Strong LegsMany runners assume that because they run, they don’t need to do leg-strengthening exercises. This isn’t necessarily true. A specific weight programme targeting your legs could reap a huge race dividend, particularly over longer distances. If you run a marathon in 3:30, for example, at a rate of 180 steps a minute, during the entire race you will take 37,800 steps. Stronger leg muscles allow you to spend less time on the ground with each foot-strike and increase your stride length.
A reduction of just 0.02 of a second in the time on the ground per foot-strike translates into running a marathon a staggering 12 minutes 36 seconds faster. And if the same improvement in leg-muscle power helps to improve your stride length by just half an inch, you’ll gain almost 500m, which could be another two minutes off your time.
Doing strengthening exercises twice a week is the best way to build leg power. Try squats, leg extensions, thigh curls (for the hamstrings and buttocks), leg presses, toe raises and heel raises. These will also help to reduce your risk of injury by fortifying your joints and protecting your legs from the repetitive pounding of training.
If you are looking for a non-weight-based programme to build leg strength, head for the hills. Hill intervals are also an effective way to build efficient and powerful leg muscles. Find a hill that is 75-100m from bottom to top and run up at an intensity slightly harder than 5K race pace. Start with seven or eight intervals, each followed by an easy jog back to the bottom of the hill.
Don’t just hammer out the miles on roads or pavements. By training off-road on trails or sand, your legs will work harder to keep you moving, and you’ll put less stress on joints. You can even include races on different surfaces in your training to keep you focused on the long-term goal. Try the Blackpool Beach 10K on July 11 – it’s run entirely on sand and will really test your speed endurance. And when you return to the roads, there should be a new spring in your step.
Improve Your Lactate Threshold Pace (LTP)Your lactate threshold pace (LTP) is the running pace above which amounts of lactic acid begin to accumulate in the blood. Scientists believe that this leads to increased fatigue during running. If you can improve your LTP, you’ll get faster – it’s that simple. A six per cent improvement in LTP – which should be fairly easy if you don’t currently focus on this kind of training – will produce a nine-minute improvement on a 3:30 marathon time.
You can use two special sessions to increase your LTP: run 10-minute intervals at your current 10K pace (do two or three intervals with five-minute recoveries), or do a continuous 25-minute tempo run at a pace that’s 12-15 seconds per mile slower than your usual 10K race pace.