A common question I received when I was competing was: What is the fastest way to improve running times? Not surprising, there is no simple answer. Long distance running is a unique sport. It is the purest test of fitness and stamina. With long distance running, most people expect immediate results with their training, which is not possible. It is unrealistic to instantly achieve amazing results, when just starting a new sport. You need to be patient. As you train your body over time, you get fitter. Only when you are fit, will you start to see your times improve. Throughout my years of experience as a national level long distance runner and NCAA scholarship student-athlete, I noticed three trends in distance running that greatly influenced the chances of improving running times.
When you are setting a running goal, it is very important to be realistic with your abilities and to know what your body is capable of achieving in its current fitness state. It is very important to have a vision, set your goal, and plan how to get there. That means setting attainable goals, and not getting discouraged when you have a bad day. Know the distance you want to race, and aim your training sessions to suit that race. For example, if you are training to run a fast mile, it would be counterproductive to run endless slow miles in preparation as the mile race is considered more of a speed event in long distance running. It makes more sense to spend a couple days a week doing some short, speedy runs, mixed in with some slower recovery longer runs.
Like any sport being a good runner involves hours upon hours of practice. The quickest way to achieve your running goals is be consistent. Set a routine of training which you can do comfortably every day, and a do it every day. Consistency in your training will build confidence, along with training your body to cope with the pain associated with the effort you are training towards. There is no short-cut to consistency, but if you work hard every day the results will be sure to come.
Race preparation comes in many forms and if it is done correctly can have an enormous effect on running results. Preparation takes many different forms, all which can affect the outcome of an event. From knowing your running competition, getting proper recovery and sleep, deciding when to push your body to the limit in training, deciding which foods to eat prior to your race, being aware of the race course (hilly or not hilly) and race day weather conditions are some of the factors one needs to prepare for. Taking care of these items can also give you confidence on race day, allowing you to approach your race only focusing on the task at hand.
In my next blog post, I will write more about my athletic-academic journey and how training at altitude impacts athletic performance as I continue my series – An Athletically Inspired Educational Journey.