Suzanne is a runner (though she says not a “real runner”). She started running three years ago to get back in shape after the birth of her second child. Over a few months, she progressed from a walk/run around the block to running 2-4 days per week, covering 3-5 miles each run and up to 10 miles in her long runs.
Like most of us, Suzanne soon realized that running was so much more than just a way to get in shape. She treasures her morning runs with her training partners, talking through life’s ups and downs as the miles roll by.
She has run a few 5K and 10Ks and even two half-marathons but was intimidated by the local running group and their workouts. However, she wanted to get fitter and would like to actually push herself to a faster time in her races. In her words, she’s not “training for the Olympics” but knows she needs to do some “real runner” workouts to boost her fitness.
Here’s what I had her do and if she sounds a lot like you, this will help you also become a fitter, faster and more confident runner.
WORKOUT #1: SURGES
Once per week for eight weeks, she inserted a few “surges” within one of her mid-week runs. She’d run easy for 10-15 minutes then pick up the pace for 15 seconds. Then, she’d return to her easy pace for one minute before surging again. She started with 5 surges in Week #1 and added 2-3 each week. By Week #4, she was doing 10-15 surges and could even carry these surges to 45-60 seconds.
I instructed that these were not sprints and she should not get out of breath while doing them. The surges were simply a slight rise in effort and increase in pace so we could prepare the neuromuscular system for faster running.
As I’ve witnessed with dozens of other athletes who used surges as their first workout, she loved it. “It was exhilarating to get out of my normal stride and pick up the pace! It also made the run go by quicker. Since the surges started at just 15 seconds, I wasn’t scared of them and after a few weeks, I could definitely tell my surges were getting faster,” she says.
Like Suzanne, many newer runners run the same pace for all their runs. But to boost fitness, there must be variety in training and thus new challenges to the body and mind to keep it adapting. Surges provide a safe way to do this while keeping the injury risk very low.
And, so many other great things happened to Suzanne. First, her running form improved. When you run fast, form flaws are accentuated. So, she was aware of form issues and cleaned them up. Second, she learn her “redline.” She knew if she went too fast, she’d get out of breath quickly and her surge would slow, a big no-no for this workout. This began her education on different effort levels and how they relate to fatigue. Lastly, she noticed that the average pace on her other runs got faster. Her stride felt more relaxed and flowing and she started to notice that she had to hold herself back from running faster and faster.
WORKOUT #2: PROGRESSION RUNS
After 3-4 weeks, Suzanne started to feel good on the surge workouts and in her other runs. So, I had her start progression runs, the second workout that I prescribe as a transition from what I call “same pace” training to varied pace training. On her weekly long run (6-10 miles for her), I told her to finish the last 5 minutes a little faster. Again, not an all out sprint but to the point where she felt her breathing increase to where it was fast but under control. I told her she should feel exhilarated after the strong finish but not overly tired.
Each week, she was allowed to extend the faster portion by an additional 5 minutes if she felt like it. By Week #8, she was finishing her long runs with a fast 10-20 minutes depending on how she felt. Our mantra was “finish strong.”
As with the surge workouts, progression runs aren’t anything fancy or intimidating for new runners like Suzanne. But, the physical and mental benefits are great. She liked finishing strong. She learned the hard way when she pushed too hard too soon (something I told her would pay off in her future training and racing). And, she started to look forward to the final few miles of her long runs instead of feeling more and more tired and just wanting the run to end. The workouts made training fun and her fitness, as expected, took a jump upward yet she never had any aches and pains.
READY FOR “REAL RUNNER” TRAINING
After two months, she knew what it felt like to run fast, recover and run fast again. She developed better running form. She also developed more stamina and finishing strong became a habit. Her body was stronger and her stride smoother. But most importantly, she now had the confidence that she could go to the group workout and in her words, “not make a fool of myself.”
I, too, felt great knowing she built up her faster running slowly and safely. I also knew that once she started attending group workouts, she’d be hooked and I couldn’t wait to hear about all the successes to come.
Read more about progression runs and how these three progression runs can boost your fitness while having fun.
SUZANNE’S TRAINING PROGRAM