Have you ever had that awesome feeling where you have taken you running to the next level and you run that race that feels AMAZING??

I get these flashbacks of excitement when I reminisce of my favourite run, where all the pieces fell together and I cranked out a half marathon personal best.

I had reached the half way point of the half marathon.  It was make or break time.  Was my race plan going to turn out how I hoped or was I going to completely  die in the ass?  Feeling strong, confident and fast, I kicked it up a gear.  I felt like I was flying.  

Over the last 2 k’s I found myself way ahead of my personal best time.  Eyes locked on that finish line, I gave it all I had and powered on.  I stopped and my watch showed a time of 1:34. Whoop whoop!!  2 minutes faster than my previous half marathon time!  And not that long ago I had run my first half marathon with a time of 2:15. I was exhausted but felt so excited!

So what had I done differently to get me from a 2:15 half marathon to a 1:34 I hear you ask?

It definitely wasn’t running long k’s and smashing my body into the ground.

If we are wanting to step up our running, whether it’s to challenge ourselves with a new distance or running a personal best time, here are 5 ingredients that you can add to your training to help take your running to the next level.

Build that base

If we want to get running faster, we really need to start with our base.  When I say base, I mean running the slow, easy k’s.  Building your base get’s your body prepped so that you can run as far as we want, as fast as we want without getting injured.  It doesn’t matter what distance we want to run or how old we are.  If we don’t focus on building our base, particularly if we are just starting to run and just start smashing out some high intensity interval sessions, hello hitting a plateau in your running, hello injuries and hello burn out.  Think of it as your running foundation. 

How do we build our base?  To improve our base we need to run at a low heart rate or at a low intensity so our body can take in all the oxygen it needs for our muscles to function.  We want to be running at a pace that you can easily talk and run at the same time.

Check out this article for tips on how you work on building your foundation effectively and efficiently.

Strength training

I think most runners know it, but the stronger we are the better runners we will become.   It’s super important that our muscles are strong enough to support our body running.  If we have any weaknesses or muscle imbalances, it doesn’t take long for the flow on effects to show up with nasty niggles.   Strength is super easy to lose too if you don’t keep doing it.  Muscle mass slips away the older you get, especially if you are female.  Females start off with less muscle mass than males and lose more with age as our hormones aren’t conducive to muscle making, which really sucks.  So we must keep up the strength training not just for our running but also for our long-term health.  

Add in a bit of high intensity training

Adding in some high intensity runs like tempo, intervals or hill training, once we have done some work on our base will train your body to run faster for longer.  

Tempo runs

Tempo runs or tempo efforts are when you run at an effort level that is comfortable, controlled but can become more challenging over time.  You will be breathing slightly heavier and you need to focus. Incorporating a tempo session weekly into your training can get your body used to running at a harder pace, which can really improve your race times (if you are planning on doing any). These type of runs are awesome especially if you are planning on doing some longer distance running.

An example tempo run you can start off with is 

20 minutes of easy running

4 – 6 x 4 minutes of tempo pace (comfortably controlled but slightly challenging that you can maintain) with 2 minutes of easy running in between for recovery.

10 minute cool down easy running

running up hill

Hill training

Seriously, hills are the bomb for building strength and endurance.  Once we have a strong base, transitioning some hills into your training plan will strengthen the legs before you go smashing them with some speed sessions.

Walking hills or running up hills will build up strength in your legs.  Just start by including some hills into your easy runs. Once your base fitness improves you can start working a bit harder on the hills.  Yes to hill repeats! Yes to taking your running to the next level!

One of my favourite workouts to get my runners to do is short hill repeats towards the end of a run.  Do them at the end of an easy run to start with.

20 – 30 minutes of easy running

4 – 6 x 20 second hard uphill (pick a steep hill), easy jog or walk back down.

10 – 15 minute easy cool down running.

Get that speed on

Speed training is the last type of run session which is awesome to get running faster.  Though it’s a good idea to wait until we have built that base and strength in our legs, otherwise it is a one way ticket to injury town.

Speed training is when the heart rate gets cranking with some super harder efforts (think heavy breathing but still controlled), usually for a short period of time.  Unlike base training where our body has a heap of time to take in oxygen, speed training deprives your body and muscles of oxygen.  The end result is your body gets used to running faster for longer.

Check out this article here for example speed sessions.

Recovery

If you want to make the most out of your training and take your running to the next level, focusing on recovery is an important part of the process.

If you stress your body out without letting it recover properly symptoms such as injuries, sickness and just generally feeling crappy can sneak up on you. You may be over training, which as you probably already know is not a good thing.

Our mind and body needs to rest to absorb all that stress we are putting it under.

Recovery can either be active or passive.  Active recovery can include light physical exercise such jogging, yoga, gentle swimming and stretching.

Passive recovery includes non-physical activities such as legs up the wall, massage, sleep, meditation and reading.
Both active and passive recovery are just as important to your training!

It matters what you put in your body

There is sooooo much info out there around sports nutrition and hydration. The thing is, investing in your nutrition is the single biggest gain you can make to your performing at your best as a runner.  If you get it right, you will feel and run amazing.  Get it wrong, things turn pretty nasty pretty quickly. 

So try different things out and see what works for you.  Check out these 5 plant-based options for fuelling your next long run here.

Bringing it all together

It’s not easy taking our running to the next level. It takes motivation, consistency and patience.  There are a lot of moving parts that is different for each and every runner.  The key is to just start with one thing.  Our foundation.  Once we get our base right, our body strong, our recovery and nutrition on point.  It’s time to add in the higher intensity training.  Before you know it, you will be able to hit  those personal best times.

If you want to take the guess work out of your training and fast track your running.  Learn more on how The Sustainable Run Method can help you improve your running and work towards your running goals here.