Workouts to boost running economy

Getty Images

1. Race-pace running

This is fairly self-explanatory, right? You teach your body to become more efficient at your target race pace by doing lots of running at that pace. Race-pace running can be done as continuous tempo runs for longer races such as marathons, or as intervals with short recovery periods for shorter races.

2. vVO2 (velocity at VO2) max intervals

In 1999, Veronique Billat – an exercise scientist at the University of Lille, France – discovered that the average runner is able to sustain their vVO2 max (velocity at VO2 max – that is, the slowest sustained running pace at which they reach maximum oxygen consumption) for approximately six minutes.

Therefore you can get a rough estimate of your current vVO2 max by warming up thoroughly and running as far as you can in six minutes (best done on a track or treadmill). Work out your average pace for the effort – that’s your current vVO2 max. Then do the following:

1) Divide the total distance you ran in six minutes by 12 to get the distance you covered in 30 seconds. Let’s say you ran 1800m in total. One-twelfth of that distance is 150m. This is roughly how far you should run your hard 30-second intervals in your 30-30 workouts.

2) After a 10-minute warm-up, run 30 seconds at your vVO2 max pace. Try to cover exactly one twelfth of the distance you covered in your time trial.

3) Jog 30 seconds at roughly half the pace of your vVO2 max (covering half the distance of your fast rep).

4) Repeat this process until you can no longer cover the designated distance at vVO2 max pace (16-24 intervals are the norm).

5) Cool down with 10 minutes of easy jogging. Do this workout once a week for four to six weeks – in the original study, one vVO2 max session per week for four weeks seemed enough to improve RE.

3. Very short intervals

Though they’re not as well established in the research literature on RE, relaxed stride-outs of 50-200m are considered to be beneficial to RE by many coaches. Robert Chapman, a kinesiologist and coach at Indiana University, US, recalls, ‘One athlete I had was blessed with a high VO2 max (82ml/kg/min) and a very nice lactate threshold (90 per cent of VO2 max), but his RE was awful. So we tried different interventions. For him, what seemed to help was high-volume 100m repeats at 3K goal pace with short rests. After a year, he went from no-hoper to a podium place in the major universities athletics meet – no easy feat.’

4. Plyometric exercises

In a 2006 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, a group of well-trained runners improved their RE by doing 30 minutes of plyometric drills three times per week for nine weeks. (For typical drills, go to runnersworld.co.uk/plyometrics.) These rapid, explosive movements shock the body more than regular running and should probably be avoided by the more injury-prone. Still, it’s notable that the runners in this study and one published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in 1999 did little or no strength training prior to their immersion in plyometrics. So if you think your joints can handle it, don’t be afraid to try something new.