With the "tri" season coming to an end and cooler temps approaching, many fitness enthusiasts and athletes are seeking running races in order to stay in shape, feel a little competitive and to achieve goals. As a triathlete, I do not hang up my bike and stop my membership at the Y in order to run in "running" season here in Florida. I am still a triathlete, training for 3 individual sports. However, "run" season allows a little more emphasis placed on running but still, I do not forget that I am a triathlete who enjoys to run.
In order to keep things spicy in the off-season from triathlons, I dedicate 1 more day a week to strength training (3 days a week of full-body training), I ride my road bike at least 2 days per week and include 1 "fun" run during the week (either the Trek Beer Run or a run with Karel in the evening). I still run with Campy after my runs..which is incredibly fun for both of us. I still focus on compression, running off the bike and stretching/strengthening my hips/glutes/lower back as those 3 things help me from becoming injured and allow for a quick recovery, with performance gains.
If you are a new runner, are thinking of training for a long distance event or are searching for a few tips of how to make the most of your "off-season" or "running" season, here are a few suggestions...
Training for a Running Road Race:
When planning your training for a marathon or any road race, use a training plan. Not only are plans designed to help you improve your fitness and help you reach your running goals but the plans keep you scheduled so that quality workouts are not replaced with junk mileage. If you have minimal running experience or you are coming from a background in another athletic sport, give yourself at least 1 month to build a running base and improve fitness (aka introduce your muscles to "planned" running) before beginning specific training, designed to encourage performance gains. During this month, focus on running skills, drills and economy and fall in love with running. Don't hesitate to include walk/run in your year-round running plan. Even if you are a vetran in the sport and you are planning on running 1 or more marathons a year, give yourself a chance to enjoy the art of running without being strict on mileage, speed, HR, etc. For newbies, once you feel as if your fitness has improved, started your structured training and focus on running for time (not distance) for most of your runs. I highly encourage investing in a garmin w/ a HR monitor so that you can monitor progress as well as be consistent with effort. While HR is a great training tool - so is effort and pace. Once you feel comfortable running between 45 min and 75 min, start increasing your speed through intervals (walk/run or jog/run) so that you can cover more distance in that designated amount of time. After around 2 months of building your base and getting use to intervals, you should find yourself noticing performance gains, alongside feeling more confident with your running. The key is to not rush the "base" period of training and to not be afraid to do intervals.
Before you start a new sport or new training plan, consider your health status and fitness. It is easy to get caught up in the hype of the endurance world (specifically ironmans and marathons) so it is very important that you are well enough to start a new challenge. There is nothing worse that starting a training program injured or even worse, racing injured. If you are sick, injured or currently suffer from medical conditions and do not have a physician's approval to start/resume activity, reassess your training plan and goals in order to truly enjoy your running experience. Although this may not be the best time for you to "train" for an event, there is likely something that you CAN do in order to maintain health and fitness.
Your running performance is made up of your vo2 (max oxygen used during exercise), anaerobic threshold (lactate production exceeds removal) and running economy (movement velocity for a given energy consumption). Even if you aren’t an elite runner, your performance during a marathon (or any race) depends on how well each of those variables have been trained and how they will perform during the given task. As for running races longer than a 10K, nothing is more important than the efficiency of the lungs, heart and blood to deliver oxygen. The best runners (from people who are fast to those who truely enjoy running regardless of finishing time) show a high running economy which means that they have trained themselves to run a given speed with less oxygen demand. In part of improving your running economy, combine intervals, threshold runs and speed work into your long, slow sessions. For lactate training, in addition to fartleks and intervals, add in a weekly hill sessions. Drills, proper running form and proper breathing all contribute to good economy. . Just because two people have the same VO2 or max HR doesn’t mean that they will perform the same. The person with the best running economy will use less oxygen during the race and will be the most efficient runner come race day.
In addition to proper training and proper fueling, the greatest challenge of running is getting to the start line uninjured, not burnout/overtraing, hungry to race and rested. Why do injuries occur when you are training for an event and not in the off-season? Athletes often think that more is better when it comes to running, sign up for multiple races without dedicating the time to training for a few key races and focus on the miles rather than the entire "training" process. Too often, mileage increases too rapidly and there is little emphasis on recovery. One of the reasons why I believe in doing a long run on the weekend (after spinning the legs easy on the bike for 30-60 min) is so that you have ample time to recover without the stress of getting to work on time, waking up super early and not being able to focus on proper nutrition before, during and after the workout.
Although a coach can help design the best laid plan for you in order to stay balanced with life and to experience performance gains, while meeting personal goals, it's important to recognize that if the body isn't ready for a race or arduous training, you will spend more time on the couch recoverying from an injury rather than recoverying from training. Another cause for injury is inconsistent training or pushing too hard with training. Building mileage too rapidly (more than 10% mileage per week), training hard for more than 2-3 days in a row and consistently skipping and making up key workouts are some of the most common factors contributing to injuries. Listen to your body. If you feel extremely tired and fatigued or you feel life is getting a bit busy or stressful, take a day off, get some extra sleep or just walk and enjoy exercising. One or two skipped workouts may save you from being severely injured and possibly missing your event. Other tips for injury prevention are staying hydrated, stretching after your workout regularly, lifting weights to train opposing muscle groups, getting massages, wearing compression, warming up (ex. biking) before running, take ice baths and replacing your shoes every 3-4 months (after you have a professional shoe fit). Also, cross training should be an important component of your training plan. Not only to keep you sane with your running routine but you will help prevent overuse injuries. Active recovery, through cycling, swimming or walking are great ways to rest your torn-down legs, maintain your fitness and decrease your level of fatigue. I encourage no more than 5 times a week of running, for most athletes seeking running gains. Again - less is more if you have a quality-designed training plan. Also,sSpinning your legs after your long/intense runs, swimming a few laps after a speed session or walking 10-15 min. after a hill workout will work wonders for your legs!
Good luck and have fun!!