By Andrew Rickert
With yet another Superman movie slated for release this summer, it may seem that Hollywood has run out of good ideas. While this may be the case, it does remind us that some elements of our training are worth keeping and others could use some updating. “Superman: Man of Steel” represents a “remix” of a classic movie. My recommendation for you this spring is to remix your training with the intent to build off of the classic components, while incorporating new techniques to help take your running fitness to a new level.
Remix Your Warm-Up – Many recreational and competitive runners in the area know the importance of a good warm-up prior to your workout and race. The classic routine usually involves ten to 15 minutes of easy running, some light static stretches, and another quick visit to the port-a-john. The remix of the warm-up should include dynamic exercises targeting the muscles you will use in running. Static stretching, while beneficial, has been shown to relax the muscles too much for vigorous exercise and therefore, has much more value post-run.
Dynamic stretches instead prime the muscles without tiring them out. Examples include various bounding drills, high knees, leg swings, butt kicks, etc. When I introduced a dynamic warm-up to my athletes at The College of Saint Rose a few years ago, they immediately reported feeling better going into races and workouts.
Remix Your Base Phase – The base phase of your training consists of the early weeks when you slowly introduce more mileage, while slowly increasing the intensity of your runs. This is also the phase where a majority of injuries can occur because you might increase mileage too quickly or begin speed work prematurely. The remix of your base phase should incorporate two key types of workouts before you involve yourself in speed workouts and racing: fartlek running and hill work.
Fartlek is a Swedish term for “speed play.” Fartlek workouts incorporate surges of 30 seconds to several minutes with relaxed recovery running in between each surge. The intensity of the surge can vary, although I rarely have my athletes run faster than 5K effort. Some watches come with alarms to set in order to predetermine the length of the interval; however, you can also go sans watch and instead pick a telephone poll or road sign to surge to. The benefits of fartlek is that it prepares the body for the more taxing track workouts to come later in your training, while taking the emphasis off hitting certain splits.
Another aspect to the remix during your base phase is hill work. Hill running includes repetitions as short as ten seconds to as long as three to four minutes over an incline of at least 15 to 20 percent. Start with one hill workout per week on a mild incline and work your way toward longer, more intense climbs over several weeks. This type of base training will not only build leg strength, it will also prepare your body for speed work to come later in the summer.
Remix Your Strength Training – Speaking of strength, what does your current strength routine consist of? If you are anything like me, you loathe the gym, and avoid weightlifting at all costs. The good news is that strength training doesn’t mean you have to rely on either a gym membership or a set of weights.
The remix of strength work incorporates bodyweight exercises like push-ups, crunches, squat-thrusts, mountain climbers, etc. I often create circuits of these strength exercises for my athletes to perform between running intervals of 100 to 800 meters. An advanced remix of strength-training could include medicine ball drills and/or plyometric box jumping. Regardless, distance runners do require some weekly element of strength training in order to build lean muscle and to help off-set any muscle imbalances, which will prevent injury.
Remix Your Race Prep – Finally, the way you prepare for your races may need to be remixed. Traditionally, if one hoped to run a good 5K or half-marathon time, they would stick to running races around those distances all season long. Instead, plan races on your spring and summer schedule that will take you both above and below your “target” distance in order to hone both your speed and your strength. Even half-marathoners like to have a strong kick at the end of their race and could benefit from lowering their 5K PR in order to improve their closing speed. Meanwhile, the average 5K runner could certainly benefit from having more endurance and should therefore race at 10K and beyond prior to their peak race.
Another aspect that needs to be remixed is race course-training specificity. If you are training for a race like the Freihofer’s Run for Women or the Race for the Cure, then you better recognize the terrain you are going to be facing; in this case, the infamous Madison Avenue hill at the start. Therefore, make sure you include training opportunities that closely mimic the demands of an uphill start. You don’t need to necessarily stop traffic and literally run up Madison Avenue; instead, you can easily tack on a few hill reps before your next speed workout.
The same goes for those looking to run trail races this summer. If you hope to tackle a trail race with ease you better not be relying on a treadmill for the bulk of your training! If you can remix the training to not only prepare you to handle the distance but the terrain, then you can give yourself the best chance to perform at your best on the day of your big race given those types of variables.
Spring is the season when many runners come out of their winter hibernation and begin to set goals for the summer racing season. While many know what training works for them and how they plan to prepare for the races ahead, it is worthwhile to remix those tried and true strategies and consider a new twist on an already successful training method.
As with any of the above ideas, be sure to introduce these new concepts slowly and gradually. In time you’ll find that a new twist on a former training concept can sweeten the deal and help lead to positive gains in your performance. If Superman can reinvent himself at 75, so can you!
Andrew Rickert (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a teacher at Lansingburgh High School in Troy. He is also a USATF Level II cross-country and track & field coach at The College of Saint Rose. He runs competitively over road, trail and snow, whenever he can find a free weekend. Follow his running and coaching adventures at coachrickert.tumblr.com.