As I prepare to run my first half-marathon, I’m learning that one’s running programme should include more than just running increasingly longer distances to build endurance, but also running in a way that enables you to improve your pace and to build the strength you’ll need to tackle hills.
It’s for this reason that our OptiFit programme, facilitated by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA), includes speed work, hill repeats and tips for pacing to ensure that we start – and finish – strong.
When you’re training for a 21.1km run, you’d be forgiven for thinking that 400m is not very far. However, it feels like a very long way when you’re sprinting. And if one of your running goals is to improve your pace and running efficiency, speed training is essential.
In a typical speed work session, our OptiFit runners – who are all training to do the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon in April – set off for a 2.4km jog from SSISA in Newlands, to Rondebosch Common where, this week, we ran five, 400m stretches as fast as we could. Between each stretch, we jog slowly to the starting point to recover, but the expectation is that with each sprint, we should run faster than the one before.
Let’s just say I have new respect for 400m sprinters.
“The main goal of speed work for endurance runners is to improve your easy and moderate paces,” says senior consultant and running coach at SSISA’s Sports Performance Centre, Rebecca Johansson.
“When you do 10 x 1 minute fast, you won’t hold that pace for a half marathon. However, if done properly, your easy to moderate pace will get faster as a result. This is because your running efficiency improves.”
Tips for speed work
1 Start small. Runners new to speed work should start with 30- to 45-second sprints. Emphasis should be on good running form, or you will increase your risk of injury.
2 For every 10 running sessions you do, you should only complete two of those sessions at high intensity.
3 Speed work for beginner to intermediate runners should be on a flat surface.
And then there is hill training. These are particularly important for anyone training for the Two Oceans because it’s a pretty hilly course.
Explaining the importance of adequately training to tackle these hills, Ms Johansson says: “Hill training is strength training while running. You have to recruit more muscles to power up the hill, and you have to be strong to safely handle the pounding of the downhill.
“If runners neglect hill training in preparation for a hilly race, they won’t have enough strength to maintain a consistent effort on the hills. The Two Oceans half marathon and 56km race are very hilly races. In the half marathon, there are Edinburgh Drive and Southern Cross Drive.
“In the 56 km race there are Chapman’s Peak and Constantia Nek as the major climbs.”
Tips for running hills
1 Keep a consistent effort. Your pace will slow down compared to the flat, and it should. Keep your breathing controlled, and many runners will adopt a walk/run strategy to maintain a consistent effort.
2 When running uphill, lean into the hill but keep your shoulders back and look forward to easily get air into those lungs. Small, fast steps are more efficient than big, slow ones.
3 The downhill hurts more than the uphill. Fast, light feet on the downhills – and relax. This is a time to take a breather and prepare for the next section of the race.
When it comes to pacing, don’t start off too fast, tackle the early climbs at a conservative pace and have a strategy – even if that strategy is as simple as joining a pace bus.
A “bus” is a group of runners with a “driver” who will lead the group at a pace that enables them to reach their time goal.
“The ultimate goal of pacing is to maximise performance,” says Ms Johansson. “If you run too fast in the first half of a race, you will lose a lot of time in the second half and end up with a time that is really far off your goal.
“It takes a lot of practice, and requires knowledge of a time you are capable of running. It also requires knowledge of the race course as that will affect pacing as well.”
Tips for pacing
1 Two Oceans is very hilly. Be conservative on the first climb, and conserve energy for the upcoming climbs.
2 When coming up with a pacing strategy, consider that your pace on the flat sections will have to be faster than the overall goal pace and the pace on the uphills will be slower.
3 If you struggle with pacing, Two Oceans has a number of pace buses. The “bus drivers” do an amazing job of keeping the group on pace, and it takes the guessing work out of it for you. Be sure to choose a suitable time bus in line with your abilities.
Chantel Erfort is the editor of CCN, which publishes this paper and its 14 sister titles. To track her journey to OMTOM2019, follow @editedeating or #editedeating OMTOM on social media.