Now that FALL is officially here in the northern hemisphere (or so it seems based upon those early morning temps!), its time to talk RUNNING! Fall is truly running weather! There's so many great running events and races in the fall, and we get the benefit of having trained all summer, so the cool temps instantly make us more fit and fast! The fall is also a great time to improve your speed and strength. Train smart this fall and watch out, you may arrive in the spring better and faster than ever. Here's 3 tips to jumpstart your running this fall:
1. Get your STRIDE RATE UP! A higher overall stride rate isn't a magical elixir that will turn you into a faster runner, but it is one element that, especially if you're striding slowly (plodding?), is key for improving. One reason is that running is a neural activity. That is, if you are plodding along at 85 or fewer stride cycles per minute, you're training your nervous system to essentially react slowly, and thus not building some of the foundational skills (remember: nervous system = skills) that will ultimately lead to faster running. Striding more quickly will also help you land more under your body and maintain better balance if you run on trails, two important and basic elements to improving as a runner.
(If you haven't listened to our podcast with running expert and coach, Owen Anderson, Ph D, we discuss this aspect in great detail. Check it out!)
Virtually every runner should have at least a 90 stride-cycles-per-minute rate, which = 180 strides per minute. How do you easily check to see where you are? There's many ways to do it, but here is one simple way:
While gazing at your watch, count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 30 seconds. Multiply by two, and you have your stride rate cycle for 1 minute. Multiply that times two and you have the total number of strides you are taking in a minute. The goal is 90 stride cycles per minute, or roughly 180 strides per minute.
2. Get into the HILLS! Flat roads are "fun" and "relaxing" to run on, but unless you are working VERY hard, they aren't going to help you get faster. (Unless that "flat" is a track, in which case you might be building the things you need there to help you improve. Notice I said "might.") The way to TRANSFER over the stability and strength you're developing in your supplemental strength training (you ARE working on your strength, aren't you?) is to RUN IN THE HILLS!
When I am running in very hilly terrain, I don't moniter speed or pace as I might on the flats. Assuming you're not doing hill intervals, the smart approach is to just run, staying near the middle to top of your aerobic zone most of the time, working with the terrain. This fall, challenge yourself to run hills, climbing and descending relentlessly. You'll be super glad you did!
One IMPORTANT caveat: If you aren't moving well or building strength and stability in a smart way, the hills can break you. An injury that comes from running on hilly terrain is a red flag that some OTHER element in your training is lacking, e.g. flexibility, mobility, or basic stability/strength.
One last thing: Practice good form when running UP and DOWN. Tall chest and long spine, stiffen the ankle when climbing very steep grades, keep your arm carriage tight when going up (use elbow drive back for power and speed), and use your arms for balancing when descending steep hills.
3. Get OFF road and ONTO the Trail!: We talked about trail running in a recent podcast; how running on the trail vs. the road can really give your running ability a serious BOOST. Of course, there's much more to be gained by someone who always runs on the road, vs. someone who is already doing some trail running. If you're a road runner 80-90% of the time, then it IS TIME to get OFF ROAD! So, what are the ways that trail running can positively impact your running ability?
- Resistance to injury: The trail is always changing (depending upon how technical it is), so you're not constantly pounding the same movements or muscles with every stride. Udulating terrain, rocks and roots, etc., force you to constantly adapt and footstrike patterns and balance change and improve. The ground is softer and because of every step being slightly different, your risk of injury from repetitive stress goes down.
- Transferring strength: One other fantastic way to improve and transfer that strength you're building on the floor is to get off road, because dealing with the undulations in terrain as well as the steep UPS and DOWNS, builds incredible strength in the feet, legs and trunk! Take a close look at a true trail runner and what you'll see is a very strong runner. When you combine the trail with climbing and descending, you have the MAGIC that will build an incredibly resilient and strong runner, who could THEN head out onto the road or track with much better chances of building speed in a powerful way.
Enjoy your running this fall even more by incorporating some of the above suggestions into your program. Get faster and stronger and have more fun!