Top Ten Ways to Improve Your Running Performance

By Rick Morris

We all love those weekend 5K and 10K races as well as the occasional half marathon, marathon or even ultra. Just running and competing are the fun and gratifying parts of running. But we also would like to perform well. Here are our top ten ways to improve your running performance.

Goal Pace Running

Most training programs and schedules include long runs at slow, easy paces and interval training at faster than race pace. One important training pace that is often forgotten is goal race pace training. Running at your goal pace will get your body used to running at goal pace. Your neuromuscular system will become efficient at firing your muscles at race pace. Your body will learn the pace and will become more comfortable with your goal race pace. You will improve your running performance.  Race pace training is also great for improving your lactate turn point, running economy and vVO2 max.

Rest Days

Even rest days can improve your running performance. Most competitive runners love to run hard and fast. High intensity training has been proven to be the best way to increase your speed, but too much hard running can also be counterproductive. Your muscles need recovery time after a hard workout. Muscle strength and endurance is gained during recovery periods. Follow a hard/easy training sequence. Try to throw in an easy run day after each hard workout. That will give your muscles the time they need to recover and grow stronger.

Increase Your Long Run

Back in my high school and college days it was a common practice to run over 100 miles per week. Today we know that it’s not necessary for a typical runner to put in that many miles. But extending your weekly long run to 18 – 20 miles will make you a better runner. The increased muscle endurance will make you more efficient during those hard paced 6 to 8 mile training runs. It will also make your shorter 5K to 10K race seem easier.

Running Strength

One sure way to improve your running performance is to get strong. Strong, powerful muscles are important for all athletes, including distance runners. That’s right – distance runners need strength training. It’s a common misconception that distance runners should not strength train. The opponents of strength training think that weight work will add unnecessary weight and increased muscle mass will slow down a distance runner. The truth is that a proper strength training program will improve the strength, endurance and power of your muscles without any significant weight gain. The increased strength and power will help you avoid injury and will improve both your speed and running economy.

Include Plyometrics

Plyometrics are high intensity exercises in which a lengthening of your muscle is followed by a powerful contraction. Examples of plyometrics are box jumps, bounding and hopping. These exercises do a great job of improving the elasticity and power of your muscles. A more elastic muscle will store and return more energy during your running stride. You will run more efficiently, increase your stride rate and decrease your ground contact time. Plyometrics require strong muscles, so you should engage in 4 to 6 weeks of running strength training before you start doing plyometrics.

Hill Running

Running on hills is one of the best ways to improve your running strength, running economy, running power and lactate turn point. There are several types of hill running that you should include in your training. Short sprints of about 100 meters up a steep hill, longer hill repeats of 200 to 400 meters at about 5K pace, long hill runs of 2 to 3 miles at a moderate pace and long runs over rolling terrain are all great hill workouts that will help you shatter your PR.

Multi Pace Training

There are several schools of though on how to train. The most popular method in the past was to engage in a period of only long slow distance running to build up a base of endurance, followed by a period of lactate turn point training to build stamina and finally a period of fast interval training to increase speed. That was a good method for peaking for a specific race or series of races, Most of today’s runners aren’t training for just one race or race season. They compete on a year round basis. A better training method for year round competitions is multi pace training. Multi pace training will keep your endurance, lactate turn point, VO2 max and speed at high levels at all times. Each week you should be doing a variety of training workouts at all paces including endurance pace, lactate turn point pace, vVO2 max pace and sprint pace. If you ignore a training pace for an extended period of time you will begin to decrease your efficiency at that pace.

Stride Mechanics

Proper stride mechanics can make a huge difference in your running performance. Proper stride mechanics will make you a more efficient runner. If two runners of equal fitness were racing each other, the more efficient runner – the one with the best stride mechanics will win because they are able to expend less energy at faster paces. Click here for more information on stride mechanics.

Train Your Brain

Running isn’t just a physical sport, it is also mental. Your brain is a very powerful organ. It controls all of the functions of your body including your muscles. It also plays a huge role in running fatigue. The latest research has shown that a primary cause of running fatigue begins in your brain. The good news is you can train you brain to more efficiently deal will running fatigue. You can also use techniques such as visualization, positive thinking and disassociation to fight off the mental aspects of running fatigue.

Ideal Weight

There is no question that weight plays a role in your running performance. It has been estimated that every pound over your ideal weight can result in a 1% decrease in running performance. The trick is to achieve your ideal weight without compromising your nutritional needs or your lean muscle mass. The best way to drop unwanted pounds is to make slight increases in your training mileage and slight decreases in your portions sizes. Also cut out simple sugars and junk foods. Eat a diet that is composed of the proper portions sizes of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins.