Former running champion: Adjust approach for best results

So you’ve been training all season and no matter how hard you try, you’re just not getting faster. Your 5K times won’t break 20 minutes or your marathon is never under three hours.

There’s a solution to this problem and it has to do with the way you approach your training. In most of the accounts that Olympian Lynn Jennings hears, runners are either over-training or under-training. If you’re having trouble with a plateau, Jennings says there’s a good chance you’re falling into one of these two categories.

“There are people that under-train obsessively and people that over-train obsessively,” she says. “You have the people who hammer every run and then wonder why they don’t have anywhere to go, physically or emotionally, when it’s time for a race. Then you have the person who goes out and runs the same three miles easily and then wonders why they’re not getting faster.”

Runners going the same distance at the same intensity find their body is conditioned to perform for a certain distance at a never-varying rate. To break through that barrier, Jennings advises adding some spice to your workout routines. This can be done through fartlek, a Swedish word for “speed-play” that adds a variety of speeds to your existing workouts.

Doing this is as easy as injecting intervals of faster turnover on your normal route. This can be done by running one minute fast and one minute at a comfortable pace for five or 10 intervals, or you can run fast between two telephone poles then slow between two poles then fast for five or 10 repetitions. There are endless ways to vary it, but by adding these shorter bursts, Jennings says you experience harder running and recovery.

“It isn’t a speed workout but you’re injecting some intensity to what otherwise would have been an easy-flowing five-mile run,” she says. “By doing that, you’re asking your heart and lungs to work a little harder and getting used to the idea of pushing the gas pedal down to sustain a pace.”

The more of this you do, the quicker you’ll become and more able to keep pushing on the “gas pedal” without wanting to relent.

Jennings also suggests finishing your runs with strides, or faster runs of 50 to 100 meters long. Again, Jennings says these aren’t to be treated as sprints.

“You’re just picking up the pace,” she says. “By doing them, you’re experiencing the biomechanics of faster running — running on the balls of your feet, picking up your knees and driving your arms with more intention.”

Jennings advises against doing strides if you’ve just completed a longer-distance run.

On race day, you’ll want to perform at your best, a place that running coach Jack Daniels referred to as “going into the beyond.”

When a runner trains excessively, they won’t have that extra effort to give since their body hasn’t recovered fully or strengthened.

The problem with these runners, Jennings says, isn’t about intensity; it’s about smarter training.

Over-training runners have to learn to train judiciously and trust the value of the rest day. If you feel like you’re hitting every run like it’s a race, you’ll need to take a step back and analyze the structure and purpose of your workouts.

It will take some re-education, Jennings says, but in the end the effort will be worth it.

“I love ambitious, dedicated runners — who doesn’t?” she says. “But you’ve got to have the million-dollar head to go with the million-dollar body. I want runners that are savvy trainers and understand the intention behind a particular workout.”

Just getting back into running after a break? See some coaching tips from Lynn Jennings HERE. 

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