Set Realistic Goals And Achieve Them

Improve your sprint finish, injury-proof your body, better your pace... let us help you set realistic goals and show you how to achieve them


Posted: 2 January 2007
by Ben Hewitt

Goal - Improve your sprint finish

Many runners think a strong sprint finish is all about the end of a race. In reality, it’s more about how you prepare for and run the beginning and middle of a race. That’s because you have to have something left in the tank for the final stretch. "When you go out too hard or you do minimal running at race pace before the event, it’s pretty much impossible to finish strong," says Jason Koop, an elite-level coach.

"For races up to and including the 10K, you need to train at your race pace in a series of intervals that eventually add up to the whole race distance," says Koop. "For races longer than 10K, duplicate pace only, not duration, since you’d need too much recovery at the longer distances."

The sessions

Run each of these sessions once a week, but not on consecutive days.

Target-Pace Intervals
The goal of this session is to eventually run your goal race distance (10K or shorter) at target race pace in a series of intervals. For example, if your goal is to run a 10K at a six-minute-per-mile pace, break the distance into six one-mile efforts at six-minute pace separated by three minutes of easy jogging, or 12 half-mile (800m) repetitions at race pace with 90 seconds of jogging in between.

To begin, try running repetitions equalling up to half the distance of your goal race. Then add more each week until you reach the whole distance. If you can’t maintain the same pace for each repetition, you’re building too fast. For longer goals, such as a half-marathon or marathon, practise race pace in one- or two-mile segments as part of longer runs.

Pick-Me-Up Pick-ups
Once a week, during an easy run, throw in four to six 60-second pick-ups, where you increase your pace to a hard (not all-out) effort. Run easy for at least five minutes in-between. During the pick-ups, concentrate on increasing your cadence and remaining light on your feet. The goal is to develop leg speed that you can call on when the line is in sight.


Goal - Injury-proof your body

"You have to make prevention a priority," says Mark Fadil, a sports masseur. "By the time someone comes in with an injury, there’s almost always been a progression that could have been halted earlier."

According to Matt Fitzgerald, the online coach (trainingpeaks.com) and author of Runner’s World Guide to Cross-Training, the key to preventing most running injuries is to increase the strength and stability of three important joint areas: the hips, knees and ankles. "Most people blame the force of impact itself for running injuries," says Fitzgerald. "However, the real problem is how impact can affect joint stability. If you can strengthen and stabilise these areas, impact becomes less of a problem."

The Plan
Do this combination of four exercises two or three times per week after an easy run.

For hip stability - Single-Leg Deadlift
Stand on your right foot only with your left leg slightly bent and your arms relaxed at your sides, a light dumbbell in each hand. Tilt your torso forward from the hips and reach towards the floor with both dumbbells. Extend your left leg backwards for balance. Now return to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times before changing legs. Concentrate on keeping your abs tight and your posture neutral throughout this movement.

For hip stability - Hip Hiker
Stand with your left foot on the floor and your right foot on a six-inch step or similar elevated surface. Straighten your right leg and pull your left foot up level with your right. Balance for five seconds, then lower your left foot back to the floor, but without putting your weight on it. Do 12 to 20 repetitions, keeping your full weight on your right leg throughout, then work your left hip.

For knee stability - VMO (Vastus Medialis) Dip
Stand normally on a stable elevated surface, such as an exercise step between six and 12 inches high, with your toes level with the edge. Shift your full weight on to your right foot and reach down towards the floor in front of the step with your left foot. Touch your left heel to the floor without putting any weight on it and return to the starting position. Do 10 to 12 repetitions then repeat with your right leg.

For ankle stability - Pillow Balancing
Remove your shoes, place a pillow on the floor and balance on it on one foot for 30 seconds. Switch feet and repeat. At first it might be difficult to last 30 seconds, but you’ll improve quickly. Keep it challenging by using a bigger or softer pillow, or by stacking pillows, balancing longer, or closing your eyes as you try to balance.

Goal - Stay fit with the time you have

Anyone who has all the time they want in which to run is either unemployed and childless, or they’re a professional athlete. For the rest of us, Mark Allen, a six-time Ironman champion, has some good news. "By spending a mere 20 minutes in your aerobic zone, at least every three days, you can hold on to your hard-earned fitness," he says.

Ideally, you’d want to aim for 20 minutes of aerobic exercise every day. But when you can’t fit in a daily 20-minute workout, the goal is to not let more than two days of rest go by between workouts. "It’s on the third day of inactivity that your fitness really begins to slide," says Allen.

The Plan

If you have…

60 minutes to exercise each week:
Three 20-minute runs. For each, run easy for five minutes, then focus on maintaining a high cadence of around 180 footstrikes per minute.

80 minutes/week:
Three 20-minute runs as above and add two 10-minute strength-training sessions after two of your runs. "The strength training will help you maintain joint and muscle integrity, which is going to be important when you have more time and can start ramping up the miles again," says Allen.

100 minutes/week:
Three 20-minute runs as above and two 20-minute strength-training sessions.

120 minutes/week:
Two 20-minute runs, one 40-minute run, and two 20-minute strength-training sessions.

140 minutes/week:
As for 120 minutes, but slowly extend your long run.

160 minutes/week:
What are you complaining about?


Goal - Run a six- (or seven- or eight-) minute mile

No matter how much time you want to knock off your personal best, Greg McMillan, the online coach (www.mcmillanrunning.com), says the first step is to increase your stride frequency. You’ll develop a lighter, quicker step by running short, submaximal repetitions engineered to adapt your neuromuscular system – your body’s intricate network of brain, nerve and muscle. "After just two or three of these sessions, the body seems to adapt, and people are already running faster," says McMillan. After several weeks of boosting your stride frequency, add longer, pace-specific interval work to fine-tune your speed to meet your time goal.

The Plan
Twice each week (but not on consecutive days), warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, then begin a series of 10 repetitions of 15 seconds, run at 90 per cent of your top speed. After you complete each repetition, recover with one or two minutes of easy running. Every week, increase the interval time by five seconds, until you’re up to 45 seconds per repetition, at which point cut these sessions to once per week and add one of the pace-specific interval sessions below per week for six weeks.

Note: the figures indicate how quickly you should complete each repetition. > indicates you should start at the slow end of the pace range given, then gradually increase the speed of each repeat.

WEEK
SESSION
SIX-MINUTE MILER
SEVEN-MINUTE MILER
EIGHT-MINUTE MILER
A (1, 3, 5)
6 to 8 x 400 metres with 200-metre recovery jog
1:30>1:25
1:44>1:39
2:00>1:54
B (2, 4, 6)
4 to 6 x 800 metres with 400-metre recovery jog
3:06>2:58
3:38>3:29
4:09>3:58

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