With all my athletes, I try to make sure their early pre-season programs are fun and engaging. The rest of the triathlon year will entail hard workouts and long hours—that's just the nature of our sport. But the winter can offer some different approaches. For an athlete attempting to improve his or her running over the winter, I prescribe a diet of hill work, fartlek runs, strength training incorporated into track sessions, and "destination runs," where I urge my athletes to turn their weekend long runs into a chance to discover a new trail or route somewhere nearby. Here's what a triathlete may do in a winter running block to improve their efficiency, strength, and speed by spring.
First, a note about cadence. The best runners in the world tend to have cadences of around 88 to 92 strides per minute (SPM). Count your strides per minute by keeping track of how many times one of your feet contacts the ground every 60 seconds (you can count both and divide by two, for sure, but you have to count faster and then do some division—yikes). Many of us will be below that 88 to 92 magic number. If that's you, then don't fret—this is something you can improve, and a big goal of your winter training should be exactly that: increasing your regular running cadence. Be forewarned that changing your running cadence takes time, like so many worthwhile things. Be patient!
A Winter Running MenuIncorporate these runs into your week as you're able to. No set pattern is necessary.
1. Oregon Circuits. You can learn more about this awesome routine here, from James Dunne's excellent Kinetic Revolution site. In short, Oregon Circuits are 300 meter track intervals run at next year's goal race pace (so if you're training for an Ironman, that pace may be "slow" to your perception of what track intervals are "supposed to be") interspersed with body-weight squats, lunges, and core exercises. This is probably the most important workout you'll be doing each week, and you can get more details here.
2. Fartlek Runs. I get a lot of these from my coach, and, as a result, my athletes get a lot of them. Fartlek is a funny word from two Swedish words (fart = speed, and lek = play) that, ironically, is rarely used in Swedish running training. Pretty much fartlek runs are simply runs during which the speed and length of intervals are determined by how the runner is feeling: if one is feeling fresh, they can speed up or run faster; when tired, one slows down. This is the workout per week to really focus on your cadence—try to run your self-prescribed intervals quickly, with excellent (88-92 spm) turnover. Don't worry about "going hard," or "getting a killer workout." Fartlek runs are about staying fresh, learning how to vary your pace, improving cadence, and having fun (remember, half the damn word means "play!").
3. Hill repeats. Hill work is important during the off-season, and almost everyone performs his or her hill repeats incorrectly. People choose hills that are too steep ("more is better, right?") and then they run them too hard ("more is better, right?"). Hill repeats improve your run form, and build strength in your hips, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. If you push too hard, your form is likely to break down, and if your hill is too steep, you won't run with good form in the first place. Pick a hill that describes a 4 to 5 percent grade (similar to a highway off-ramp—not that steep!) and run a series of one-minute to the 3-minute intervals, focusing on good posture (stand up straight, shoulders back, eyes forward) and good cadence (88 to 92 spm). If you're paying attention to those two things, your effort will come up, believe me. Recover for 1.5 times the length of the interval, so you'd get 90 seconds rest for each 60 second repeat. Got it?
4. Destination runs. Get out a map and a calendar. Plot out some routes you've never done before but have been meaning to do, those running routes that your running friends can't stop talking about. Find new trails, canal paths, giant loops that take in parts of your city you haven't visited before. The goals of this run are A) keep things fresh B) run longer than 90 minutes and C) keep your cadence up (if you can't make 88 to 92, then just focus on higher than your natural cadence). Try to keep your effort low (your pace should be 60 to 90 seconds per mile slower than your current marathon pace) and your curiosity high.
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