Wanted: Coaching team. Must include running coach, sport psychologist, physiotherapist, nutritionist and doctor.
What runner hasn't wished for a chance to work with a team of experts who can answer all their questions, tell them what to do, maybe even push them out of the door every now and then? But the fact is that most runners train on their own. So we asked some of the UK's leading experts for their insights on how you can do a better job of preparing yourself for your next event – and how you can be your own team of experts.
Treat your training programme like your mobile phone contract – set yourself up with a plan that suits your specific needs and you'll reap the rewards. Look at several different plans, work out what the principles underlying their designs are, then construct one that synchs with your personality and lifestyle. "A programme you know you can stick to and enjoy is more likely to bring you to your end goal," explains Sam Murphy, author of Running Well (£14.99, amazon.co.uk). "Working backwards from your goal, incorporating all the other stuff in life you have to fit around your training – from kids to work – will help you identify what is realistic in your specific time frame." Get it down on paper, suggests Murphy. "Make it part of your everyday life by putting it on the fridge so you're constantly reminded of it."
Evaluate your progress
The hardest part of being your own coach is determining exactly how well your training is going. "You need a balance of objective structure and subjective comment," explains Phil Hayes, applied sport and exercise scientist at Northumbria University. "Pay attention to concrete figures, such as improved times, or running the same times at a lower heart rate. But also note how you're feeling out of 10 during those runs." Look for the signs of success: your long runs are leaving you feeling less fatigued; you feel less sore in the 72 hours after a particularly intense run. Next, identify one aspect of your training that needs some work for your next phase of training. Change only that one thing, says Hayes. "If you change two things and have the best season you've ever had, how will you know which change worked?"
Check your pace
While varying the pace of your runs is essential to improving, it's key to have the correct variation. "You need to make your recovery runs really easy and your hard runs really hard," explains Chris Frapwell, coach to GB Olympic marathon hopeful Dan Robinson. "Easy runs should be done as genuine recovery runs, but I see so many club runners doing them as steady runs – it puts you on a fast track to fatigue and over-training." Slow it down – use a heart-rate monitor, train with a plodder or take in some chilled, view-littered trails. "On longer, hard runs, aim for a pace that's about 80 per cent of your race pace. When it comes to the speedier sessions – such as mile reps or intervals – aim for 110 per cent," says Frapwell. "As long as you're hitting faster than race pace, you'll see the benefits."
Get to know you
Knowing yourself is key to improving your running, and that means knowing the you in the present, not just in the past. Don't base your training on your 10K pace from two years ago. "Using old times can lead to over-training, injury and lack of motivation, so it's in your interests to be realistic and up to date," explains Frapwell. "To develop as a runner, training at the right pace is essential. Base your targets on current fitness levels." Run a time trial of 2K as fast and as evenly paced as possible and use your average speed when doing your 400-800m intervals. Put your new times to use. "At the end of each interval training session, you should be just about able to keep up the pace – if you can, increase your duration by 10 per cent; if you can't, shorten it."
If you want to know why you're performing well - or why you aren't – it's crucial to keep track of your habits. "There's no single more important tool for a self-coached runner than a training log – but it needs to be done right," explains John Wood, City of Sheffield AC endurance coach. The rule of thumb: cover every base. "Include anything and everything that could affect your performance; not just miles and pace, but also things like how much you slept, what you ate, the weather and even your general mood before, during and after each run," adds Wood. "It'll help you identify patterns and the cause and effect of good and bad runs." And training logs don't have a ‘use by' date. "I have all my training diaries going back to 1984," says Karen Hancock, coach at the Serpentine Running Club in London. It's easy to become complacent as a more experienced runner and think you won't forget the lessons you've learned years ago, says Hancock. "Just flicking through them when I feel like I've hit a plateau can be enough to spark me into action and give me just the lift I need."
Become a coach
Every runner knows the benefits of finding a good mentor – be it a coach or a more experienced runner in your club – but the advantages go both ways. "Whatever your standard or fitness level, mentoring a beginner or someone less experienced than you can help you refine your own thoughts and understand your own running better," explains coach Richard Holt from Momentum Sports. "It also encourages you to become a better listener, so you'll actually end up getting more benefit from whoever's mentoring you, which is key to improving," adds Holt. Advise them on all aspects that your privileged external view can help with – running style, cadence and run scheduling – along with all the motivation you can provide. If your local club can't help you find someone to coach, try runningpartners.co.uk. Or you could just put a post on our forums.
Find more flexitime
Don't let your training schedule rule your life. "When times and results become the whole focus of training, it's possible to adversely affect other areas of your life, which in turn will negatively feed back into your running," says Julia Armstrong, leading performance coach and author of Running to Learn (Red Sail Publishing; £9.99, amazon.co.uk). It's crucial to work around this vicious circle. "Running is a hobby – it's not worth sacrificing your job or personal relationships for," adds Armstrong. Take your training opportunities where you can get them. "Your plan is just that – a plan. If you spot a training opportunity that will relieve pressure elsewhere in the week – such as running home from work or a partner being away – take it." Likewise, if your programme calls for a rest day, but you need to run hard to de-stress from work, do your tempo miles and rest the next day.
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