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Run smart! Part 1. How to Mix Up Your Running to Reduce Injury and Improve Performance

Running is an accessible, easy way of staying fit and healthy and has multiple health benefits.

Adding structure to our running significantly reduces our risk of injury.

This article discusses the various styles of running and provides top tips for your own training.

Different types of runs

It is important for any runner, whether new to the sport or a seasoned marathoner, to appreciate that there are many different types of running styles and variations. Each have their own metabolic and physiological demand on the body and requires us to run differently with a change in technique.  

Most recreational runners will stick to one style of run, usually to suit time and convenience. Others have a lack of knowledge around running variation or think it would not apply to them. However, regardless of our running level, we unlock the full benefits or running, both from a health and performance point of view when we add variety to our training. Below are some main types of run variations. 

Base run. A base run is your bread and butter run at your natural pace. This will be different for everyone. It serves as your go to run, the one that you know you can complete even on a bad day. It is therefore not too challenging, but needs to happen often. The bulk of your weekly mileage will come from here. 

Long run. A long run is basically a base run plus some. It is pushing the boundaries of your usual run so you can build endurance and should leave your body fatigued. It’s usually of slightly slower pace than a base run to account for the increased distance.  

Interval training. This should comprise of intense efforts followed by recovery time e.g. 40 seconds of your hardest effort running followed by 1 minute of recovery. The idea of having spaced intervals is so we can partially recover between them before we go again. The benefits of interval training include improved endurance, fatigue resistance, cardiorespiratory enhancement and fat burning.

Recovery run. After a hard running session like an interval or long run, your body needs more time than you think to recover. The next run after a tough session should be a shorter one at an easy pace. This will be different for everyone so find the distance and speed that you feel comfortable with. 

Tempo running is a faster pace run but not a full out sprint like an interval training session. The pace should be tough with a RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of 7/10 but you should be able to maintain it for at least 20 minutes. This usually happens around 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. The idea is to run just below your LT (lactate threshold). In time, you will increase your LT and be able to sustain a higher intensity for longer. 

Hill running is a runners’ training secret. To make the transition from an average to good runner, it is also a must. When it comes to improving strength, speed and stamina hills are unbeatable. However, finding the perfect hill and knowing how to run it properly is almost an art. It can’t be too steep or shallow, and common pitfalls are to run them too quickly or slowly without enough recovery time. 

Fartlek running. ​Funny name i know, but it means ‘speed play’ in Swedish. Fartlek is basically a mix of all the styles above. This is great because after all the discipline and regimental structure that accompanies modern day training, it is a great way of reminding you that running should be fun, free and fulfilling  There are no hard or fast rules on how to do this, nor should there be. As the name suggests, mess around and have fun with it e.g. try sprinting to random targets and mix it up every time. This is a great way to spice up your run but get the benefits of all the different techniques. 

How to mix up your running

Now we understand the different types of running variations, it can seem quite daunting when trying to introduce them into our own regime. Here are 10 tops tips on how to get started.

  1. Have a running diary. Its almost impossible to know what types of runs, distances or times you have completed if you are not keeping record! Strava, Garmin and other health apps will do this seamlessly for you. Make sure you create a running plan and highlight which variation it was, e.g. Monday – Long Run, Tuesday – Hill Sprints.
  2. Ease into variation. It is important to give the body time to adjust to different styles of running and forces on it. At first, just try them out and do not be too concerned if your workout has not been “hard enough”. You’ll be able to build on intensity soon.
  3. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t run as far a distance. Sometimes distance isn’t the most important metric. We will challenge our body significantly more if we run all out in when completing 40m x 10 sprint intervals (totalling 400m) than if we plod along for a very slow 5km. 
  4. Some runs should feel easier than others. We do not want to burn out every time we run. Some runs should feel much easier (intentionally so) than others. Just enjoy the those easier sessions while they last, as there will be a higher intensity one just around the corner!
  5. Adding strength training into your programme is vital. If we are exposing ourself to higher intensity running, we need to make sure we have the strength to do so. Strength training in the gym is key to making sure you have the lower body, core and upper body strength to cope with the increased running demands. 
  6. Try not to do consecutive days of high intensity training. If you have done a hard interval training session, use the next day as an opportunity to recover and slow things down, perhaps on a slower paced recovery run.
  7. Incorporate hills into your usual route. Try putting a hill into your usual running route. It can be as long as you want. You will reap the benefits of hill running even with the smallest of hills. One of these benefits includes better muscle co-ordination between muscle pairs. Up hill runs require our quadriceps to contract with more efficiency, but also our hamstrings to relax more at the same time. This is called neuromuscular inhibition. Training our muscles to work better together makes our running style much more efficient.  
  8. Try hill repeats. These can be short or long. Short hill repeats are maximum effort up a steep hill over a short distance e.g. 40 metre sprints with 3 minute recovery.  This helps us develop a technically more sound stride by helping you focus on lifting your knees and driving your arms up. Over time, your cadence (running stride) will improve. Long hill repeats recruit our whole range of muscle fibres, from slow to fast twitch, working up the ‘recruitment ladder’. An incline of 5-10% is sufficient running anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. 
  9. Downhill running. Downhill running can be just as effective for us as going uphill! Downhills require eccentric loading (where a muscle is working but lengthening at the same time) of the quadriceps. If you are not used to running down hill you will be surprised how much of a workout your quadriceps get from eccentric loading. This type of loading will help your muscles become more fatigue resistant.  
  10. Vary the surface. Running on different surfaces (e.g. pavement, trail, treadmill) creates variation of the impact forces through our bodies and hugely reduces injury risk of conditions such as shin splints and runner’s knee. A good rule of thumb is to have at least two surfaces you alternate your runs on. 

The biomechanics of running

In “Run Smart! Part 2. Understanding the Biomechanics of Running to reduce injury and improve performance” we talk more about running technique and biomechanics, and how to optimise this for your runs. 

If you want to find out more about running, or need to get advice around an injury, please do get in touch. 


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