Spice Up Your Running

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Runners tend to thrive on routine. Which is generally good, since success in running depends on consistency – whether you’re aiming for a low number on the scale or on a finish line clock. Even so, you don’t want your routine to turn into a rut.

Over time, running the same route every morning or recycling a trusty training plan can actually create fitness plateaus and thwart faster finish times.

‘Locking into a routine will not produce PBs,’ says Dr Barbara Walker. ‘It takes physical and mental energy to go outside your comfort zone, but the joy of hitting your fitness goals or crossing the finish line faster makes it all worth it.’ Here’s how to dust off your old regimen to run your best this year.

Old Routine: Always run the same workouts

Fresh approach: Make some weekly tweaks.

All runners – from recreational runners to focused competitors – benefit from doing a mix of speedwork, tempo runs, and long runs. How you work them into your programme depends on your goals and abilities.

That said, ‘the body adapts to a routine within three to four weeks,’ says coaching consultant David Allison. So adjust these workouts every time you do them. ‘For example, if you ran four 1km repeats at 10-K pace this week, do 1.5km repeats at a similar pace next time,’ says Allison.

Old Routine: Run and run and run some more

Fresh approach: Take two annual breaks.

‘Training can sap your physical and mental resources and put stress on your support systems such as your spouse, kids, and job,’ says coach Adam Zucco. ‘If you never allow time to let these systems rejuvenate, it becomes very hard to make fitness gains.’

Take at least two breaks a year – lasting anywhere from a week up to a month – after a big race or whenever you’re feeling worn down and grouchy (signs of burnout). Run how and when you feel like it, and cut back on intensity.

Old Routine: Run as fast as possible

Fresh approach: Run like a snail (sometimes).

‘You get fit recovering from workouts,’ says Zucco. ‘If you continue to stress your system, you won’t improve.’ In other words, you’ll run your next quality workout harder – and reap the benefits of doing so – only if you’ve recuperated properly from the previous one.

After a race or tough workout, do one or two days of easy running – as in, you can chat or sing without a huff or a puff. Slip into that easy pace by running with a slower-than-you pal or listening to some relaxing music on your MP3 player.

Old Routine: Walk the hard parts

Fresh approach: Practise powering through.

‘Most people have self-doubt when they’ve passed the threshold of what they think they’re capable of,’ says Walker. ‘This is a natural reaction due to the need to conserve energy.’ But you can conquer tough moments.

Do a fast finish pacing workout: Run 3 to 16 200–400m repeats, depending on your goals. Run them at a consistent pace, then drop at least one second on the final repeat. ‘It makes you aware of running the right pace and not going out too fast too early,’ says Allison. ‘In the final 400m, you run to the limits of your abilities, teaching yourself to overcome discomfort.’

Old Routine: Train hard, quit running

Fresh approach: Cultivate consistency.

Beginners and returning runners set themselves up for failure by doing too much too soon, which quickly burns anyone out. Instead, start with slow, short distances and mix in plenty of cross-training. The variety will keep you fit and mentally fresh, says sports psychology consultant Dr Kristen Dieffenbach.

Avoid overdoing it by increasing your distance by no more than 10% from the previous week, and every fifth week drop your distance by 10 to 20% to recover.

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