Running events are usually organised, but not limited to, around the cooler months of the year. A kind of reprieve for runners as heat really punishes performance. This is generally the Off Season for running events and festivals. So, what do you do during these months to keep motivated with your running? During your ‘off season’ when you’re not doing events, it is best to do two things; exploration of your body’s tolerances and recovery. This is done with a view to improve your running and to increase the enjoyment of it. I don’t profess to have detailed knowledge of the human anatomy but I know one thing for sure, your body is a biological machine. It has tolerances and limits to what it can do. It is built in a certain way for movement. As a runner, it’s up to you to explore and find out what your bio mechanical tolerances are. In the off season, try a few different type of runs, varying the duration, the distances and the pace. By playing with these variables you can tell how you perform and where you need improvement.
When you have ample time, say on a weekend day, just go out and run at a comfortable pace without stopping. This is the pace at which you can still hold a conversation in short sentences. Run for as long a duration as you can until you feel tired, winded or feeling a stitch coming on. For some people, they can endure for several hours, if they’ve been a runner for some time. I find there is no need to go for more than 2 hours. Note this time down. Do this for several runs. Do you see any patterns? Listen to your body. It will let you know what you can do. To improve on your duration, add 10% to the time in your next run. For example, if you can only run around 30 minutes consistently, run 33 minutes next time. Use this as your target time by running at least 33 minutes in subsequent runs. When your duration increases to, say 40 minutes, add 10% again. Use this as your next target goal. There is no scientific rule to using 10% increment. It just makes calculation easy and the time increases are small. You can most definitely use 15% or 20% but that makes achieving your next target goal a little harder. I remember using 20% but that didn’t translate to a proportionate distance gain as I just got fatigued quicker. It is up to you to increase by the percentage you feel would be just a little stretch for you. Just run the time and improve incrementally. As a beginner, have started out running fast and covered 1km in under 5 minutes. However, I did not aim to be a track sprinter so that was not a workable plan and goal when I intended to run for longer distances.
When you find a comfortable duration that you want to run with on a consistent basis, start to take notice of the distance ran. You next goals are to improve your distance ran within a goal time. Using the 30-minute example, if you ran around 4km in that time, you can aim to improve your distance within that time. Use a 5% or 10% increase on distance, which would translate to 4.2km or 4.4km. It means you need to run faster in that time to achieve the distance. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t achieve the goal distance of 4.2 or 4.4km, use whatever distance you end up with as your target for the next run and build from there. When I initially started running, I was only able to run (and walk) for 2km in about 15 minutes. I couldn’t improve much until I backed off and listened to some advice and read a few tips. By incrementally adding my distances, I was able to gradually improve my times as well. I was able to increase my distance closer to 3km in 15 minutes.
I worked on a combination of duration and distance for a few months. I was either increasing my duration to 40 or 50 minutes, running to various landmarks around my neighbourhood. Later, I ran additional distances within the time by increasing my speed and managed to run 8 to 10 km in 60 minutes. In a short few months I was able to improve a lot by doing incremental jumps in target goals and clocking up to 4 runs weekly.
Pace was not being totally ignored during the duration and distance runs. Take note of the different paces or speeds at which you ran. You will have huge variations depending on the type of run you completed. However you will find that you will have a running pace where you are most comfortable and felt you had a ‘good run’. Let’s say this is a 6 minute per kilometre pace, 6:00/km. For your next goal, run at the 6:00/km pace for as long a duration as you are able. Do this for your next few runs and note the distance. For example, you may end up at around 5 or 6 kilometres distance at roughly 30-35 minutes using the 6:00/km running pace. Your next stretch goal will be to reduce the run pace within the same distance. Aim for either a few seconds off the pace or a percentage reduction. You might aim for a 5 minutes 54seconds per kilometre pace, 5:54/km (a 10% pace reduction or improvement).
Doing a few of the different runs as above will build interest into your running and help you understand your body’s tolerances. Try different routes as well and before long you will recognise and remember where you need to run for particular distances.
Build recovery days into your running week. You can run on alternate days, or you can run two consecutive days then rest for one. This depends on your schedule and commitments. If you’re lucky, you can schedule your life and commitments around your running. Remain active on recovery days by walking, doing chores and your usual daily activities but running is not included. When you build recovery into your weekly routine, you will not feel guilty about not running (ie Runner’s Remorse). Aim for a full night’s sleep, which is in the range of 7-10 hours for most people. Your body rebuilds and repairs itself during sleep as many body builders can attest to. Sleep is as much a part of your running as the running activity itself – think of it as the Yin to the Yang.
You will enjoy your running immensely by understanding what your body can do and how it responds to your increased activities through running, as well as including a sensible level of recovery to prevent injuries and get stronger. As usual, if you have any concerns about starting or increasing your physical activities and the effects on your health, make sure you consult your doctor.