of periodisation.
The Macrocycle looks at the big picture by identifying the athlete's goal and creates a skeleton of the training program for the year ahead. From this the athletes program can be divided seasonally into four main blocks focusing on a particular aspect of their training. This approach is far more effective in yielding long term positive results across the board. Rather than trying to cram every aspect of training week-to-week leading up to an event, the intent has now shifted to focus on one aspect of training before moving to the next. This will ensure you have continuously built up volume through each phase so your body is ready to handle the demands of the next phase. Below you will observe an outline of how this may look over a year of training.
Macrocycle Phase 1: Preparatory Phase (Summer)
Volume of training during this phase is typically quite high, however the intensity and specificity of training is quite low. Now what does this mean in english? Volume refers to the amount (total) of training. Referring to strength training and running, during the preparatory phase, typically you would look to gradually increase (build) the amount of hours you do each week/month throughout this cycle. Intensity however refers to the overall demand/stress placed upon the activity we are doing, the higher the intensity means the harder we are working. Thus, during the preparatory phase because the focus is to increase the volume of training we would generally seek to keep intensity relatively low to ensure we are optimizing our recovery. When referring to weights training we would typically use lower loads (weights) and seek to increase sets and reps. In regards to running/ cardio we would focus on building our aerobic base (typically staying within heart rate zones 2-3) for the majority of our runs. Specificity of training is also quite low, during this phase you wouldn’t need to work too much on technique or even running in general. If you really want to optimize your recovery, you may even implement other forms of cardio into your training such as swimming, cycling and elliptical machines because running is quite a high impact sport. This phase would be ideal for building muscle mass and improving your cardiovascular efficiency (also referred to as “building the engine”)
Macrocycle 2: Transition Phase (Autumn)
Throughout this phase you will notice that the overall training volume will decrease, the intensity and specificity will increase until they laps over with each other and eventually swap roles. Therefore this phase would be ideal for building strength (intensity) and decreasing volume (sets and reps) assisting you in becoming a stronger, more resilient and robust athlete. Running Intensity and specificity also gradually increases throughout this phase. Typically, this is an ideal time to incorporate harder running sessions, think intervals, fartlek, anaerobic sessions. During this phase it is common to see the most injuries occur due to the amount of training volume in conjunction with training intensity. Fatigue is particularly higher and recovery is lower so as an athlete it is paramount you are implementing recovery strategies around your training sessions so you can avoid this (we will explore this further in more depth later in the blog)
Macrocycle 3: Competition/Peaking Phase (Winter)
During this Phase the goal is to peak for your selected race or event. Referring to the graph you will observe that intensity and specificity is at its highest out of all four phases of the macrocycle. On the contrary training volume is drastically decreased, This is to ensure we are preventing injury, increasing our performance and recovering optimally from these grueling sessions. Therefore, through this phase the trend suggests there will incrementally be fewer sessions leading up to the race, but the sessions would typically be shorter, more intense and more specific to race day. This is an ideal time to test yourself by undergoing simulated races (match conditions, time, pacing with the event). Ensuring that you are primed or “peaking” for the race.
Macrocycle 4: Active Rest Phase (Spring)
It shouldn't be a surprise that by the end of the race season the body and central nervous system will be very taxed and feeling all kinds of beat-up. This is why an active rest / recovery phase should be paramount and taken just as seriously as all the other phases in the macrocycle. Throughout this phase dedicate some serious time to tapering off and recovering to allow for both mental and physical benefits. Trust me, your body will thank you for it! Don’t get it mistaken though, during this phase you should still keep training up, just to minimum with lower volume and intensity, hence “active recovery”. This phase, if done correctly, will set you up nicely for the next annual training block.
*This method of periodisation can be manipulated and applied to your specific race dates / events*
TIP 3: SKILL DEVELOPMENT AND UNDERSTANDING CADENCE
Avoid heel striking where possible and increase your over cadence. Do you heel strike when you run? If you're new to running you probably don’t even know youre doing it. Heel striking occurs when your stride length is too long, therefore your knee is completely extended as you land, as a result with each stride you are landing on your heel. This can place a tremendous amount of pressure on your lower limb joints, in particular the ankle, achilles and tibia. The most common injury seen in beginners is shin splints (micro fractures in the tibia) this can be extremely unpleasant and may deter new runners from ever running again!
