Learning how to condition for running is important for any recreational runner. If you do your conditioning properly, you will increase your race time and your cardiovascular fitness. The reigning knowledge is currently being challenged; where it used to be that you needed to do lots of long, slow paced runs to improve your races, the concept is now that you have to train fast to race fast. Here are the 3 workouts that every runner should incorporate into his conditioning:
- The long run. Going on long, slow runs is very important for any runner's conditioning. It exercises your heart and your legs, but more importantly it prepares your joints for the stress of a long road race. In addition, although sprints may increase your aerobic capacity, you still need to encourage the growth of the slow twitch endurance muscles that are important for any race over 5 minutes. The length of your long run is up to you, but never increase the time or the distance by more than 10% in one week. During these runs you should be able to comfortably talk with a running partner if you have one.
- Interval runs. During these runs you push yourself hard for about 1/3 the distance or time of your maximum long run. This prepares your muscles for working hard and taxes them in a way that will prepare them for a race. You should be taking this run at a pace that is just a little bit over race pace. The point is that you want to push yourself. If you keep running at race pace or lower, you are only going to stay at the same speed. The day after an interval run should be followed with a long run, or a run at your long run pace.
- High Intensity Intervals. These are essentially sprints and should be worked into your schedule at least once a week. In these, you run for as hard as you can for 30 seconds and then walk or jog for 20 seconds. There are a number of variations on this theme, but the idea is that you sprint and then rest. If you have never done intensity intervals start with 3 sets. Don't bank on doing a long cool down, your legs will be jello. Especially early in your training, make sure to follow a high intensity day with a day where you jog or rest. It takes your body at least 24 hours to recover, so take it easy.
Always do a 7-10 minute warm up before doing any run (including the long run, especially for the intensity intervals). Hydrate properly, get a lot of sleep and you will be well on your way to being a well conditioned runner.