I just knocked seven minutes off my 10K personal best, running in at 41 minutes 47 seconds. My training used to be disjointed and erratic, my progression mirrored this leaving me frustrated and lost. One session gifted a PB, the next a niggle…eventually I became fed up and decided to do something about it.
I started by accepting the need to change and adapted my approach. One of my favourite quotes summarises the point well – “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Here are the seven simple steps which helped me improve my 10K PB.
1) How To Run A Faster 10k – Train Less But More Often
Step one is simple, split your mileage into more runs. My biggest mistake was going out twice a week, flying round a 10K circuit midweek followed by a longer, slightly slower run on weekends. After meeting my coach, Jayson Cavill we split the weekly mileage across three runs, then added a forth and eventually a fifth run day.
By splitting mileage into more runs you gain not only endurance but time to recover. If you do not respect your bodies need to recover you will get injured, maybe not today or tomorrow but it will happen. I spent years lying to myself, wanting to avoid change before I finally accepted the injuries were my own doing and not just my body letting me down.
2) Slow Down To Speed Up
Flying through a run, heart racing and spent at the end can feel great, but what feels great isn’t always right. Its common knowledge around 80% of your workouts should be at a lower intensity. When I say low, I mean able to hold a fluid conversation and breathing rhythmically at worst. Lets face it, these runs can be crap and feel pointless but they serve a purpose.
The other 20% is made up of higher intensity runs, in some cases speedwork. Again, it all comes down to recovery and building endurance. Going out and hammering a 10K in training is fun but not necessarily smart. Instead try mixed levels of speedwork with rest periods thrown in, all sandwiched between a warm up and cool down. Theres plenty of training plans out there which demonstrate this, pick one and stick with it. Most importantly, accept most of your sessions should be much slower than you’d like.
If you do every session like a madman, you will simply damage your ability to run faster and endure the distance. Its better to hit less speed sessions harder, making them more purposeful. It won’t feel like progress initially but when you are finally unleashed in a race, you will thank your patience.
3) Start Strength And Conditioning
Few runners bother with strength work, I never did, but I was consistently injured as a result. I now do almost as much strength and conditioning as I do running and guess what, I haven’t been injured since.
Running is taxing on your muscles and joints, the constant pounding and pulling can test even the strong. Your muscles are basically layers of tissue which tear every time you run. The more/stronger layers you have the less chance you stand of micro tears becoming a torn calf or pulled hamstring.
I used to have consistent knee pain and thigh strains, a common result of poor muscle strength. three 30 minute sessions a week fixed this in the space of months. Again theres tonnes of useful information on S&C online but you can’t match the knowledge of a good coach.
Step three has given me the freedom to run pain free. If you struggle with injury, my post on ‘Knee pain and thigh strains’ will be worth a read.
4) Have A Plan And Be Consistent
When I first met Jayson he was very clear, the key to progress is consistency. Thankfully I am a bit anal and weird when it comes to planning and sticking with a goal. I haven’t missed a single run or strength session in over 9 months and boy can I feel it.
I have my coach, an option I’d highly recommend but for those who don’t, planning is key. You need to plot out the end goal/race and set a ladder to reach it. Don’t be blase and run when it feels right, set specific running and strength days, then stick to them. Set one of the days aside for speedwork, the weekend for a longer run and make sure you know what you are doing well in advance. If you struggle with setting goals, try reading ‘Setting Goals – The Grim Reapers Kryptonite’.
5) Park Run Your Pants Off
So, you now run shorter distance, more often and at a slower pace…your only ‘release’ is a mixed speed session. I’ll admit this can be like a diet of lettuce leafs and cucumber, bland and bloody boring. Not to mention you need to check in with yourself and see what improvement has been made. Enter the famed Park Run.
The great thing about park runs, is the distance, 5K is great for testing your speed without doing too much damage. The Park Run is your sliver of cake, that treat to look forward too and keep you training for more. A race atmosphere will motivate you to push that little bit harder and prepare mentally for the big day.
6) Build up slowly, excruciatingly slow!
Building up both mileage and intensity can make or break your development. The process is (as always) slower than comfortable, a lesson I learned the hard way. A couple of good weeks training can lead to over confidence and complacency, which may set you back days, weeks or even months if you get injured.
Get a plan and stick to it. As a rule, you need to increase your workload by no more than roughly 10% each week. Its a tough formula as both intensity and distance apply, not to mention you’ll progress less in the early days.
Heres a stat for you, it took me 10 weeks to increase from a 15 mile week to 16.5! See what I mean by excruciating? Throughout this time I was still developing my strength and ability to endure. Of course I was itching at the bit to progress, but I’ll take that over the treatment table any day.
The human body can cope under insane stress, but only if you train it, steady and slow.
7) Minimal Change Can Mean Maximum Gain
Be open to change, try new products, gear and food. If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. I love that quote, it may seem cheesy but the message is true.
I recently started using Precision Hydration for my pre and post race hydration, a simple tablet dissolved in water has made such a difference. On the fuel side I swapped ham sandwiches for chicken salad, drank protein shakes over Lucozade and ate within 20 minutes of finishing any run. To aid recovery I apply heat to my tight calfs, take hot baths and stretch.
All these things are small, easy to implement and seem minuscule on there own. Multiplied together and they make a huge difference to general health and recovery which over many months has made me a better runner.
Apologies if you expected that secret plan, or magical session. There are plenty you can find online and you probably already have. For me the steps above will go much further than a secret session of sprints and moneghetti’s. Until you stop training as you would race, become consistent, work on strength and understand how to build up your training the greatest plan and sessions on earth are in vein.
These are the key, core foundations, not the plan itself. The plan and specific sessions come after you have made the change and committed yourself to been better. Anyone can search out the best sessions, or pay for the professional 12 week plan…its in consistency, commitment and patience that the real magic happens, these are the hardest disciplines to master.