24 Shortcuts To Your New PB


Start racing faster

"To improve your time, you're going to need to run faster throughout the race, not just at the finish. Many racers start too slowly and then end up running too quickly at the end. You need to get up to race pace earlier on and stay there. The key thing is to get your warm-up strategy right and include some faster 200m sections where you take longer strides to drive your heart rate higher. Practise your warm-up routine before the race so that you can get it right on the day." Mick Woods, GB athlete coach

Run off-road pyramids

"Beating your PB requires pure leg speed as well as endurance. You use more muscles running off-road, which teaches your body how to deal with lactic acid build-up when running faster. I do pyramid sets of intervals on an undulating running route of about seven miles. After a 10-minute warm up, do a one-minute interval at race pace or 70-80 per cent of your maximum pace, recover for 60-90 seconds then increase the next interval to two minutes. Repeat this pattern up to a five-minute interval, make the next interval four minutes and continue down the pyramid for a 1/2/3/4/5/4/3/2/1 pattern. Finish with 10-minutes of steady running at 40-50 per cent of your maximum pace." Andy Symonds, mountain marathon runnerin the Saab Salomon Outdoor Team

Own your goals

"You need to 'buy in' to your goal rather than letting your personal trainer or coach impose it. Don't place all of the emphasis on an outcome such as 'beating my marathon PB'. This is great for a final destination, but without an effective plan of action you'll never reach it. Process goals and performance goals such as 'find my race pace' should be steps along the way. Identify the areas that you want to improve, such as endurance or running form, and then set out a schedule of targets, such as completing a half-marathon, losing five pounds and getting your running gait analysed. Gradually ticking off these goals will encourage you to take responsibility for your training and improve your motivation." Andrea Firth-Clark, performance psychologist at Headgame

Hone your 'kick' for a fast finish

"To develop a good 'kick' you need to learn how to run quickly but stay relaxed, which is really hard at the end of a race because your legs are tired and you tense up very easily. Don't force your legs to work harder, just pump your arms faster and keep your upper body relaxed. Practise sprints after your usual run to replicate having tired legs at the end of a race. Recover for a couple of minutes then do three short sprints of 50-100m, pumping your arms and resting between. You'll soon be able to 'kick' when you spot the finish line." Jenny Meadows, 800m World bronze medal winner 2009 and Asics ambassador

Triangulate your training

"Think of your programme as a triangle with equal sides. One is your training, another is your nutrition and one is your sleep. You recover and get fitter as you sleep and research shows this only happens after four hours of sleep, so the longer you're in bed, the better. If one side of your triangle is neglected, the whole structure becomes unbalanced and will fail. On rest days, hydrate and eat lots of nuts, seeds, fruit and veg and protein." Nick Anderson, running coach

Use marathon yogic breathing

"The ujjayi or 'victorious' breathing technique, employed in Hindu and Taoist Yoga practices, engages the core and allows deeper breathing. Visualise a string attached to your navel, gently pull it back and 'tie' it to the spine, then consciously breathe into your rib cage, back and chest. Breathe through your nose and imagine sipping the breath in with a straw with deep inhalations and exhalations. Aim to get the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out. Use this method intermittently when running to conserve energy, calm the mind and create an efficient posture." Dr Kyrin Hall, yoga practitioner and marathon runner

Eat to soothe inflammation

"Training to increase your speed can cause muscle-fibre damage and inflammation. Omega-3, -6 and -9 fats found in nuts, seeds and fish can reduce inflammation and help to provide energy, which means you can recover faster in time for your next run. All fats contain nine calories per gram, but these essential fats deliver benefits, so don't avoid them. Try salmon pâté or guacamole on a couple of oatcakes after a run." Ian Marber, the Food Doctor

Lose the tension

"Avoid wasting energy during a race by unnecessarily tensing muscles, especially in the shoulders and neck. Yoga can train you to run more efficiently by relaxing areas of the body before you race and in between runs. Inhale slowly and deeply to the count of four and then as you slowly exhale imagine you are breathing into a specific part of the body that needs to relax. Visualise the area softening and relaxing, starting with the small muscles of the scalp, moving to the forehead then down until you have done the whole body. This will also improve your ability to focus and help your body recover." Jo Chandler, yoga practitioner

