How to run GREAT at the Manchester Run
Running is inherently human, from hunter gatherers thousands of years ago running down their prey, and tribes around the globe to this day that run for miles and miles and then, there’s you. You do it for the fun, the thrill of competition and the personal challenge. And you are not alone, in the UK nearly 7million people went running at least 2 times a month between Nov 2018 and Nov 2019. Lockdown over 2020/21 quite possibly exaggerated that figure even further. So the good news is, if you’re a runner, you have friends!!
This has led to more science based research to understand how we can improve running performance although most of this is elite based and leaves the recreational runner slightly bewildered by the best approach to take on.
This blog will look to provide you with the essential tool kit to run great for recreational runners when preparing for a running event. Lois Axson Urban Reform Strength and conditioning coach, running specialist and YGSP Level 4 S&C educator will take you through the steps on becoming a better runner.
Physiology of Endurance Running
Distance running performance is the consequence of a complex interaction of physiological, biomechanical, psychological, environmental, and tactical factors and the main influential parameters for running performance is largely down to our running economy.
Running economy from a scientific perspective is defined as the aerobic demands of running, or the relationship between oxygen consumption (VO2: expressed in units of L O2/min or mL O2/kg/min) and running speed. For those recreational runners access to assessment protocols elite runners readily use can be difficult to ascertain but completing standard timing tests over a certain distance is a start to see where you are at.
Once you have the protocols in place to record you running it’s important to set out your plan, check out the key points on the best planning cycle to create when you are running
Its unlikely that if we say the words VO2 max, it will be news to you. If you wear a Garmin, Apple Watch or similar wearable technology im sure you have a little insight into where you might be sitting on the ‘fitness’ spectrum. It will also come as no surprise that a high VO2 max is a strong determinant of performance in distances over a mile.
So what is it really, and where can we effect the most change on it?
VO2 max refers to your maximal oxygen uptake, in other words, how much o2 you can inspire (breathe in) and deliver to working muscles, all dependent on the ability of the respiratory system (lungs) and cardiovascular system (heart) to facilitate the delivery of ample amounts of O2 to be used in oxidative metabolism to create ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the bodies energy ‘currency’
Genetics plays a large role in an athletes realisation of their maximum capacity to transport oxygen, however its quite possible even runners who’ve been training for a considerable amount of time might not have reached their true VO2 max. Runners who rely solely on low intensity speeds to hit their weekly mileage will be falling short of their potential. Faster running demands the recruitment of more muscle fibres to produce greater magnitudes of power, and strength training is shown to be one of the most effective ways to illicit greater fibre recruitment particularly of the fast twitch fibres (higher power generating) we call upon to produce greater speeds. Essentially if you were a car, strength training would let you reach 5th gear, which is an extremely important factor in realising VO2 max potential. And in turn make ‘race pace’ increasingly ‘easier’.
So, the elephant in the room…. Lactate! Its still widely believed lactic acid is the devil and to blame when you hit that point of ‘jelly legs’ on a tempo run or race pace effort. A build up of lactate in the blood is a great way to see when an athlete is metabolising energy anaerobically (without oxygen) telling us when they have reached or surpassed their ability to power work using oxygen to resynthesise ATP. Lactate is not however the bad guy, when lactic acid breaks down into lactate it releases free hydrogen ions, those guys are the culprits! Meanwhile lactate is a very useful fuel source and can be resynthesized to be used as fuel in the oxidative system when you manage to get enough oxygen on board, it can be used as fuel for the brain, the heart muscle or turned back into glucose in the liver to be stored there until you have a need for blood sugar supply again. So lactate is your friend but also used as a great indicator of anaerobic threshold.
Why does this matter to you?
When you work at or over your anaerobic threshold you teach your body to process the build up of products of anaerobic metabolism which in turn increasing your ability to work at higher power outputs whilst avoiding fatigue. The majority of plyometric and resistance training modalities are by definition, short bouts of high intensity efforts and will be fuelled predominantly anaerobically, so allows you to hit those physiological adaptions without relying solely on cold hard miles, and opening yourself up to potential over training.
All runners, regardless of their fitness level or running background, who want to dive into both crazy and rewarding universe of long distance running should consider adopting a structured training program known as periodisation.
Training periodisation is about organising your training plan in blocks that have different purposes during a certain period of time. The main goal is to build fitness by increasing training load progressively followed by recovery periods. You allow your body to adapt to training stress by manipulating variables such as volume and intensity. Adaptation is the most important factor to improve fitness. Many studies have demonstrated the superiority of periodised over non-periodised training.
The main 3 are:
- Macrocycle – a large segment of training that incorporates all mesocycles. That is your entire training plan;
- Mesocycle – a segment of macrocycle consisting of a number of training blocks, focusing on different physical skills;
- Microcycle – a short segment of the mesocycle, typically consisting of 7 days training block.
