Marathon Mama: The aha moment & how to improve your running

Runner girl

By Beth Gallini

I was recently talking with a friend who completed her first 5K last fall.  She had never run before and her goal leading up to the race was simply to finish.  She didn’t care about her time or pace and didn’t pay any attention to her husband’s talk about trying to finish in a certain time or wondering if they could run faster.

Then she crossed the finish line and she immediately had an “ah-ha moment.” She told me that she “got it.”  She suddenly understood why runners want to keep running races, what draws them back, and why they want to beat a previous time and continue to improve.  She was already thinking about what she could do differently to run a better race next time.

For any runner running a first race or running a new distance for the first time, having a goal to finish is great!

But once you have a little experience under your belt, there are some things you can do to help make you a better and stronger runner:

Strides: Strides are an important part of training for runners of all levels.  They help your body get used to running faster, loosen up any tightness, improve form, and increase your efficiency as a runner.  Strides can be added to the end of an easy run a few times a week and only take a few minutes to perform.  Find a flat stretch at the end of your run and run for approximately 20-30 seconds at roughly 90-95% of maximum effort.  Jog back to your starting point slowly and be sure you are totally recovered before starting the next stride.  Repeat 4-6 times.

Speed work: Speed work can mean very different things and can include a range of different workouts.  Below are some good ways for runners of all levels to include some speed work in their training.

  • Fartleks runs – A fartlek run is a form of “speed play” with surges of speed thrown in during otherwise easy running. It is unstructured and the surges can be a few minutes, the duration of a song on your playlist, until five white cars pass you, the length of three street lights, or anything else you can think of to mark the time.   A fartlek run could look like 1 mile easy, 6 x 2 minute surges with 2 minutes to recover, 1 mile easy.
  • Progression runs – A progression run simply means you run progressively faster during your run.  You could run the first mile easy and slowly increase the effort or pace for each mile until the end.
  • Tempo runs – Tempo runs are run faster than an easy run and at a pace that could be sustained for about 60 minutes or somewhere between your 10K and half marathon pace.  A tempo run might look like 1 mile easy, 2 miles at tempo pace, 1 mile easy.  You could also do intervals, which could look like 1 mile easy, 3 x 1 mile at tempo pace with 2 minutes recovery, 1 mile easy.
  • Long runs — Your long run is simply your longest run of the week and the length will vary depending on what you are training for and how long you have been running.   Regardless of your experience level or your training goals, it is good to have one run a week that is longer than your other runs.

Maintain consistency: It is not uncommon to see a runner train regularly for a race, stop running for a few months once the race is over, and then pick it back up again when they want to run another race.  I firmly believe one of the biggest ways to make big leaps as a runner and to see progress is to be consistent!  This doesn’t mean you don’t take a recovery period or include cut-back weeks, but it does mean that you continue to run on a regular basis.

Non-running things: There are a lot of things we do outside of running that can positively or negatively impact our running.  When we want to improve as a runner, it is important to look at the big picture.

  • Strength training – Doing even a small amount of strength training on a weekly basis will decrease your risk of injury, improve your running form, and help you be a stronger runner. In addition to your legs and upper body, it is important to include exercises that target your core and hip strength.
  • Rest days – It is important to give your body a day to rest and recover!
  • Sleep – Getting enough sleep is important in order for you to have the energy to train and it helps your body to properly recover.
  • Nutrition – Just because you are a runner doesn’t mean you get a free pass to eat anything you want!  It doesn’t mean you can’t have a treat, but you want to keep things in moderation and you want to make sure you eat well so your body is properly fueled for your runs.

Beth Gallini, Marathon MamaAbout Beth: Beth is a mom, runner, RRCA certified running coach, and the blogger behind RUNNING around my kitchen.  She and her husband spend their free time chasing their two 2-year-old boys. Beth serves on the board for the Hogeye Marathon and loves helping other moms with their training and answering any questions.  Be social, connect with other Hogeye runners, and let them hear from you by following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!  #hogeyemarathon

*The Hogeye Marathon is a non-profit organization that gives back to Northwest Arkansas. It’s celebrating its 40th anniversary on April 10th and offers something for everyone with a marathon, half marathon, 5K, 4 person relay, corporate challenge, and volunteer opportunities.