Book your hams into prehab

"Don't wait for a hamstring injury, avoid it by strengthening it. When you run, your hip-joint angle and knee-joint angle change simultaneously with each stride so the hamstring's length doesn't extend and contract much. So you need to exercise it statically too. Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor and then lift your hips up into a bridge while catching and throwing a medicine ball with a partner." David Smith, coach at Pure Sports Medicine

Rein in your downhill stride

"A lot of people lengthen their strides when running downhill, but this can bring your foot too far in front so you have to overcome inertia to bring your body back over the top of your foot. This puts pressure on the quads and creates a braking effect. Shorten your stride to keep your feet underneath you, flick them out behind and lean slightly forwards to let gravity pull you down the hill. I find that this lets me run faster downhill with a third less effort." Jonathan Williams, GP and Ironman triathlete

Test foot and shin flexibility

"If you're prone to shin splints, then try kneeling with your sit bones resting on your heels, the tops of your feet flat on the floor. If you can feel a real pull in your quads while in this position, then the muscles in your feet and at the front of your shin are too tight and need to be stretched regularly." David Smith, performance coach at Pure Sports Medicine

Check your biomechanics

"My research suggests that 70-80 per cent of humans have a left femur (thigh bone) that's longer than the right, in order to support our asymmetrical internal organs. Running on natural terrain isn't a problem, but hard road surfaces make your muscles over-compensate, causing biomechanical injuries to the knee, hip, groin and lower back. At the Sub-4 Centre for Biomechanics Excellence, we're having a 94 per cent success rate by fitting a 3mm orthotic platform under the right foot. Try standing in front of a mirror and look for asymmetry in the shoulders and pelvis. Another way of checking this is to stand with a book no thicker than 12mm under each foot in turn for 30 seconds. Let body feedback work and see if one leg feels too high." Clifton Bradley, podiatrist and biomechanist at Sub-4

Breathe harder

"Your respiratory system can make you run faster and breathing technique is massively important to this. Most people only use a small part of their lung capacity and breathe shallowly when they run. By training your breathing muscles you can improve your respiratory efficiency. Do power breathing as part of your warm-up and before your race because this can help you to run faster. Take a long, deep breath and then exhale hard out through the mouth and repeat 10 times." Mick Woods, running coach

Maximise your glutes

"Most runners don't use the biggest muscle in the body enough. Your buttocks, or glutes, also prevent unnecessary movement in the hips. So access this powerhouse to run faster and decrease the risk of impact injuries by doing single-leg bridges. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and arms flat out to the sides. Now lift your hips to form a straight line from knee to shoulder. Take your left foot off the floor, straighten your left leg and hold for a count of two. Repeat 10 times on each side. But make sure you tense your glutes as you straighten your legs. Then, as you run, try to rotate your pelvis slightly forwards and upwards to make more use of your new strength."Andy Wadsworth, performance coach

Run the shortest route

"If you've ever wondered why there's a blue line painted on the road along the course of the London Marathon, it follows the shortest route to the finish line. Running along it will ensure you cover exactly 26 miles and 365 yards and no more. Run off the line and you will run further. So always make sure you cover the shortest legal route on the course of an event. A 40-minute 10K runner has a velocity of 4.166m per second, so for every 5m off course they would be more than one second slower." Simon Ward, running and triathlon coach

Do 'Eddie the Eagles'

"Your calves and quads need to be strong enough to stop you falling forwards as your feet hit the ground, otherwise your hips fall and you have to use a lot of energy to push back up again. When Usain Bolt runs, his hips stay flat while his feet tip-toe the ground. Do this 'Eddie the Eagle' drill between runs. Roll back on your heels with slightly bent knees so that your toes come off the ground. Then roll forwards onto the balls of your feet, drive up to straighten your legs and pull your arms back behind you. Hold this position and squeeze your calves before bending your knees and rolling back onto your heels." Clifton Bradley, podiatrist and biomechanist at Sub-4

