It’s a common mistake to think that all you need to do to run faster for longer, is to train faster for longer. This is a sure fire way to pick up an injury, which may set you back several weeks. Running coach Nick Anderson (@nickandersonrun) knows a thing or two about training and he shares some of his best tips below the short video.
It can take several weeks to make changes to your running style but it’s worth it – they can make a world of difference to your speed, efficiency and injury risk. “First, focus on running tall – imagine a thread pulling the top of your head upwards – and don’t sink into your hips,” says running coach Nick Anderson. “Run with a slight forward lean, but your whole body, not just from the hips – think ski jumper.”
Next, concentrate on getting your feet to land underneath your body, not ahead of it. This encourages a mid-foot strike, rather than a heel strike. “Landing on your heels slows you down because the foot spends longer in contact with the ground and it increases injury risk as you’re placing a greater load through your joints,” says Nick. “Mid-foot striking feels light and fast.” Get someone to video you from the side to see where your foot currently lands.
Whether you want to get that 5k done a little quicker or shave minutes off a marathon, the fastest way to improve your speed is by acclimatising your body to the feeling and demands of a faster pace.
“Putting in short bursts of speed activates the fast-twitch muscle fibres that are needed for quicker running,” says Nick. “But speed work doesn’t need to be painful or run you into the ground. Instead, go for your usual run at a nice, easy pace. Stop, get your breath back, then run fast (about 90% effort) for a stretch of 80-100m, then walk/jog back to recover. Focus on good technique (see above) and stay in control. Repeat 3-5 times.”
Do this once or twice a week and you’ll notice that subsequent runs at a faster pace feel a little easier.
Blindingly obvious, maybe, but nevertheless true – the way to build endurance for a greater distance is to run further. “The classic mistake, though, is to attempt this at full pace,” says Nick.
“When you’re trying to build endurance, one of your runs each week should be a longer run, but it should be run at a pace where you could hold a full conversation. This will enable you to increase your distance by about 10% each week without fatigue.”
The second important strategy is tempo (or threshold) running. Tempo pace is running slightly out of your comfort zone for sections of your run. So in a 30-minute run, you could incorporate three sections of five minutes at tempo pace – at about 80-85% effort – then recover at normal pace.
“Tempo running has the greatest impact on strengthening your heart for distance running, allowing it to beat harder for longer,” says Nick.
Don’t try to get too many miles out of your shoes. “Always invest in a new pair after 300-500 miles and no more,” says Nick. Any more than this and the shoes start to lose their cushioning and stability, affecting both your gait and injury risk. “Feet, Achilles tendons and shins are usually the first to suffer but it will often radiate upwards the longer you run with shoes that are unable to support you,” he says.
And don’t just buy any old trainers. Go to a dedicated running shop and get a trained assistant to fit you with a pair that suits the way you run.
These two exercises are practiced by some of the best runners in the world. “They strengthen the key muscle groups needed for strong, fast, injury-free running,” says Nick.
The one-leg squat:
Stand on one leg and squat as far as you can without your hips tilting or your knee turning in. This may be very shallow or further down, depending on your leg strength. Do two or three sets of 3-6 squats on each leg.
Lie down with your feet flat on the floor and place your hands underneath the small of your back, palms on the floor. Engage your abdominals and then press your lower back into the floor, crushing your fingers. Hold until you feel the burn! Repeat 3-4 times. To make it harder, lift one foot at a time a few inches off the floor.