It’s wintertime, the temperature is dropping to single-digits, and snow is looking more ominous. The thought of getting out of that cosy bed, lacing the trainers and thrashing through that icy cold air doesn't sound all that appealing.
The cold temperatures combined with the darker days is not very motivating even for the most dedicated of runners. One of the best strategies for getting through the tough winter months is to sign up for an early spring race to keep motivated throughout the off season.
The winter months shouldn't just be about maintenance however. This is the period where serious improvements can, and should be made. Think about it! During the season you have race after race, competition after competition and much of the preparation for those races is working on getting back to full fitness and recovery after difficult races. There is limited time to focus on really developing any weaker parts of you race.
We have put together some really killer tactics to improve your run time during those winter months, to come back stronger, faster and fitter.
1) Work on Hills
"Running up steep hills is really fun" Said Nobody ever!! Let's face it, running up hills sucks. Yes going back down them is a little bit more enjoyable but to get better and quicker we have to practice working on them. Hill work will improve your running times drastically. To start out try finding a hill that is roughly 250-500m long with a gradual ascent and work up and down this for a set period of time. After a while you will notice your legs will become stronger and will take them a lot longer to fatigue.
2) Focus on Speed
When I started training for my first triathlon, I was still pretty new to running. I’d been at it properly for just over a year, and the thought of intentionally running faster sounded pretty grim. I just wanted to finish the races. During subsequent training cycles, I learned that speed work (pushing harder in the middle of a workout at a specific speed for a specific amount of time) would change everything. That’s right, running faster… helps you get faster. Pretty crazy, right? Speed work works best when you’re running hard at a distance relative to your race distance, so tempo runs or mile repeats are best for marathoners. I always felt like I was getting a little bit of speed but lots of endurance from mile repeats. Give this a go and see what happens to your race times.
3) Work on stride length and speed
Working on your stride length and speed is perhaps something you would need a coach to help with. However there are a few little tricks that can help with improving both stride length and speed. The first thing is to work on flexibility in your hip flexors (front of the hip). This will give you the ability to improve the length of your stride. The next thing to look at working on is your flight time (The amount of ground you can cover whilst both feet are off the floor). This is a product of power, that a runner generates pre take off from forward not vertical propulsion. One way to increase this power is to work on hill runs as we have just discussed, along with some form of power strength training.
4) Mix up your training
Yes getting better at running you have to run, a lot. But the daily grind on your knees of running constantly can actually be detrimental to improving run times. You need to come up with a range of training options where you can still improve your cardiovascular fitness but take some strain of your knees. Swimming, cycling and even crossfit type workouts can not only provide a refreshing break from slogging away pounding the streets but it can provide a well earned rest for your knees and shins. Most runners never consider another form of training during the season. It’s somewhat understandable due to time constraints or other factors during the race season, but now it's the off season and there are no more reasons or excuses.
5) strengthen your legs
Strength training is an important component in most professional sports. In distance running, however, we’re in the stone ages. Strength training has been proven to improve running performance, whether that’s running economy or time to exhaustion. A lot of times people associate strength training with getting buff and that is not the case if done correctly. Strengthening the legs with the correct exercises should be a crucial aspect of every triathletes and runners training programme.