It’s important to train for what works for you and not what you see Mo farah doing, as a recreational runner you have less time to commit as elite athletes and fitting your training in around your work and family commitments will be essential parts of your plan. Your ‘microcycle’ block needs a clear guidance of your pre-during-post daily plans which supports your body through increased exercise but also allows for rest when your body needs it. Your ‘mesocycle’ requires variety and specificity to running, which is something I will discuss further within this blog. Whereas your macrocycle is your year/season plan which might build up to your race day or competition. I would start with firstly your year plan and work backwards to the detail to support with your motivation of achieving your end goal. This is where you will implement training around the seasons, when you might want to rest whilst including deload phases (decreasing the percentage of your training frequency, intensity, time and type) to allow your body to recover and go again after another block of intense sessions.
For a strength and conditioning assessment from one of our coaches you can message the team to support you with your periodisation plan
Implementing a strength and conditioning plan
Even with a pair of legs, a desire to run and 7 million kindred spirits, research has shown, running alone in an endeavour to improve running performance will fall short when compared to running training executed concurrently alongside supplementary strength training, plyometric and conditioning sessions (Bazyler et al, 2015)
The physiological adaptions and movement qualities that can be affected through strength training and plyometric modalities, have been shown to directly and positively impact running economy and associated performance markers (Lum et al, 2016).
Strength by definition is the measure of a humans exertion of force on physical objects, which in your case is the ground. If you can put more force through the ground which as we know from the OG (Original geek) himself Sir Isaac Newton, then all else being equal, (ie. if our weight stays the same) this will then lead to more forward propulsion: ‘Greater speed’
Runners have long felt an indifference towards strength training, with myriad misconceptions of its relationship to greater muscles mass, injury or being too far removed from the specificities of running itself. Quite the opposite is true, Blagrove et al (2017) in a systematic review of 24 studies on the effects of strength training, found it to provide benefits to both running economy and time trail performance, they also found the maximal sprint speed in middle and long distance runners was positively impacted for all abilities.
Put bluntly, if you can put enough force through the floor to squat a heavy barbell, you can push more force through the ground when running and enjoy great running speed at the same metabolic cost. And on the other end of the S&C continuum the ability to produce more force allows you to more safely absorb more force, and in doing so reduce the likelihood of injury occurrence.
Wikipedia roughly states injury affects about half of all runners annually, so statistically there’s a good chance you’ve had the misfortune of experiencing a running related injury, and know that even a mild strain or ‘niggle’ can put paid to a weeks training plan if not more, strength training not only positively impact your running performance but in doing so reduce the likelihood of the dreaded running injury and related time off training.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome and Achilles tendinitis are but a few common nasties that rear their ugly heads for us often. With varying degrees of severity, they can really impact your sport. The causation of most injuries can be pinned down to two main culprits. 1. Overuse. 2. Poor Mechanics. Or a wonderful cocktail of the two
If you’re new to running you might have noticed your cardiovascular system seems to get with the programme a lot quicker than your musculoskeletal system. Your first 5k might have felt like absolute death and have hit speeds topped only by sloths running through honey. Then as if by magic 2 weeks in and you feel the revelation of being able to breathe while running and shave minutes off your mile, but lurking down below, a knee joint and its tendons are in absolute horror at the forces being abruptly driven through them from the ground which is now coming a lot harder and faster than it ever has before.
One of the most important intrinsic risk factors for endurance running injury is the existence of a previous injury, indicating that special attention should be taken to avoid recurrent injuries in endurance runners. Although the mechanism that induces an injury to be repeated over time might be different for each type of injury, the adoption of biomechanical adjustments by runners to protect themselves from a previous injury might contribute to the recurrence of that injury. Therefore, assuring complete recovery from a previous injury and using a gradual increase in training load in the first weeks of training after recovery could be crucial to avoiding injury recurrence.
Repetitive overloading without adequate rest seems to be the most probable cause for most injuries. For this reason, runners who develop stride patterns with low levels of impact force are at a reduced risk of incurring overuse running injuries. In addition, longer recovery periods should be encouraged to assure adaptation and recovery between training sessions, as these might be important to reduce the risk of running-related injuries. Alongside this a strength program which makes the areas most at risk more robust to cope with the repetition of leg drive into a triple extension striking the ground.
If you would like our FREE UR running guide to prevent the risk of old injuries incurring message the team on firstname.lastname@example.org
The research reviewed suggests that supplementing the training of a distance runner with strength training is likely to provide improvements to running economy, training technique, performance and anaerobic parameters such as maximal sprint speed Blagrove et al, (2017). Proper planning is essential in support of this and remember going for a run straight after sitting down for long periods isn’t going to help with the sustainability of your running performance. Recreational runners must plan this in with the appropriate strength based warm up to get the body ready.
Don’t rush the process just go at your own pace, if you feel it’s getting too much, review it, simplify and then go again.
About the author:
Name: Lois Axson – Strength and Conditioning coach of Urban Reform Manchester (www.urbanreformfit.co.uk)
Lois is one of the lead educators for Your Gym Sports Performance and trains new coaches to be level 4 S&C coaches to the highest level. She is an experienced PT and trains a number of semi elite athletes to reach their true potential.