Ten Keys To Distance Running Success*
I have been asked from time to time to make lists of what I think are the most important things. I have resisted so far, but I see a need for a lot of our newer runners.
1) Hard work. With running, as in life, hard work pays off. It is just that with distance running, it is easier to see the direct benefits.
2) Adequate recovery. It takes time, many days, to fully recover from challenging workouts. With few exceptions, you are actually weaker for a day or two after a hard workout. It is an art to hit just the right recovery time and it varies from runner to runner (the more aerobically fit you are, the quicker you recover. The older, the slower).
3) Consistency. You don’t get faster on your fast days, but you adapt and get faster on your recovery days. In order to get fast, you have to run or crosstrain consistently. This means daily training.
4) Go easy on your easy days, so you can run harder on your hard days. The main mistake made by runners at all levels (high school, collegiate, post-collegiate) is to run too hard on their easy days. The days following a hard session should be easy or pretty easy, and the day before another hard workout should be the easiest of all your training.
5) Train to get off your feet quickly. This is accomplished best by developing strength and power in your calves.
6) Get good hip extension. Hip extension is the distance your hip extends backwards to the point where your toe pushes off the ground. This correlates best with stride length and is the key to generating forward energy.
7) Discover a hidden weakness and correct it. The most common weaknesses occur in our core, very often our abdominal muscles or glutes, but calves, hamstring and quads can also be problem areas.
8) Do the hard work, but stay flexible. You need to stay loose in order to stay efficient. Monitor your range of motion and work to maintain it or increase it.
9) Follow up your fast/hard training with at least one long run day, at an easy, even a slow pace. The best time is either the day following a fast day or two days later. I believe this is the best way to ensure quick and complete adaptation.
10) Take planned breaks after each season or long, hard races such as a marathon. If you don’t take planned breaks, you will find yourself taking unplanned breaks.
11) Learn to get your mind to work for you. By focusing on and practicing mental training you can become a stronger, more consistent runner.
* I went to school in the Big Ten, which has 11 (now 12) teams, so you get an extra tip.
Strength Training for Runners
Most exercises are done to prevent or minimize the risk of injury. This set of exercises below are designed both for
injury prevention and for performance enhancement. In regards to injuries, we try to be proactive and anticipate some of
the pitfalls, rather than be reactive where you have to rest and nurse yourself back to health. In terms of performance,
fundamentally, success in distance running is the result of force production by your legs and supporting trunk musculature.
Distance running is a power sport. Most of the power comes from your calves (see below) but I have also called attention to
several other muscle groups and why it is so important to strengthen them.
Your calves are critical because this is where your power comes from, at least initially. The only time you can generate power
is when your foot is in contact with the ground. Once in the air, you can use your long stride, but the real power is in lifting
yourself off the ground. That is why we place special emphasis on calf strength.
You can also LOSE power when you train. This is true especially for your inside quad, which actually gets weaker when you
train for distance. The main way we strengthen our inside quads s is by doing STEP UPS. You can also used a knee extension
machine if you have access to one.
You need strong hip flexors to accelerate faster. This is another area where you can lose strength if you don’t take
active steps to strengthen this area. We are a sitting society and we need to repower these muscles. You can do this by doing
the 1-legged leg lifts, which is the best and most direct way, but also by 2-legged leg lifts, which is designed primarily to
strengthen your abs and diaphragm, most essential for breathing.
You need strong abductors (outside leg muscles) in cross country or any race which has turns or curves (XC or indoor track especially).
Failure to be strong here can result in IT band problems. I have described some side leg raises which will help you here.
Although less important, I think adding upper body strength will help you run strongly on hills and in kicking. Strong arms
allow you to drive your legs.
Step ups and step downs. These are excellent for building inner quad strength, which gets weaker when we run distance and also
help with gluts and other core muscles.. Do step ups on a 6-8 inch stairs step facing UP. Shift all the weight on one leg and drop your opposite foot down to the stair below and touch it with you heel. The push up to the starting position. Placing a finger or two on the handrail will help your balance.
Position your weight right over your knee and repeat this a minimum of 25 times.
Step downs. Here you face DOWN the stairs and touch the heel of your foot to the step below.
Again, place a finger or two on the handrail for balance. Walk around for 1-2 minutes after 1 set on each leg.
Level 1— 20 step ups.
