Runners of AskMe: how do I get better at this running thing?
July 29, 2011 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Fairly new runner, now comfortable running a 3.6-mile route three times a week. What's the best approach to take to improve my running (in terms of fitness, speed and mileage)?

Finished Couch to 5K a few months ago. Got lazy about running after that (including not running at all for most of June - oops), but I've been getting back into the swing of things over the last month, and I'm now comfortable running my usual 3.6 mile route three times a week at a pace just over a 10-minute mile. While I'm not interested (yet) in training for a specific race, I'd like to increase my mileage, get fitter, and run faster.

There are a lot of running plans online to train for specific race lengths, but all the ones I've seen warn you to build base first before starting them. That's what I'd like to do, but I'm guessing that continuing to run my usual routine isn't really going to build my fitness as much or as quickly as I'd like. Also, it doesn't feel as challenging any more, and I like getting a sense of real progress.

So: what should I try next? Running more than 3x/week? (Heard both that this is a great idea, and that it's terrible and will lead to injuries for newer runners). Increasing the mileage of all my runs (or just one or two of them)? Increasing speed? Decreasing speed to work on distance? Varying the kind of runs I do? (I've read both that this is the absolute best tactic to improve running fitness, and that this is absolutely not advised until you're already happy with 5-mile runs.)

If it's relevant: my current route is hilly, about 70% tarmac and 30% softer footpaths. Longer routes are possible round here, but softer surfaces are harder to come by, and hills are fairly inevitable. I loathe running on treadmills, and would rather avoid non-running/walking fitness activities if possible; gyms and classes have never suited me, and I'm a terrible swimmer!
posted by Catseye to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Hal Higdon Novice Spring Training program is what I've used to build base after doing Couch to 5K. It's great because it starts with the same mileage as the last week of C25K, and builds up to 15 miles per week slowly. Once you can run 3 miles 3 times a week and 6 miles on the weekend, I think you're good enough to start any of the more complicated/focused training programs.
posted by snoogles at 5:27 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You should either increase your speed or your distances, not both. So, adding a fourth day OR doing speed work is a good idea.

The best way to add speed, however, when you're a beginner, is to add miles. You want to work up to running 5 times a week, at least, but not all at once. Add a fourth day. Make two of your runs shorter runs, one a medium long run, and one long run a week.

I think Hal Higdon's Spring plan is awesome. I used his plan last year to run my first half marathon, and I'm using a plan of his now to train for the Marine Corps Marathon.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:28 AM on July 29, 2011

Change one thing at a time, and one thing only. I'd recommend, then, a bump in mileage on Mondays (assuming a MWF schedule) of a mile or two. DO this for a couple weeks, get used to it. Then either add a day or bump up Wednesday's run as well. Or maybe make Friday the day you inject sprints into your run. If you're not sure what to do, just relax and pick something, or flip a coin, or whatever.

I would recommend against changing your pace when you add miles. Two different variables at once.

In high school and college, I could always (even when I wasn't in shape) run three miles. Any more and I sucked, but I could always do that. The thing that broke that plateau was sprints. I'm a "counter" - I like to count things - so instead of timed sprints I'd do60 strides at high speed then twice that at regular pace, on and off, on and off, for the bulk of my run. Not only did my runs take less time (I wasn't increasing mileage), I found a better working pace one time when I didn't slow *all* the way down after one sprint. After two weeks of doing sprints (three days a week) I took a couple extra days off then did a run until I felt I couldn't any more. Whattaya know, suddenly I could run five.
posted by notsnot at 5:35 AM on July 29, 2011

Best answer: I wouldn't worry at all about speed right now. I also recommend not running the same route and same mileage every day.

I suggest adding one more day a week and doing something like this.

Day 1: Regular day of 3.6 mile route
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: Shorter day of 2.5-3 miles
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Longer day of 4 miles
Day 6: Shorter day or regular day
Day 7: Rest

What you want to try and do is slowly increase your mileage by about 10-15% each week, with a very easy week every 3 to 4 weeks as needed.

