Awesome Autumn


Illustrations by Geoffrey Grahn

Is it just us, or is autumn the best time of year to be a runner? Still warm enough for shorts (hopefully), but just cool enough to inspire you to pick up the pace. And you’ve taken advantage of the long summer days to log more miles or train for a race, so you’re more fit than you’ve been all year. But this otherwise ideal season is fleeting, and without the right focus, you could lose all you’ve gained as winter rolls around. So make the most of your summer fitness and build on it. Whether you want to work on your motivation, speed, strength or endurance, we’ve got a plan for you.


SUMMER ACHIEVEMENT: Became a runner
AUTUMN GOAL: Stay motivated

This summer, you became a runner (maybe again). Congrats. Now that you’ve got the right running shoes, the right running routes and the right running partners – well, you’re on the right track. But keeping it all going through the lovely autumn is the key to staying with it through the more challenging winter, says Jenny Hadfield, co-author of Running for Mortals (£10.53, amazon.co.uk).

Take Aim
Now that you’ve reached your original goal of becoming a runner, set your sights on another running goal to keep yourself pumped. Lots of new (or returning) runners get motivated by choosing a race as a goal, but use whatever target works for you, whether that’s building up to your first 10-mile run, running five times a week, or logging 100 miles in a month. “A good goal keeps you excited,” says Hadfield.

Go Off-Road
Consider trading concrete for dirt this autumn. Running on trails reduces your risk of overuse injuries because the surface is more forgiving. “Autumn is a beautiful time of year to enjoy trails,” says Hadfield. Fartlek runs, which randomly alternate faster bursts of running with slower jogs, are a great way to challenge yourself – and have fun – on trails. After warming up, set your sights on a big boulder or towering tree up ahead and increase your pace until you reach it, then run easy for a while before picking another landmark. But be careful, because the uneven terrain can increase your risk of an ankle sprain. “Keep your eyes about three feet ahead on the trail,” says Hadfield.

Vary Your Pace
Mix in some faster running to keep things interesting and enhance your fitness. Hadfield suggests a ‘negative split’ as a good way to start speedwork. Pick an out-and-back route. Run for, say, 20 minutes, then turn around and try to cut one or two minutes off that time coming back. You can also incorporate faster running into your normal routes by dividing some runs into five-minute segments, suggests Hadfield. Run the first one or two minutes of each segment at a pace that is faster than regular training pace, then ease back.

Experiment
Simple logistical changes to your regular running routine can help keep your enthusiasm high, says Hadfield. Do you always run alone? Start running with a friend, or join a local running club. If you normally run in silence, try running with an iPod. Instead of always running from your front door, occasionally drive to a nice park or beach for a change of scenery.


SUMMER ACHIEVEMENT: Ran a 5K
AUTUMN GOAL: Set a 5K PB

It’s fun to be fast. And if you trained to build 5K speed over the summer, you’re probably looking for a PB this autumn. The goal is to achieve the right training balance. "You need to do a variety of workouts to improve 5K speed," says coach Brad Hudson, author of Run Faster from the 5K to the Marathon (£7.10, amazon.co.uk). "Sometimes you need to run faster than 5K pace to increase stride power. Sometimes you need to run longer and a little slower, to sustain 5K pace better. And sometimes you need to run right at 5K pace, to become more efficient."


SUMMER ACHIEVEMENT: Ran a 10K or half-marathon
AUTUMN GOAL: Stay strong

After weeks of higher mileage and tough speedwork sessions, you ran a great 10K or half-marathon. But the type of aerobic strength it takes to run these longish race distances well is particularly hard to hold on to. “Maintaining this kind of peak-level fitness is trickier than building it,” says coach Greg McMillan (www.mcmillanrunning.com). Continuing to train in the manner that brought your aerobic strength to its peak level in the first place could eventually lead to a drop in competitive times. Instead, he says, you have to modify your training in three specific ways.

1. Emphasise Long Runs
"A lot of 10K and half-marathon runners de-emphasise long runs as they get close to their peak," says McMillan. "Putting some emphasis back on to long runs can help you to extend that peak by bolstering your endurance, which is the foundation for good performance at these distances." First, extend your longest run of the week by two to three miles. So if you normally run seven to nine miles every Sunday, work up to running nine to 12. Also, do a medium-long run during the middle of the week every other week. If your typical Wednesday run is five easy miles, for example, run seven miles next Wednesday, then five miles the following Wednesday.

2. Run At Race Pace
To keep your body well accustomed to running at race pace without burning yourself out, you need to include a modest amount of race-pace running in your training schedule every week. McMillan suggests doing one of these workouts each week the day after an easy run or a day off, so you’re rested and ready to perform well.

For 10K Runners:
1 to 2 easy miles to warm up
3 x 1 mile at 10K race pace with 2-minute jog recovery
1 to 2 easy miles to cool down

For Half-Marathon Runners:
1 to 2 easy miles to warm up
2 x 2 miles at 10K race pace with 1 to 2 easy miles between
1 to 2 miles easy to cool down

3. Shore Up A Weakness
Use a recent 10K or half-marathon performance to identify a weakness to work on. "It’s going to be one of two things," says McMillan. "Either you fatigue late in these races, indicating a lack of stamina, or your race pace just feels fast from the start, which suggests you need to work on speed." If stamina is your problem, try doing a moderately long run with a portion of it at a fairly aggressive pace every seven to 10 days. For example, try an eight-miler with the last four miles at half-marathon pace. If speed is your weakness, add some intervals at 5K race pace to your schedule every week to 10 days, such as 5 x 800 metres at 5K pace with two-minute jog recoveries in between.


SUMMER ACHIEVEMENT: Trained for a marathon
AUTUMN GOAL: Maintain endurance

Clearly, you can’t hang on to peak marathon endurance forever, yet it’s a shame to let too much of it slip away between events. But runners who complete an early-autumn marathon can maintain their endurance through the season by replacing standard long runs with various alternative workouts that boost stamina while offering a break from tough 20-milers. So, after your marathon, take it easy for two weeks. Then do one of the following four workouts once a week in the place of a long run.