And in running, too. We need fresh strategies. In particular, we need to look at the big picture. Instead of training more, we should be training smarter. No ones got any time to waste but, paradoxically, we may need to stop and smell the roses occasionally.
Planned relaxation is part of the new fitness formula, as are yoga and visualisation. Its a broader approach, incorporating physical and mental development with more conventional training runs.
We call it integrated training, and its based on seven pillars of fitness. Running is the key to the programme and the goal is improved running. But it combines the main principles of cross-training, good health, time management and stress reduction as well. Which is precisely why it works.
Feel free to adapt the programme to your own needs. Some of us need more long runs, some need more stretching. You know yourself better than anybody else does. The key point, really, is breaking out of the rut, reaching for the new, bringing the pieces together, growing. Be proactive, not reactive. All runners need to incorporate change into their programmes.
All percentages and total minutes in the following seven sections are based on a hypothetical five-hour training week. Again, since running is the basis of your training, well start there.
1. Steady distance running
(40 per cent of total weekly training; 120 minutes)
Comfortable distance running on a regular basis should be the essential component of every runners programme. For caloric expenditure, aerobic capacity, endorphin flow and a healthy heart, the solid distance run at an easy-does-it pace is your standard bearer. It gives you a foundation for racing and, if you like, can serve as a springboard to the marathon.
Aim for three steady runs per week; 60 minutes (your long, clean-out-the-tubes run), 40 minutes (your medium run) and 20 minutes (your short, break-a-sweat recovery run). Space them out through the week, making sure you dont do more than three in a row. The long run is particularly important, as anything over 45 minutes gives a boost to your maximal oxygen uptake, increasing the bodys ability to transport oxygen to the working muscles.
2. Tempo running
(15 per cent; 45 minutes)
If your current training schedule includes too much of the same old thing same course, same pace, same distance its time for a change. Otherwise, your repetitive stride pattern will tighten the muscles and joints and make you more susceptible to injury, while your gait simply trains you to run slowly. You risk fatigue, heavy legs and probably the onset of terminal boredom.
The solution is to make one run per week a faster work-out to elevate your fitness, add variety, develop your concentration and get you out of that go-slow rut. The tempo run is a wonderful change of pace for a number of reasons.
Most experts advise that you run tempo work-outs at a slightly slower speed than your current 10K race pace say, 10-20 seconds slower per mile. This shouldnt feel like an all-out effort, but youll definitely be running harder than on your steady-run days. If you use a heart rate monitor, aim to hit 90 per cent of your maximum heart rate. Begin and end the session with 10 minutes of easy running. The middle 25 minutes is where you want to enter your tempo zone.
Tempo running requires greater focus than other runs, where you can let your mind wander and lose yourself in random thoughts. To sustain a fast, but controlled pace for up to 25 minutes, you have to concentrate on running smoothly and crisply, maintaining good form, not letting your pace waver. In other words, you have to monitor your body, not let it revert to auto-pilot.
(5 per cent; 15 minutes)
Many runners fear the added demands of speedwork, worrying about stress on the ligaments and joints, pushing the body nearly to the limit, feeling residual fatigue for the rest of the week. But speedwork, whether on track, trail or road, can be adaptable and user-friendly. And its the surest path to faster running.
Speedwork increases your fitness by engaging more of the body. Your stride opens up, encouraging a greater range of motion in the muscles and joints. You elevate your comfort zone and, in time, tolerate greater intensity. You feel more athletic and derive an enormous sense of accomplishment.
The beauty of integrated training is that it builds balance, muscle strength and an overall healthier body, all of which make speedwork less intimidating. When its time to do speedwork, you feel fresh and eager instead of mentally and physically wasted from day after day of the same old thing.
The most effective place to do speedwork is on a track. Warm up for 10 minutes, then do 15 minutes of running hard on the straight and jogging the curves (or just run one hard straight per lap). An alternative: a series of 200m repetitions, alternating 200m hard with 200m of jogging. This sounds like something an Olympic champion might do, but you can easily adapt it to your own needs and pace.
(12 per cent; 36 minutes)
Even a mere half-hour of cross-training cycling, swimming, stair-climbing, whatever provides several healthy benefits: aerobic exercise without impact, a mental break from running and a new environment for working out.
Easy cycling is a good choice for recovery the day after a hard run, and if you have access to an exercise bike you can avoid the perils of road rage and boy racers.
The pool also offers several great cross-training opportunities. In fact, running in the pool is the closest thing to real running, but without the impact, which makes it an ideal environment for runners affected by injury. But dont swim immediately after running, or youll risk muscle cramping. If your time is flexible, a recovery day of easy running in the morning and water running in the afternoon or evening might be ideal.
Another great cross-training alternative is cross-country skiing, but unless you live somewhere like Norway, youll have to make do with the simulation of a gym-based machine.
5. Weight training
(12 per cent; 36 minutes)
Full body weight work is another vital part of the programme. Resistance work is essential to skeletal health. It guards against bone loss and osteoporosis, and facilitates a higher level of fat metabolism, 24 hours a day. No matter what your age, you can enjoy significant gains in strength and bone density in a matter of weeks.
Maintaining a strong upper body enables you to keep your posture while running, preventing fatigue, but to maintain balance you should follow a weight programme that works both the upper and lower body. Make sure opposing muscle groups (like quadriceps and hamstrings) are both included in your programme. Training these muscles can improve your performance and also lessen the risk of knee injury. And dont forget the abdominals; they form a crucial link between the upper and lower body.
If youre starting out, machines are safer and easier to use than free weights. Begin with a simple programme of 15-20 minutes twice a week and build up slowly.
6. Yoga and stretching
(12 per cent; 36 minutes)
The principle behind stretching is clear get flexible or get hurt. Stretch out the muscles and connective tissues for a longer, more fluid, faster stride or see your stride gradually get shorter, tighter, more like a shuffle.
Still, most runners stretch begrudgingly. Perhaps its because we hear such conflicting advice on how to stretch properly. We may find stretches that work for us through trial and error, but many of us still dont enjoy the process.
If this lament sounds familiar, consider taking up yoga, a more appealing combination of stretching, deep breathing and meditation. Deep breathing raises the body temperature, helping you tolerate the stretching postures and allows you to relax deeper into the stretch.
Movements are linked (pose and counterpose) in a continuous flow, aiding strength, balance and relaxation at the same time.
7. Mental training
(4 per cent; 12 minutes)
Your thoughts about running and yourself govern much of your success, whether your goals are weight control, stress relief or a faster 10K. Mental training involves everything from burnishing your self-image to pushing beyond perceived barriers to narrowing your focus for a particular race or work-out the Positive Mental Attitude, or PMA, beloved of coaches and personal development gurus.
Mental training takes at least three distinct forms. It can be your thoughts while running visualising yourself competing smoothly and confidently in your next race. It can be a non-running form of relaxation and refreshment, such as yoga. Or it can be any way to take a meditative time out from the rush of your daily life. In these exercises, you dont think about running, but try to achieve a liberating calm that can be transferred to more focused running.
At other times, youll want your mental training to be more directed especially before a big race or important work-out. Here, the timing can be crucial. You dont want to bite off too much at once and deplete your emotional reservoir. Pick a time when your mental and physical excitement are nearing their peak and when you know you can sustain your focus and energy right up to the big moment.