“How long should I run? How far, how fast, and how often?”
Maritime Race Weekend is just around the corner and Choice Health Centre is a proud sponsor of this amazing event. Fittingly, this month’s newsletter is all about running. As a clinician with special training in running injury prevention, I see a lot of training mistakes made by well-intentioned runners. So often the training program that they trusted to prevent injury and produce a fast race is perhaps not the fool-proof plan they were expecting. Unfortunately, many of us compare training plans to mathematical equations: one formula, one result. By that comparison, many believe that if they follow the plan to the letter, success is the only possible outcome. But running is really more like baking a cake. You can have a recipe, and all of the ingredients but the result may still produce an undercooked marathon time, or worse --an injury. And with that, the simplest way to keep fit just got a lot more complicated. Below, I present some of the lesser known but incredibly common training errors I see among runners.
Another common misconception is that running three days per week is enough to improve running fitness and form, while simultaneously reducing injury risk with more recovery time. This statement is the basis for many amateur one-size-fits-all training plans. While it may be tempting to think that training for a 10k, half marathon, or even full marathon in only three days per week is doable, it just isn’t realistic to the prevention of injuries. Studies have shown that runners who train four to six times per week have less injuries than those who train only three. Often, clients are disappointed to hear this. In a world where time is precious and non-renewable, it can be hard to fit four or more runs into the week. But the truth is that your body needs the consistency in order to make the adaptations required to run long on race day. Pounding through the joints, stress on the tendons, and repetitive forces through the muscles need to occur frequently in order to develop the structural tolerance and physiological adaptations required for race day.
I like to recommend that all of my running clients run at least four days per week. If this sounds impossible, I encourage them to get out for even just ten or fifteen minutes the fourth day, for the sole purpose of injury prevention. Your body will thank you later.
As a rule of thumb, 80% of your mileage should be performed at a low intensity. The concept of 80/20 training was first introduced by Dr. Stephen Seiler, an exercise physiologist from the University of Agder in Norway and then popularized by author and running coach Matt Fitzgerald in his 2014 book of the same title.
Running slow has its own set of benefits. It aids in building endurance, and improves cardiovascular performance. Most importantly, running slow reduces physiological and mechanical stress on the body, which allows you to build mileage at a lower injury risk. It also aids in fat adaptation, meaning that at lower intensities, your body is better able to tap into fat stores as a source of fuel, rather than carbohydrates. Not only is this handy for weight loss, (if that is a goal of yours) but more importantly, it teaches your body to be more fuel-efficient in race situations. This decreases the chances of “hitting the wall” --the sudden loss of pace and energy that occurs when the body is depleted of glycogen stores.
When I’m talking about running fast, I mean running FAST. In order to get the most benefit out of your training with regard to muscle, structural, and neural adaptations, your runs should be significantly faster than race pace for races 10 km or longer. It is generally important to keep these workouts short --less than 10 minutes of really hard running, (heavy, uncontrolled breathing but NOT a sprint). Be sure to also include an easy warm up, cool down, and active rest intervals between sets of really hard running. Even with rest intervals, this will be your shortest workout of the week. I often see training plans with multiple speed work intervals, that take 90 minutes or more to complete. Instead, the fitness benefits will be greater, and the injury risk will be much lower if the workout included less intervals at a much faster pace. Remember: quality over quantity for speed work.
To learn more or to book an appointment with Laura Gfeller, PT or another health care professional, call Choice Health Centre at 902-404-3668 ext. 1 or book an assessment online.