Whether you’re looking to get into incredible shape, break a personal record, or run faster while getting fitter, you need to train smarter, not longer. “Too many people look at their goal distance, the number of days they have to train to get there, and divide that total by the number of days they plan to run then try to complete those miles in as little time as possible," says certified personal trainer and former competitive runner, Amanda Russell, founder and editor of Fit, Strong, and Sexy. In spite of your dedication, this strategy won't help you run faster. If your goal is to get into the best possible running shape and get faster, you need to learn this very important rule–avoid logging junk miles. "Junk miles" are any miles that don’t serve a purpose–the ones you run that don't produce a specific physiological benefit.
Most training programs are designed to simply get you to progress in miles (usually by about 10 percent a week). “My philosophy is that it’s less about straight-up mileage and more about getting in workouts that truly create a physiological difference without breaking your body down," says Russell. "Think of it like a recipe. You can have all the ‘right ingredients,' but if you don’t put them together in the right order, or cook the recipe at the correct temperature, you're not going to get the results you want. The same is true with running. You need different ingredients (workouts) to get into peak shape, and it's more fun to vary your training than simply logging endless miles at the same pace."
Russell has programs on her website that range from “how to get in shape like a runner without running" (great for those with injuries), to specific training programs for distances from a 5K to a marathon, ranging from beginner to elite levels. The running specific programs are known as the FSF method: Fit Strong and Fast. "The key difference is that the FSF program often requires less actual pavement pounding running and more dynamic, specific. and focused plyometric, strength and cross-training workouts," says Russell.
"If you're looking to get into peak fitness shape, lose weight, get toned or speed up your average mile pace, I recommend training for races in the 10K to half-marathon range," she says.
Each training week should have three specific and purposeful runs (endurance, intervals, and strength), and the rest can be supplemented with cross training, depending on your body and the added stress of your body handles high/extra mileage.
"Personally, I know 'extra' miles are indeed junk for my body because they lead to injury, burnout and frustration," says Russell.
Using other forms of workouts, like biking and swimming, will do wonders for allowing your legs to bounce back quickly from races and other hard sessions, while also developing your power, strength, and stamina in new ways. Try these three specific sessions to replace some of your steady-state running workouts. And remember, while lots of miles may work for some runners, they don’t work for every runner, says Russell.
Do These Three Workouts Per Week
- The Endurance Run: This is the longer run you do for mileage. Think about your race pace and break it down that way. If you’re doing a 60-minute run and your goal race pace is 8-minute miles, the first 20 minutes start off slower like 8:30-minute mile pace, run the next 20 minutes at your race pace of eight minute miles, then the last 20 minutes slightly faster, so perhaps 7:45 minute miles.
- The Interval Speed Work Run: This will vary every week with intervals ranging from 20 to 30 seconds and up to five to 10 minutes. You might want to try a mile at your goal race mile time and vary that with shorter bursts of speed for 400m (one lap around the track), then allow time to recover with a slow jog or walk in between intervals.
- The Strength/Hill Workout: Build strength by running quality hills. Don’t just crank up the incline on the treadmill; it’s important to get downhill running training in, too. Get at least one of these workouts in each week.
"As endurance athletes, and humans in general, we may find it hard to believe that we can get more benefit out of less miles and time and have trouble accepting that 'the more you train, the better you get' is simply not true," says Russell. So, we train harder and run worse. And then, when our times don’t improve, or we don’t achieve or weight loss goal, we interpret it as a sign that we have undertrained. "Given my personal experience with overtraining, I knew firsthand that these revelations were accurate and they led me to create the Fit Strong and Sexy Training Program, and more specifically the Fit Strong and Fast Race Training Programs."