Level 2—30 step ups
Level 3—40 step ups
Level 4—50 step ups
Level 5—60 step ups, 15 step downs
Level 6—80, 30 step downs
Level 7—90, 50 step ups, 3 X 30 step downs
Level 8—100 step ups, 70 step downs
Level 9—100 step ups, 85 step downs
Level 10—total of 400 step ups and step downs (100 up on each leg, 100 down on each)
Maintenance Level: 8-10, every 5-7 days.
Note: These exercises will help you minimize the risk of most common type of knee
Injury and make you strong in your quads and gluts.
Level 1—walk on tip toes for 7 X 1 minute, spaced by 20 seconds of walking in between.
Level 2—do 3 X 15 2 footed toe ups. Walk 30 seconds in between.
Level 3—do 3 X 20 of above
Level 3—do 3 X 30 of above
Level 4—do 3 X 10 1 footed toe ups, with 30 seconds walking after each. Alternate feet.
Level 5—do 3 X 15 1 footed toe ups as above
Level 6—do 3 X 6 bent leg 1 footed toe ups, with 30 seconds walking rest
Level 7—do 3 X 10 bent leg 1 footed toe ups
Level 8—do 3 X 15 frog hops up 8 inches and out 20 inches
Level 9—do 4 X 20 frog hops as above
Level 10—do 15 short, 12 inch hops on one leg
Level 11—do 25 short hops 12 inch hops on one leg
Level 12—do 3 X 10 bounds up onto a 12-14 inch step; jog 200m for recovery
Level 13—do 3 X 12 bounds up onto a 17 inch step as above
Assessing calf development: standing long jump. Aim for initial goal of 100% of height, with an eventual goal of 125-145%.
Lie on your back with both legs straight out. Do a one legged leg lift while keeping the opposite leg slightly bent.
Lift straight leg up to 45 degrees, then return to the floor. Expect to be sore for 1-2 days afterwards, so it is best to
avoid doing these 1-2 days before a speed workout until you are used to them.
Level 1—30 raises with each leg with street shoe or 2.5 pound ankle wt.
Level 2— 50 raises with each leg
Level 3— 65 raises with each leg
Level 4— 80 raises with each leg
Level 5— 100 raises with each leg
Level 6- 10—as above series (starting over with 30) with hiking boot or3-5 lb weight
Level 11-15 30 , as above series (starting over with 30) with ski boot or 7.5 lb weight
DIAPHRAGM (to prevent side stitches, and also strengthen your hip flexors)
2-legged leg lifts with knees slightly bent. Hold onto a chair, bed or other heavy anchor.
Level 1- do 25 leg lifts up to 50-60 degrees
Level 2— do 45 leg lifts, same
Level 3— do 65 leg lifts
Level 4— do 90 leg lifts
Level 5— do 120 leg lifts
Maintenance level is 110, every 5-7 days
OUTSIDE LEG (to avoid IT band problems)
Lie sideways, with your shoulders, back, hips and calves against a wall. Tilt your foot upwards
slightly (say 3 inches). Now lift your leg along the wall up to 45 degrees (this is easier if you
have a sock on). Repeat until it feels fatigued, do 3-4 more, then switch sides.
Level 1 As above, until fatigued.
Level 2— Add 5 more (to #1)
Level 3— Add 10 more (to #1)
Level 4— Add 15 more (to #1)
Level 5— Add 20 more (to #1)
Level 1— Do push ups to fatigue.
Level 2— As above, try to add 3-5 more every week to 10 days.
Level 3— 5-10 more than level 2.
Level 4— 5-10 more than level 3.
Level 5— 5-10 more than level 4.
1) Listen to your body.
2) Learn how and when to crosstrain.
3) Do strength training to prevent injury. Injury is much more avoidable if you are strong.
4) Particularly towards the end of very long runs, train on softer surfaces.
5) Take planned breaks.
6) Get an occasional massage.
7) Work on flexibility.
8) Take two or more easy days following hard workouts.
9) Increase your aerobic capacity. You will recover quicker and more completely.
10) Think of ways to run smart, such as 10% increase rule.
11) Keep an injury journal and give descriptions of the warning signs, so you can recognize them in the future.
12) Wear appropriate shoes. Flats are fine for a lot of things, but not for others. Either your shoe absorbs the shock, or you do.