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When starting a new activity or sport we often see quick and dramatic improvements at first. Your body is adapting to a new kind of movement and the results are quick, noticeable and satisfying.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always sustainable and what many of us find after a certain point is that we reach a plateau.
Plateaus can be a very frustrating part of life, and of training. Sometimes it can seem like you’re pushing and pushing and for whatever reason, you’re just staying the same. I’ve found this in my own training, and especially in respect to running. Seeing the same numbers on the clock can be disappointing and lead to a drop in motivation or even enjoyment of your training.
However, I’ve found that there a few things that have been consistently helpful in picking up my pace and overcoming that dreaded plateau.
Fartlek, a form of interval training, is easily my #1 tip when it comes to running. Intervals are great because they get your body accustomed to running at a much faster pace, and this style of running builds both speed and endurance.
My favourite place to run intervals is actually on the treadmill. While I wouldn’t recommend the tready for every run, I really enjoy being able to easily adjust the speed and keep track of time, and the mixed pace takes away the boredom that can often come with an indoor run.
After a warm up, I usually run for three minutes at a faster pace, and then two minutes at a slow-average pace. The speed and duration of your intervals will obviously vary depending on your level of fitness, but be sure to choose a pace that challenges you (don’t attempt this with a chatty friend: you should not be able to hold a conversation) interspersed with periods of recovery. If you need to mix in some walking, by all means do so – you’re still challenging your body and adjusting to a faster pace.
Mix it up
It’s easy to get stuck into the same habits, especially if they’ve brought you success. However, if your usual run around your suburb is no longer serving you, why not try a run around Lake Burley Griffin – or vice versa? A change of scenery can break up the monotony of your routine and introduce new challenges.
When you’re particularly accustomed to a certain route, you can begin to associate visual cues with your pace (“I’ll keep this up until I get to that bridge and then I’ll have a break.”). When you’re immersed in fresh surroundings you might be surprised at what a difference it can make.
Lucky for you Canberra has no shortage of running tracks and trails so you’re certainly not limited in your options.
Head for the hills
For a long time, I really struggled with hills and it was taking a big toll on my pace. This can be a big nuisance if you’re racing in events where you’re not used to the terrain (Heartbreak Hill, anyone?). Hills can slow you down, and if you’re not equipped to run them then it’s going to cost you seconds that, when you’re trying to improve your speed, add up and become significant over the course of a run.
Much like overcoming a fear, the best way to overcome hills is to face them head on. Hill sprints are great for training the fast twitch muscle fibres responsible for delivering explosive power. This is really useful not only for tackling hills during a longer run, but will make you a more effective and stronger runner (and human) over time. Be warned though, hill sprints are really hard work and not for the faint hearted.
Pick a hill that is steep enough to challenge you and run up to the top as fast as you can before either jogging or walking to the bottom for some active recovery. If you’ve picked a shorter hill aim for more reps, a longer hill means less reps or more recovery time.
How’s your technique? Poor technique can result in an inefficient run at best and a serious injury at worst. Most of us know the basics: chest up, shoulders back, chin up. Make sure that your arms bent at about 90 degrees, are swinging straight and aren’t crossing over your torso. Aim to strike with the midfoot and be sure that you’re lifting high enough with your knees.
Hop, skip, jump rope
I love mixing skipping into my training. It seems to complement running really well – it gets your heart racing and your feet moving. Skipping utilises the muscles that are crucial for running like your calves, quads and glutes. It’s a good way to build cardiovascular endurance as well as your speed.
Skipping is especially suited to cold and dark nights as it can be done in the warmth of your home or the gym, and can easily be mixed into, or added before or after, your weights program.
So you love running to Jack Johnston or Ed Sheeran – good for you! Don’t expect it to help with your pace though. When it comes to your running playlist, the higher the tempo the more likely you are to match your pace to the beat.
I swear by Ministry of Sound’s Running Trax – a massive compilation of songs curated specifically to get those feet shuffling. It’s updated seasonally so there’s always fresh tracks. Don’t just take my word for it – former ACT Chief Mister Katy Gallagher swears by it too!
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.