Out With the Old, and In With the New!

12/27/2011 - 09:35

By Lena Hollmann
Hollman,_Lena.jpg__.jpgAnother year, full of hope and possibilities, lies around the corner. For us runners, hope might be that our training will go smoothly, and there are always possibilities to beat last year’s seasonal bests -- or at least to not slow down, if you are a masters runner. New Years is therefore a great time to evaluate what is working and what is not with our training and racing, and maybe also to try something different!

Yes, something different. You are probably familiar with the saying that we cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results. This month I want to give you a few hints and suggestions for new things to try out in your training. Some will hopefully result in faster racing times, while others are mostly for fun.

First, make a resolution to pick and choose your races in 2012. In our mild southern climate we could easily run races all year round. Which is okay, as long as we don’t try to peak for all of them! In order not to get burned out or injured, we cannot put our heart and soul into every race. Instead we need to choose which races are the most important, focus on these, and treat other races as hard training runs. Maybe you can choose a string of races during a specific time period and peak for those, or maybe there is one specific race where you want to run exceptionally well, such as the Boston Marathon.

After times of heavy racing we need to build in recovery periods. Otherwise we increase our risk of wearing out and getting injured. This is especially important for us masters runners, since we tend to have longer recovery times than our younger counterparts. Recovery doesn’t mean hanging out in front of the television or in the bleachers on the basketball court, by the way. At least not all the time. Hit the pool, tennis court, or golf course, and just do some short and easy runs for a couple of weeks. Your muscles and joints will thank you!

Second, try a different type of race than those you have done in the past. Many of my local running buddies are getting into ultra marathons, for example. It is something in the air that makes it contagious around here, it seems. (However, so far I haven’t gotten the bug!) If you aren’t ready for an ultra, maybe you can try shorter trail runs. Just be careful and pick up your feet if you opt for this! One of the reasons we get slower as we age is that our stride length shortens. This in turn is because our leg and core muscles aren’t as strong so we don’t pick up our feet as high as we used to. We can get away with lifting our feet just an inch off the ground when running on the roads. But do this on a trail and it is only a matter of time before you will trip on a root. And what happens afterwards depends on how lucky you are. You may get just a few scrapes, or end up with a dislocated shoulder, like I did several years ago on a trail in Hawaii. I ended up at the emergency room on Kauai, but that is another story for another day. Let me just say here and now that I don’t want to discourage you from trying a trail run, I just want you to be careful out there!

This could also be the year for strengthening your legs and core. Then those trail runs (and road races) will be much easier on your body, and your risk of tripping will go down. Your race times will also be faster. My third suggestion is therefore to add strength training to your routine, if you aren’t doing it already. This could do miracles when you hit the racing circuit in the spring!

Provided you do the correct exercises, and work hard without overextending yourself, you should be able to get results by investing 15-20 minutes in strength training two or three times a week. Lunges, squats, and split squats will strengthen your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Perform these exercises with dumbbells or a barbell for a bigger challenge. For the core, a few recommended exercises are planks, sit-ups, and Russian Twist. (You can look up any of these exercises on the Internet if you are not familiar with them.) With any exercise, you should be able to perform 10-15 repetitions before fatigue sets in. If you cannot do this, and you are working with weights, then the weights are too heavy.

If you don’t believe that strength training will do the trick to make you faster, I am living proof that it will. Since I started to incorporate it as a regular part of my training a little over a year ago, I have gotten minutes faster on every distance! Even in the 5K, my times have improved by more than a minute.

Another way to improve race times is interval training. If you are a serious runner, I am sure you are doing this already. I could get into the topic of intervals in detail, but will save that for some other time. Right now I just want to tell you about a quick and different way to get some intervals in, even if it is 15 degrees outside or there is 10 inches of snow on the ground.

If you have access to a treadmill, a rowing or elliptical machine, or a stationary bicycle, you can do what is referred to as Tabata training, named after Izumi Tabata, PhD, a researcher at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, Japan. A Tabata circuit consists of four minutes of intense interval training on any of the above equipment, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for a total of eight repetitions. During the 20 seconds you are expected to work as hard as you can. When you read about this workout it may not seem that hard, but I have tried it and can tell you that I’m pretty exhausted when I am done! Because of its short duration it probably benefits you most on shorter distances, and it doesn’t replace longer intervals. But it is a great substitute for “regular” intervals when the weather is ugly, or when you are pressed for time. Throw in two of these four-minute sequences during a half hour on the exercise bike, and I can guarantee that you will feel that you worked out once you step off!

Finally, consider getting a gym membership if you don’t already have one. If money is an issue, many locations have low price gyms where you can buy a basic membership without all the “bells and whistles” for a nominal fee. At a gym you will find all the equipment you need to do your strength training and Tabata intervals. And the treadmill will be a godsend during inclement weather. Maybe you could even try a class, like Zumba or Yoga, for a new and different way to stay active on your recovery days. It is one option for getting rid of at least part of the guilt that you aren’t running that day!

I hope you find some of the above ideas worth a try, and that they will spice up your training routine during the dark and dreary winter months. Have fun with new and different workouts or races, and spring will be here sooner than you know it!

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