The article below was written for the Girls on the Run (GOTR) newsletter
Entered in to the Girls on the Run, Reno Inaugural 5K and feeling overwhelmed by how to start your preparation? The answer is just start. The key to running your first 5K is to simply start consistently moving. Running presents a seemingly tricky balance between making fitness gains while remaining injury free. However, we do not have to accept the fate of injury as runners. There are a few key cornerstones of injury prevention and performance to help guide your preparation – a gradual progression of training that includes supplemental base training; an emphasis on quality training that incorporates a variety of elements, coupled with quality rest; and a consistent practice of non-running, foundational functional strength. If we tie all these elements together and love the activity of running for the sake of it – we avoid the common cram-session type preparation that leads to too much, too fast.
Please remember while reading this article that you need to individually tailor each concept presented, based on your past level of activity, current fitness and future goals, and make the absolute concepts individually relative to you.
First and foremost you want to enjoy the activity of running on a daily basis versus a grin-and-bear-it approach, all the way to the 5K big day. Generally speaking to adhere to a fitness plan, I feel you need four components. Love the activity of choice for the sake of doing it. Have a goal on the horizon to effectively focus and rally the training, as well as provide that mental nudge out the door when you lack motivation. A circle of training partners to provide that sometimes-needed accountability and social fun-factor. And finally, a training plan you trust, understand and consistently follow.
Now that you have discovered a joy of running, the next step is consistent gradual progression of aerobic movement. This is considered the base phase of a systematic training plan. During this period it is important to run with purpose and institute a foundational base of solid, efficient movement patterns. Then just a like a building – you build upon this functional base.
While you focus the majority of your aerobic movement on running – it is also beneficial to incorporate supplemental endurance base training in to your training. This would include cycling, swimming, hiking and in winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In my opinion this equally benefits mind and body – providing mental variety and physical low impact, overall strength.
During this phase you develop muscular endurance, your aerobic engine, as well as running-specific neuromuscular activation and mechanics. Once your base is established, you phase in to the preparation phase of training. At this point you add variety in to your training to continue to mentally and physically challenge yourself – and through these stressors, counter-balanced with rest and recovery you experience fitness gains.
This variety includes speed work which effectively hones efficient mechanics – endurance is a game of efficiency. Amazingly – we run mechanically best, when we run fast. Speed work also develops sport specific strength and power. It has been said, we get fit to run, not run to get fit.
During this phase of training you also include defined periods of timed intensity, otherwise known as intervals – where you pick up the pace to your goal race pace or slightly above. To me training in general, but especially this type of interval work is my mental dress rehearsal for my event. It provides the mental and physical challenge and resulting confidence and empowerment that I have done it and can do it.
As I mentioned it is important to find that training program you trust and understand – you want to know why you are doing a workout and how it relates to your specific goals. This understanding provides invaluable purpose and intention to each and every day of training. Also mentally connect the dots – for example when I am doing intervals I mentally place myself in my upcoming event which allows me to glean the absolute utmost from the workout. I find that during the event – I mentally draw on these interval sessions to power me through the sticky points.
Improved mechanics that result from the speed work and race tempo intervals are equally vital to performance as injury prevention. Again we need to be considerate of individuality and avoid trying to force a square peg in a round hole by trying to reinvent ourselves with the latest running craze technique. I am currently mentoring with leading biomechanist Chris Powers, who suggests injury prevention is greatly dependent on effectively absorbing and redirecting the ground forces that result with impact. His research indicates that with proper body position – flexion in ankles, knees and hips and very slight torso tilt, runners reduce the magnitude of forces as well as direct the force’s torque away from delicate knees and toward the body’s sturdy center of mass. In order to put this in to running practice, runners need to learn proper movement or mechanics. Proper running movement requires – muscular strength of the quads, hips (glutes); mobility or range of motion of joints and muscles; and neuromuscular activation, or the brain’s ability to communicate with the muslces.
During the preparation phase, you continue to include pure, low intensity endurance days – sport specific as well as supplemental endurance activities – hiking, cycling – mountain and road and/or swimming.
Remember to consistently provide equal respect for rest days and recovery weeks. In my training plans I advocate two rest days per week – these can be what we call active, very light aerobic movement and/or supporting strength, or complete rest. I develop plans that build in volume over a three week period with the fourth week recovery – again it is active but low volume, low intensity and no structure. Rest days and recovery weeks are in my mind the key to stoking that mental and physical hunger and fire – motivation. Prescribed rest allows you to capitalize on exactly what you feel like doing versus caving in to the guilt of shoulds.
Generally speaking I feel all runners need a mental makeover when it comes to training. I persistently advise and encourage my clients that improvement and performance is more than just about running, running and more running. In my training plans I carve time away from the running time to include functional trunk, hip and single leg stability as well as strategies to improve and maintain range of motion and symmetry, like yoga. With the functional strength – the key is to start with simple static exercises – then progress with complexity by adding movement and instability. And just like running set the foundation of precise movement and build upon that base.
As you approach the GOTR 5K – you move in to what we consider the competition phase. I think of this period as the polish, you have done your homework. During this period you reduce the overall volume and maintain a degree of intensity to stay sharp. Remember the objective of this phase – it is fine tuning. Leave your workouts wanting more and save it for race day. This insures you hit the start line excited and hungry to run.
Seize the day – enjoy every stride along the way.