I can't emphasize enough that I wouldn't be worrying about speed. If anything, I'd go as slow as possible until you're sure your running form is working for you. Read Chi Running or watch some YouTube vids on the POSE method of running.
posted by highfidelity at 5:50 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I started with the Couch to 5K program last October and I'm currently training for a half-marathon. You mention that you're not interested in any specific races. Are there any fun-runs or smaller races that you could enter into? I only ask because a race that is coming up is a great way to stay motivated and to train better. I've slowly increased my distances the past few months and it is all in anticipation for running a half marathon this October. It provides me focus and something to shoot for.

As has been mentioned, do not worry about your speed. Focus on distance and/or the number of times you run each week and once you feel comfortable or find yourself getting bored, then change it up a bit: increase your distance or add another day to your running cycle.

I'm a novice runner (coming up on 1 year) and I try to listen to my body, you'll know when you're pushing yourself too hard and when to cut back. It's also ok to have a really lousy week of running, this is somethign that will happen. So if you find yourself frustrated frequently it is probably a sign that you're pushing yourself too hard in the wrong ways.

Not sure if anything I said is helpful or not, but I'm still learning myself. Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 6:03 AM on July 29, 2011

Another approach is to build up endurance by running for time rather than mileage. My cross country coach had told us to focus on building endurance at first, speed later. Try to run for an extra five minutes next time, then another five minutes. I'd aim to get up to an hour - then you can start running 10Ks and an hour is a good base from which to consider longer distances. Good luck and have fun!
posted by kat518 at 6:56 AM on July 29, 2011

I have a contrary opinion to most of the above: running really slowly for a long time trains you to do only one slowly for a long time. It's fine if that's all you ever want to do, but 10 min miles is quite slow, honestly. The best part is that if you get faster, you can run further in the same amount of time, which is really helpful for fitting a good challenging workout run into your life.

Fartleks are fun, good at building speed, and hilariously named.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:42 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Somewhat contrary to Dr. Enormous, and in agreement with Dr. Enormous, running for long time trains you to run for a long time. And time not speed is the most important single variable. I am absolutely, 100%, totally convinced that developing an ongoing habit/commitment/routine of running is most dependent on learning to set aside a minimum block of time 5-6 days a week that you will either run/bike/ski etc. It is the commitment to an amount of time that builds the habit and routine. Whether you jog, run, walk do it for a minimum length of time--preferably at least 45 minutes. I do think Dr. Enormous is right on that fartlek is an excellent idea--whether you run/walk or jog. Building up speed can be fun--but competition, whether with your self or others, is not a good recipe for a lifetime running or fitness. Have fun.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:24 AM on July 29, 2011

Best answer: my current route is hilly

That's a good thing. Steep uphills are a great way to build strength (and speed on the flats). Is there any way you can make your default route even hillier?

Shorter strides, faster breaths. Power it up. Own that hill.

Mastering hills makes for good times in a 5K race. There always seems to be a hill just a few hundred meters before the finish. If you've got the strength to bring out your finishing kick while everyone around you is flagging and dying you'll feel like you've got superpowers. They shall be as pylons to you.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:56 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

I took the NYC Roadrunners running classes...after the session (10 weeks) where we got up to 5K at a 11 min pace, the next 10 week session alternated between a lot of short distance hill work, one week and longer distances on alternating weeks (at only slightly faster pace than 11 min).

(Sometimes the hill work was switched out with interval drills of short distances, not necessarily on hills, but since hills are like intervals to me, it was kind of the same I guess.)

That 10 weeks was definitely a challenge, but it was never boring...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:07 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Echoing the suggestions for Hal Higdon's plans. In addition to those suggested, you could try the beginner 10K plan. That seems, to me, a more reasonable option than the plan for trying to improve your 5K time, which assumes you'll be able to do a 5 mile run in the first week. Maybe start with the beginner 10K plan to address distance and then move on to the intermediate 5K plan to address speed.

I started with Couch to 5K, moved on to Couch to 10K, and then used Hal Higdon's half marathon training plan. Shortly after training for my 10K, I ran a 5K and I realized my time had improved impressively, even though I hadn't been running at a faster pace during my training. So I think there's something to the idea that training to run further will help you run faster at the shorter distances.
posted by Terriniski at 7:11 PM on July 29, 2011

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