Use the Weather to your Advantage: Run
As the sun starts to peak through the clouds of winter, but we still enjoy crisp cool days, running has much more appeal than in the dog days of summer. A beginning runner’s top priority is to establish a solid foundation for future development. How? Physiological foundation has two very important components: aerobic fitness and neuromuscular fitness. Aerobic fitness is the ability to generate large amounts of energy efficiently with oxygen taken from the environment. Neuromuscular fitness is the ability to generate a high level of stride power in an energy-efficient manner. Develop these characteristics are appropriate for starting at square one.
Aerobic Training 101
The best way to lay aerobic foundation is simple: Perform gradual, steady running at a comfortable pace. Start with short 15-20-minutes and slowly increase the duration of your average run to 45 minutes, and one “long run” on Saturday or Sunday. Keep increasing duration of the long run until it’s long enough to carry you to the finish line of the longest events you will do, if preparing for a race. The rule of thumb is about 10% increase per week. Too many beginners want to increase speed too soon. I usually end up seeing them after they have become injured or disappointed. Improve by simply increasing the volume of easy running each week until you reach the maximum level you’re comfortable with. Mix in more advanced types of aerobic training, but as a beginner, keep advanced training techniques to a minimum and prioritize sheer volume.
The best way to build a foundation of neuromuscular fitness is very short, very fast efforts such as speed intervals, fartleks and hill sprints. Steep hill sprints are short, maximum-intensity efforts against gravity and provide two key benefits. First, they strengthen muscles, making you less injury-prone. They increase power and efficiency of stride, enabling to cover more ground with each stride with less energy. They provide significant benefits that take little time and are fun to do. If you’ve never done a steep hill sprint, do not leap into a set of 10 the first time you try! They place tremendous stress on muscles and connective tissues. The careless beginner is at risk of suffering muscle or tendon strain or another acute injury performing hill sprints. Once legs have adapted to the stress, hill sprints can protect against injury. Proceed with caution until you get over early adaptations. Depending on your exercise history, the time to start integrating hills or intervals is different for each runner.
The Long View
As seasons go by, assuming you train sensibly, running should evolve by adding layer upon layer to a foundation of aerobic and neuromuscular fitness through increasing mileage and more challenging aerobic workouts, including longer long runs, and challenging neuromuscular training. As training reaches a point of diminishing return, gradually shift focus toward specific-training for your primary event (if you race), or if you have other goals, such as weight loss, and have reached a plateau. The longer you train for competitive performance in distance running, the more your overall mix should move away from general training and focus on specific endurance. For example in the first four years of running, gradually build easy mileage, increase the long run distance, include hill sprints and short intervals.
Spring is a great time to begin a running program, so enjoy the outdoors and be smart about building a foundation.