Runners' trade secrets

Running is a sport you can undertake however you wish. All you really need are your own two feet, a good pair of running shoes, shorts and a top, and you're ready to go - just about anytime or anywhere.

Yet, for such a simple sport, running can be hard. Still, that doesn't mean running has to be a grind. No matter how much, how often or how fast you run, here are five things you can do to improve all of your runs.

1) Start slow

Starting slowly, bridges the gap between resting and running your desired pace. This increases your core and muscle temperatures, shifts blood distribution and causes metabolic changes. With your metabolism working at a higher level, your cardiovascular system is ready to transport oxygen to your muscles, and your muscles are ready to produce energy aerobically. Translation: for the first five minutes of every run, go slower than you think you need to. You'll feel much better the rest of the way.

2) Set specific goals

Use goals to motivate you to run and set short-term goals that you can achieve within three months. These goals should be specific and challenging, yet within your grasp. For example, you might set a goal of progressing from running three times a week to five times a week, or increasing your longest run from five kilometres to 10. Races offer the perfect goal for most runners, because they provide a quantifiable target that helps you decide how to structure your training.

3) Use the buddy system

The single best thing you can do to make your running easier and more enjoyable is to run regularly with a friend. Spending your runs chatting can make the distance pass a lot more quickly than when you go it alone. Also, you're a lot less likely to cancel a run if you've arranged to meet a friend. Once you show up, you'll start your run and the workout will take care of itself.

4) Go faster once a week

Adding a bit of fast running once a week will help you on all of your runs, even if you never plan to compete. By doing speed workouts and concentrating on maintaining good running form, you'll tend to improve your running form and posture at all speeds. And just as going farther than usual makes your normal distance seem easier, going faster once a week makes your normal pace seem easier. Hardcore runners often do their speed workouts on tracks, alternating faster runs of one to four laps with a slower lap to recover, but you can run faster anywhere. Simply warm up for a kilometre or two, then run for 30 seconds to three minutes at a pace you think you could sustain for a kilometre or two. Run very slowly to recover, then repeat. If you're running short, fast bursts of a minute or less, do as many as ten; if you're running longer bursts, do fewer. Concentrate on running fast without straining, and soon you will see that your form and pace on your normal runs have improved.

5) Go farther once a week

You will benefit from making one run each week about one and a half times as far as your standard distance. Why bother? Because when you run a longer distance, the endurance gains you make carry over to every run when you've trained your body to go eight kilometres at a time, your normal four kilometreswon't be such a big deal. You can improve your ability to run farther by testing the limits of that ability. By gradually increasing the distance of your longest runs, you provide the greatest stimulus to improve this capacity. Note the word 'gradually': Build your longest run by adding half a kilometre to a full kilometre each week while running at your regular training pace.

Now, set off on your favourite trail!

Johan Walli, World Class Health Academy Brussels

Copyright © 2001 World Class International