For the past six years I’ve been able to shave off around 5 minutes each year on my marathon time. Here are my top tips to keep improving:
1) Keep my recovery runs very easy.
Sometimes running slow can be as hard, if not harder, than a quicker paced session. These slower recovery runs are just as important as the faster ones. The pace I do these recovery runs are at around 1 min 30 seconds per km slower than my goal marathon pace. This keeps me in the ‘fat burning’ zone.
It’s not always easy to keep the pace slow when you want to just run faster and faster. Last year I got obsessed with Strava and what people may think if they saw me running over 4 minutes a km. Strava can be both a good thing and a bad thing. I was doing my recovery runs under 4 minutes a km which for me was definitely not recovery. I kept justifying it by the fact that I didn’t feel too tired after the run. I had a fear of going over 4 minutes a km and thought if I trained at a very slow pace on my easy runs, it would make me a slower runner. Not doing these recovery runs slower definitely affected me in the fact that I was never truly fresh to go 100% all out at a track session, or even a race for that matter. I’ve since then slowed my recovery runs down a lot and the improvements it’s allowed me to make at the higher end has been phenomenal.
Moral of the story, keep your recovery runs slow! If you don’t, you’ll never be fresh for your faster sessions!
2) Morning core, Strength, Conditioning, and Stretching.
This takes me around 10-15 minutes and I do this every single morning religiously! In the beginning it was hard to wake up, have coffee and get out of bed knowing I had to do this short session. But once I got into it, it became part of my daily routine and now I do it without even thinking twice about it. Doing this day in and day out has helped me make the marginal gains I’ve needed to in order to improve each year and get faster. My morning drills include the following;
– Stretching throughout my body mainly focusing on legs. As runners our legs get very tight, we need to stretch them and loosen them up. If you don’t do this, you’ll train with tight legs, race with tight legs and this is just a recipe for injury. Three years ago if I tried to touch my toes I would be about 20cm away from them, more inflexible than a steel rod. I’m now at that stage where I can touch my toes comfortably. Being more flexible has increased my stride and just imagine the gain you get over the marathon distance if your stride is just 1cm longer.
– Core work. I do a series of core activities and this routine takes around 4-5 minutes. The variety of exercises works every different part of my core. Having a stronger core helps big time for when it comes towards the end of a race. It’s your core that allows you to keep your form and hopefully sustain your race pace.
– Leg Strengthening. I usually do the below every morning;
– 12 X Squats
– 12 X Lunges (each leg)
` – 12 X Calf raises
– Foam Rolling. Ideally we would all love to have a full time physio, but for us runners that aren’t Mo Farah or Eliud Kipchoge we need to do our own foam rolling. We all have areas in our bodies that get tighter than others, so focus on these areas more. My calves and glutes are generally the areas that I need to give the most attention to.
It’s important to make these sessions physically and mentally easier. Running training and racing can take a lot out of you, so this should be a session you look forward to rather than dreading.
3) Increased good Carbs in my diet
Previously I would only have carbs when I was doing a race. Coming from South Africa there’s a big hype around Tim Noake’s ‘Banting’ diet. This diet focuses on a higher protein, higher fats intake and cuts out carbs completely. Different diets work for different runners. I’ve found that by changing my diet to regularly eat good carbs within training has given me the increased energy I’ve needed. The good carbs that work for me are the following; sweet potato, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, natural muesli, couscous mixed grain salad mix. Whilst having these carbs I always try make sure I get the protein in that I need.
Six years ago when I started running I did none of the above. I wish I knew back then what I knew now. This definitely would have helped me improve as a runner, a lot sooner. That’s the joy of running, you’re always consistently learning and working out the minor changes you can make to get faster. Small tweaks give you marginal gains which go a long way in the end.