Reduce sugar in energy drinks

"You can help prevent injury, improve energy levels and boost your immune system by cutting sugar from your training nutrition. The sugars in sports drinks and fruit stop you absorbing minerals as readily. This means that an isotonic sports drink filled with minerals to avoid cramping and increase muscle efficiency can only do half its job. Mix your own drink with maltodextrin (a sugar-starch compound from myprotein.co.uk) and a mineral complex with high levels of calcium and magnesium to block cramp (solgar-nutrition.co.uk)." Oliver Gibson, GB Fitness nutritionist with a 2:35 marathon PB

Grow your oxygen bank

"As a race starts you move from inactivity to intense activity in a few seconds. Your aerobic energy system can't provide enough energy to jump-start you like this so you dip into your glycogen stores too early, accelerating fatigue and increasing your oxygen deficit. You need to raise blood lactate to threshold levels during your pre-race warm-up. This needs to be 15-30 minutes long and include three relatively high-intensity one-minute intervals at your 10K pace." Simon Ward, running and triathlon coach

Aim for 90rpm

"If you take longer strides to run faster you will increase impact forces on your joints, so shoot for a faster leg turnover by running at 90 strides per minute. Most people run at around 80 strides, so transfer more weight onto the balls of your feet. This will make your feet strike the ground in line with your hip, increasing your leg turnover."Andy Wadsworth, performance coach

Check your glycaemic load

"You might be used to checking where foods fall on the Glycaemic Index to make sure you're getting enough slow-burning carbs. But it doesn't tell you what proportion of that food is made up of carbs – which is where the Glycaemic Load comes in."Low-GL foods (10 or lower) will help stabilise blood sugar levels, reducing the calories that are metabolised into fat and increasing the calories available for training. Oliver Gibson, GB Fitness nutritionist with a 2:35 marathon PB

Look after your feet

"If you're doing long-distance training, then caring for your feet is vital. Spend some time moisturising your feet, especially in between each toe, four times a week. Focus on keeping the toes wide and spreading the metatarsals (a group of five long bones in the foot) to massage the soft tissue and help your feet recover. Otherwise all that time spent compressed in your shoes will reduce the base of support for weight distribution, leading to increased risk of lower-limb injuries." David Smith, performance coach at Pure Sports Medicine

Prepare your nerves to run

"We normally walk with a 30-degree flex in the knee. But when people take up running they go way out of that range, and the brain fails to recognise the movement pattern and can't control it. You need to prepare your neural pathways for this new movement. Do it by balancing on one leg and pulling your knee into your chest. Then lower it back into full extension. Beginners, do this before you even start to run and before every run." Clifton Bradley, podiatrist and biomechanist at Sub-4

Focus on your core

"A recent review of 20 years of research has found that there is 'no definitive link between atypical foot pronation mechanics and running injury'. That's over-pronation and under-pronation of the foot to you and me. But there is a growing amount of evidence that suggests that having weak hip-stabilising muscles leads to increased forces in the legs. This means that having poor core stability is more likely to injure you than having atypical foot pronation mechanics. Swiss ball exercises are a great way to strengthen your core, and the Swiss ball jacknife workout calls on your core to stabilise your whole body. Get into a press-up position with your wrists below your shoulders and your shins on the ball with your knees bent, keeping your back straight, not arched. Then walk your hands out until your legs are straight, with the tops of your feet on the ball. Lift your hips to pull your knees into your chest, rolling the ball in, then roll it out again. Repeat 12 times." Dr Clare Rayner, physiotherapist

Mix up your cross-training

"A recent study at the University of Toledo, Ohio, USA, found that runners who were on a running/cycling programme improved their 5K times by the same amount as those on a pure running-only programme. There was no advantage in adding extra running sessions over cycling sessions. This is useful because a high-intensity cycling session helps the runner develop increased lactate tolerance and fuel resynthesis, which will help you to run faster, without undergoing high-impact on the legs from an interval-training running workout. Try intervals on a turbo trainer or exercise bike in the gym. Do 60 seconds at 90rpm and 75-85 per cent of maximum effort and then 60 seconds low-resistance spinning to recover. Repeat 10 times." Roy Stevenson, exercise physiologist at Seattle University, USA