A way we can prevent heel striking and transition to forefoot running (striking on the balls of your feet) is to increase your over cadence and shorten your overall stride. Now, this DOES NOT mean trying to run faster. If anything focus on running at a slower pace with quicker feet (almost imagine you are trying to run light in your feet as if you were on quick sand)
Cadence is also referred to as STEPS PER MINUTE (SPM). If you are heel striking you need to increase your cadence. I get my clients to use a metronome for this activity to sink their cadence with the beats of the device. General rule for taller people would aim for 170 steps per minute and for shorter people 180 steps per minute. There are metronome apps you can download to your smartphone or sync with your smart watch. This simple tip will allow you to prevent
injury, allow you to increase your weekly mileage and make you a much more well-rounded efficient runner.
TIP 4: RECOVERY
Regardless of your running experience and capabilities, you should focus on your recovery as much as your training. Elite athletes and coaches are always preaching to “train hard and recover even harder” If you’re not taking advantage of your recovery you could be missing out on some serious fitness gains and potentially, you may be doing more harm than good!
Running in general is a sport that requires a lot of energy, therefore you should supplement this energy expenditure with an adequate amount of calories to ensure you are not energy and nutrient deficient. My recommendation is to source your fuel from whole foods that are higher in quality proteins, (generally lean meats) Complex carbohydrates such as fruits, starches (potatoes) and grains (rice) and of course, healthy quality fats, (grass fed butter, avocados, forms of oils - *avoid seed oils where possible*) Whole foods like these will keep you sustained for longer periods of time, assist with retaining or increasing your overall muscle mass (depending on your goals and calorie intake) and will assist you in recovering optimally.
It’s an obvious one and I shouldn't need to go into too much depth, however not enough of us tend to get enough sleep. Consciously aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep consistently. To sync your circadian rhythm (sleep/ wake cycle) efficiently, seek to wake and go to sleep at the same time. Furthermore, early in the morning try to get at least 10 minutes of direct sunlight on your face and a few hours before bed switch devices off that could potentially interfere with your circadian rhythm. This will help balance your sympathetic (flight or flight response) and parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) to homeostasis and may assist in regulating hormones.
Prehab and mobility!
As previously discussed, Running in its nature is an extremely high impact sport. Set time aside prior and after sessions dedicated to mobilizing your joints. Prehab, warming up and cooling down between sessions could be the secret ingredient you’re missing out on in your training! Although the lower body should be prioritized in your mobility regime, you should not neglect stretching the upper body. The shoulders, chest, torso and posterior chain can become stiff and may require maintenance to assist in running smoothly and efficiently.
TIP 5: RACE DAY NUTRITION AND HYDRATION
Prior to any race or event you should have tested your nutrition (energy gels, hydration, foods etc) multiple times to avoid any unwanted disturbances and to ultimately see if your nutrition is effective, i.e. feeling good, obtaining energy spikes where required and able to hold a consistent pace throughout the race. It’s important to note that you should approach your race day nutrition like any other training day.
Avoid changing up your pre race meal, typically races are held early in the morning so if you’re used to eating early then eat what you normally would. However if you tend to get an upset stomach early in the morning before intense cardio then consider loading up on carbohydrates a few days out from the event. Your muscles will require a significant amount of glycogen whilst running at an intense effort for a long duration of time. Depending on the distance of your run, pack some energy gels or foods that store high levels of fast release glycogen.
Hydration is critical to how an athlete performs on race day. Obviously drinking an adequate amount of water prior and during the race will yield positive benefits toward your performance. However, supplementing electrolytes into your hydration plan can be a game changer. Simply by adding small quantities of salt (sodium) to your water will allow you to retain consistent levels of hydration and may prevent any unwanted cramps whilst racing.
In summary, It is important to recognise that without investing the time, dedication and consistency that is required in your training plan, you will not obtain the results you are after no matter how good the program looks on paper. Endurance training is a sport that requires discipline and the willingness to learn and invest hours of work. I implore you to approach running with an open mind and to be extremely patient, do this and overtime you will drastically improve. As always, my mission is to educate and empower you through raw transparency by creating clarity within health and fitness.