Tips for Average Runners (Mileage, Strength, Form)
It is easy to find running advice if you are a newbie. Likewise, there is plenty out there for those trying to hit a Boston Qualifying run. However, if you are an “average Joe or Jane” runner, putting in 15-20 miles a week, you likely feel a bit lost in the shuffle.
If this is you, keep reading. We have for you tips on how to improve your running without expending a lot more time or energy. With our advice, you can work smarter not harder.
Benefits of Moderate Mileage
Imagine my surprise when I discovered research out of the Missouri Medical Association that pointed to regular marathon training as potentially detrimental to the heart health of athletes over 50. That is not to try to convince you to give up on your marathon training. We would never do that!
However, if you are committed to moderate mileage, you should not let someone convince you that more is better. That is not the case for everyone. Many runners also find moderate mileage goals easier to maintain over the long haul, as they are plagued by fewer injuries.
Improvement Without Mileage Increase
If you are looking to increase speed without increasing your weekly mileage, there are ways to do this! The first thing you can do is to be sure you are being consistent. This means if you decide to run 16-20 miles a week, do that consistently. Don’t think you can take three weeks of running only a few miles, then expect to improve or even hold your own. Consistency matters across the spectrum.
Switching things up also helps. What do I mean by that? If you are just plodding along for your weekly mileage, you won’t grow as a runner. You need to vary the intensity of your running in order to get the most bang for your buck. In other words, look at the miles that comprise your week. In order to see maximum growth, if you are running four or five days each week, you should see variation.
Your week might look like this:
✓ 3-4 miles at 65-70% perceived effort.
✓ Speedwork: you could do a track workout, or maybe something from the Nike Run Club App. This should be 3 – 3 1/2 miles including warm-up and cool down.
✓ 3-4 miles: this might be where you warm up for a mile, then pick up the pace for the middle mile, then take the final mile easy again.
✓ Long run of 6-8 miles: Long runs should be done slower than your 65-75 % perceived effort runs.
✓ If you are looking at another run for the week, this might be an easy 2-3 miles.
See how that week of running is quite varied in intensity and speed? Did you know that it can actually be even easier than that? If you alternate easy workouts with more challenging ones, that is enough differentiation to help you see improvement.
Adding hill workouts is another way to help you improve. There are multiple ways to run hills. If you are fortunate enough to live somewhere with a route that has rolling hills, that is one way. Since I am a flatlander here in Northeastern Wisconsin, I travel to a local park for hill work.
In this park is a disc golfing course and there are trails and grass-covered hills. If I run the parameter of the park, it is almost exactly one-half mile of hills. I can run round and round to get some much-needed hill training.
Another excellent hill workout I call the Layton Special, named after a former coach of mine. For starters, you seek out a hill that takes you at least :30 seconds but not more than :60 or so to climb. Hopefully, the hill is 2-3 miles from your house. You jog to the hill, then do your repeats. On the last repeat, you race home, trying to beat your best time.
The key is you are running on tired legs. Listen here folks, I will say it loudly. The work you do on fatigued legs leads to growth. Between the hills and the race back home, you will grow from this workout.
Adding strength training is especially helpful to runners. Now I understand, you may not want to add that extra time to your workout regimen. I know.. but I said without running more. I did not say anything about weights?! If you add just 30-45 minutes of strength, two times each week, your body (and running) will thank you.
If you don’t want to add strength training, you can simply add some core work and will still see growth. Just 10 minutes of core three days each week will have you running stronger. Don’t just believe me. Try it! If you are consistent for 4-6 weeks you will notice improvement. If you don’t think you have that time, believe me, you can fit it in. If you watch just one television show every couple of days and do core through commercials, you have just found your time!
Thinking about your form is another easy way to improve. I am not talking about giving things a complete overhaul. However, sometimes small changes matter. If you know a local running coach you can meet up with, just ask for 15 minutes for some quick pointers.
Ask the coach to give you just 3 easy things to work on. You might find out that with a few small changes, you are feeling a lot better about your running.
Committing to a Plan
Committing to a training plan is another way to see growth. I have to be truthful. Even though I enjoy the freedom of just doing my own thing, all of my really epic races have happened when I was committed to serious training. Notice I did not say anything about high mileage. One of the best races of my life was a 24:14 5K of which I am especially proud. I had spent all summer training for this race.
I alternated my easy runs with hard runs. The hard runs I ran alongside a college girl half my age. To say she pushed the pace and challenged me is the understatement of the year. But I didn’t die. Quite the contrary. I learned exactly how tough I am.
During this time I consistently ran 18-20 miles a week, I did core work three times a week, and I made sure my miles mattered. This was the perfect mix to end up with Miles of Smiles!
Pictured above are left to right Sabrina Svoboda and McKenna Jasper, two MHS athletes I have coached.