There’s a reason why running is a punishment throughout so many sports. It’s because it’s difficult, extremely difficult. Running challenges not only the body with feet hurting, legs aching, and lungs about to explode, but it’s also a mental game of stamina and perseverance. Completing any run, whether a mile or the daunting marathon, is an accomplishment.
Sometimes though, after awhile, the running pace seems to steady out as well as the distance, leaving a runner with a crucial decision regarding whether they should improve distance or time. If you are a super competitive runner like me, you will undoubtedly choose to improve time, but is that always the best choice? When is it appropriate to improve distance and when is it appropriate to improve time, and what’s the best way to do that? The answer lies with your goals for yourself.
If you are preparing for a race, the distance is already set for you. While this doesn't mean you can't increase distance when preparing, it gives you a required distance. If you are not running for a race, but are running recreationally, restraints may prevent a long workout so improving time will be beneficial.
Preparing can be simple for both due to so much information being available about training. Look online for a chart that shows how to properly train or use an app that helps measure the times. Runner’s World has a great chart for starters. The apps and charts will start with intervals to get the body accustomed to running without overexerting the heart and legs. Once the intervals are mastered, your body should be able to run the distance without needing to walk. Here's where people sometimes fall in a rut because they get stuck at a pace and are unable to improve it.
The best way to improve time is by incorporating sprints into your run. Sprints may sound terrifying, but when incorporated in small time increments, they are extremely helpful. Sprints work because they change your muscles. Your metabolism, muscle fibers, and enzyme activity are all changed due to sprints. Essentially, the harder you are working your muscles, the stronger they get, which makes it easier to improve running times.
Sprints should be added gradually into running schedules. Start small, with around 10 seconds of sprints for every 5 minutes of jogging. Slowly, increase sprinting time each week to get accustomed to the pace changes. I like to add a 10 second sprint after a jogging interval, because I will have a walking interval afterwards to catch my breath. Add additional time when ready. In just four weeks, running times will improve.
If you recently ran a 5k and want to start training for a 10k, going right into 6 miles is not the greatest idea. In fact, doubling distance like that will most likely cause injury, like stress fractures. Improving distance can be easy as long as it is done correctly. Many people try to increase distance too quickly and end up injured.
First, make sure your body is adjusted to your current running distance. If your body is extremely tired, continue at the current length for a little longer. Then, when your body can handle a longer run, increase distance in small increments. Many people follow a “10 percent” model when increasing distance each week. When doing research on the model, there was zero scientific research that showed this is effective. In theory, the idea is good and something that should be acknowledged for its helpfulness. You don’t need to stick to a 10 percent increase in distance each week. If your running distances are long, a ten percent increase is a huge jump; however, if you are running a few miles each week, adding more than 10 percent is encouraged because 10 percent is not very much. Anything over a two miles increase should be avoided. Make sure to increase distance in small enough amount to avoid injury. Listen to your body, and when your muscles feel fatigued, that's probably a good stopping point.
Improving Both Time and Distance
Many people don't want to improve one or the other, they want to improve distance and time all at the same time. The trick to doing this is to add the sprints and distance while also incorporating an activity that is unrelated to running.
Believe it or not, strength training will help improve distance and time because you are building your muscles, including your heart, and making them stronger. Add strength training to your schedule to reap the benefits during your runs. Squats using free weights helped runners significantly improve running speed and time. Incorporating squats a few times a week will help build muscle in the legs to prevent them from becoming fatigued when running.
Christin currently teaches English in a Chicago suburb. Her time as a teacher helped her understand the importance of physical and mental health. Because of her interest in health, she went back to school and received a Masters of Arts in School and Community Counseling. With a desire to help others, Christin began blogging in the hopes of showing others how physical health can lead to a happier life.
Main Photo Credit: Death to Stock; Second Photo Credit: Viktoria Gavrilina/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: lightpoet/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Dudarev Mikhail/shutterstock.com