Why Running Is Important...
I used to be a marathon runner. Loved it! Ran 80 miles a week. I remember finishing my 18 milers as the sun was coming up. It was amazing. The sense of accomplishment and the time alone to just think and run was cleansing. Of course, the rest of my day lasted until about 1pm or 2pm at which time I was no good to anybody! I was exhausted and depleted from doing long runs too often. Even 1 long run per week was too much. Injuries began to creep up and I would just push through them, not recognizing the damage I was incurring from repetitive stress and overtraining. I had my route, my milage, my long run days, my short run days, and I knew to the minute how long each run would take me. I was living in the black hole of training Read "Black Hole of Training" Blog, where nothing changed and everything stayed the same.
But not for long. I became more interested in how to get a faster marathon time and began to research the science of performance. I dove into every study I could find and all the research seemed to point in one direction. Run faster and lift heavier weights. My light bulb was turned on. I used myself as an n=1 for every high intensity interval training study I could think of. One study was 4 weeks of only sprint work less than 2 minutes of aggressive running mixed with heavy load Dumbbell movements.
I cured myself, and began to adopt a different approach to my training, less running long distances that were moderate to slow and take 2 hours a day to train, and more high intensity interval training that took less time and showed me performance results, energy increases, and a much leaner and healthier physique.
I added speed intervals and incline intervals on the treadmill instead of long grinding icy winter runs. I began to mix my running with strength work. Running remained an integral part of my training. No matter how focused I was on kettlebell swings or squats, I always could rely on doing a tough set of high intensity sprint intervals to give me a stimulus that was just as potent as anything else.
Running is compound, meaning that it is functional in the sense that it uses more than one joint to create function. Much like what we have to do for other everyday movements. In other words, running looks like something we were created to do, after all we see it everyday and not just in the gym. People run to cross the street, or to play tag with their kids. That’s not the case with other movements that are not compound or functional, have you ever seen the hip abductor machine at a big box gym? How many times do you see someone do that outside the gym? Never!
Running is a secret weapon that I see being misused all the time. Running can be so potent when used correctly. It’s a fantastic tool for weight loss, increased performance, heart function, oxygen capacity, and many more things. However, a lot of us use running in the wrong way, in a way that can be deleterious to our bodies, our health, and it can even cause us one day to not want to run. Here are my top 4 ways to use running effectively to hit your goals, stay healthy, and get out of it what I think we were meant to get out of running.
#1 Run fast and keep it short – Imagine you only have 10 minutes to workout and you want to sweat, get out of breath, feel the legs burn, shed some calories, and get a stimulus. What would you do? How about 5 minute warm up run, 10 squats, 5 push ups, and then a one time effort of 3 minutes all out effort that would leave you gasping for air with hands on legs. Done! You see it all the time in track and field. Do you think the world record 800 meter runner finishes an 8000 meter race and then goes and runs 5 miles? No, because an all out effort is all it takes to crush you when you put the effort forth at max intensity.
#2 Bridge the gap from running slow to fast - Many times failure in high intensity intervals is our success. We really have to understand where that point is, that point of failure, so we can work close to it. If you don’t know, then spend some time finding it by slowly testing faster speeds and paces until you eventually get to failure, then you’ll know. This is so important because you might think you are at your max, but until you really define that and get to failure, you will never know. Could this be the reason you have plateaued in training or weight loss? I see it more often than anything else.
#3 Build Strength - High intensity running requires strength and technique. It’s like any other skill, in the sense that intensity is technique dependent. Build strength through movements that directly relate to running. This means loaded squats, loaded lunges, pressing things, picking things up off the floor (like Kettlebells, barbells, and Dumbbells), the heavier the better. This will allow you to be strong and strength means safety and injury prevention.
#4 Long Runs – You don’t have to give these up. As a matter of fact, these become better once you have followed the steps above. In general I say live your life doing short aggressive high intensity interval training ranging from 10” to 2’ of max effort and enough rest between efforts to allow for some recovery. Then maybe 1 x per week or every other week, do a longer run.
This might sound counter intuitive to some of you who are endurance athletes, but the science shows us what works and I have lived it. Less is more, especially when that less is done right!