Fancy making 2020 your best running year yet? No matter where you are on your running journey, there are ways that you can improve your speed, endurance, distance and stamina. Here are our top tips
Vary your pace
The best way to improve your running, at any level, is to mix up your pace a bit. While most of your running is done at a steady, comfortable effort, adding in some faster-paced work will build your endurance and stamina over any distance. This can be anything from structured intervals (based on a set distance or time), or a more casual approach like fartlek, where you add in random bursts of speed to your run. Run hard, so that you couldn’t possibly hold a conversation and give yourself time to recover fully between reps.
Hills are your friend, honestly! They are really hard work and not the most pleasant, but you will reap the rewards. You can do hills in conjunction with intervals, powering up them and recovering down (make sure you are properly warmed up first!). Or you can simply add hills into your usual, day-to-day route and aim to keep a steady pace as you go up them, which will naturally increase your effort level. Hills will build fitness, stamina and leg strength, so it’s worth learning to tolerate them, if not love them.
Try a new terrain
If you always run on the road, then it’s time to hit the trails! No matter where you are in the UK or the world, there will be somewhere you can run off-road: think river paths, footpaths, country parks, green spaces, bridleways… Trails can give you a softer surface to run on, but it also introduces instability, which will build your core strength as you navigate tree roots, mud, hills and rocks. You’ll also get so wrapped up in your surroundings, you won’t even notice the miles go by (maybe)!
Change your cadence
You won’t run faster by lengthening your stride; you’re more likely to end up with an injury due to overstriding. Your stride turnover, or cadence, can improve your efficiency as a runner. Cadence is simply the number of steps that you take over one minute of running. You can work out your cadence by running for a minute and count how many times your right foot hits the floor, then multiply by two. Some GPS watches will also work out your cadence for you.
There is often much talk of the ‘perfect’ cadence being 180 strides per minute, but this is based on research of elite athletes… which most of us are not! Rather, you can look at increasing your own personal cadence by a small amount to increase your speed – by no more than 5-50%. Your cadence is also likely to change depending on the distance and the intensity that you are running at. There are advances to increasing your step rate by a small margin; short, fast steps can reduce the impact on your hips and knees, reducing your injury risk.
You don’t have to change it all in one go or count your steps constantly. Try using some of your interval sessions to hit target cadence and you will soon start to feel the difference, and be able to apply it in races and events.
Try the treadmill
The ‘dreadmill’ is not many people’s idea of fun, but if you are looking for a way to increase your speed, then it can actually help a bit. It assists you with your leg turnover and therefore it feels easier to run faster, but you are still getting the benefit from the session. It’s good for intervals as you can just dial in your chosen speed setting and run fast, then turn it down again. You could try a pyramid session: run fast for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 minutes, with a 2-minute recovery walk/jog in between. Make sure you use a slight incline on the treadmill setting as well.
You can improve your running by mixing up the exercise that you do. Doing some core work, resistance exercise, plyometric or strength work can help to build a strong, healthy body that is capable of running faster and further. Also, by switching up what you do, you are reducing the constant impact of pounding on the pavements, which can help to prevent injury in the long run. Check out your local gym for classes, speak to a personal trainer about good exercises you can do in the gym or just hop on your bike for a commute to work – whatever works for you!
Stretch it out
Don’t stretch at your own peril! After a run, spend some time stretching through your major muscle groups. But also, think about improving your overall flexibility outside of just running. Going to a regular yoga, Pilates or other stretch class (some gyms run athletic stretch or similar) will increase your core strength, flexibility and, again, help to reduce your injury risk. You can even just incorporate a simple stretching routine at home; there are plenty of YouTube videos or DVDs to give you some tips.
The very best thing you can do to improve your running is to be consistent. Mark your runs in your diary – whether it’s twice a week or almost every day – you need to give them the same priority as other things in your life. It’s good for your mental wellbeing, as much as your physical fitness, so it’s worth putting the time aside. Keep running regularly and you will improve over time, or at least maintain a good level of fitness and that’s important for your current and future health.