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How I improved my Running

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Running is a very high impact sport. Constant ‘thuds’ on the surface to move forward. According to me, it is the most important discipline when it comes to being an elite triathlete. The run can make or break you. Being confident on the run leg is psychologically so uplifting when the legs are jelly after a hard 90k bike. You start to look forward to the run!

In late 2017 when I was just purely bodybuilding, I did my first 10k event. I hadn't run more than 20 min ever before. I ran/jogged purely for post workout cardio. I timed approximately 48mins. I thought this was pretty decent given that I was not built for endurance. But it was my first feel of running and I loved it.


In 2019, I was still training by myself preparing for the ironman 70.3 Goa and my 10k time was about 46 min at this time. Yes, I was slowly transitioning into an endurance athlete but I still looked like a bodybuilder and gains were marginal. I was also training blind. Which means, I did own a Garmin watch to check my pace or a HR monitor to base my intervals on. In fact, I hardly did any intervals. Each week I would cover a particular distance and try to increase the distance each week till I hit 21k.

 

- In 2019 dec, my PB's were 10k ~ 46 min. 21k ~ 1:48 and 5k ~ 22 min.


- In 2020 dec, my 5k PB is 16:44. 21K Brick run at 70.3 race pace after the 100k bike was ~ 1:29.


 





 

So here are some of the things that have helped me and will continue to do so in my pursuit to be an elite triathlete and runner.


1. Weight loss - Running is a sport where the only resistance to displacement is the bodyweight. As the weight comes down, this resistance is lower. I dropped down from 65kgs at my peak physical shape to 61 kgs at the same condition. This drop has to happen gradually and in a structured way. Losing it drastically can result in unwanted muscular atrophy and loss of energy which is counter productive. Fuelling for performance comes first. Maintaining a deficit while also fuelling right for performance is like walking on a knife’s edge. Has to be done just right and it takes some experience.


2. Flexibility - Dynamic stretches and mobility exercises improve ROM. The more flexible the hips are, the better ROM and the better force production through that ROM. I do static stretches every morning which includes sit and reach, lunge reach, deep squats and lots of hamstring and quad stretches. Exercises like high knees, marching, heel to bum kicks and standing hops are some the best dynamic warm-up exercises to do before runs.


3. Focus on the core and hips - Resistance training for the core and hip musculature which includes the glutes, hip flexors and abdominal muscles is key to improving run efficiency. The improvement in stability reduces unnecessary wastage of energy caused by lateral tilts and movements. All the energy should be used to move the body move forward. I use resistance band adduction, abduction, donkey kicks, hip bridges and similar exercises for this purpose. Crunches, leg raises, planks, side planks and wood chops are some of the abdominal exercises I prefer. This also improves run form.


4. Consistency & Patience - I have realized that running is a testing discipline physically and mentally. The gains come slowly but surely. Sticking to the workouts given by my coach and following them religiously without fail has been the key. Sometimes there are days where I get frustrated with the performance numbers. But that is just induced fatigue to make the body adapt and attain an improved baseline. That is how periodization works. The road to improvement is not linear. Overall it is an upward trajectory, but there are minor fluctuations in day to day performance. The rate of improvement is also very individualistic.


5. Plyometric training - Plyometric training uses the stretch shortening cycle(elastic property of muscles) and the stretch reflex(from the muscle spindles) to contract a muscle when placed under a rapid stretch. This happens throughout running when you land the foot and immediately launch yourself forward. Plyometric training helps improve power generation that directly affects cadence and stride length. Mathematically, the longer the stride and higher the cadence, the faster you are. Exercises like single leg hops, lunge hops, squat jumps are some of the simple plyometric exercises that I always include. One thing to note is that improving cadence and stride length happens by training consistently which improves running form and with better power generation through training methods like plyometrics. Just trying to ‘jump’ longer while running or moving the feet faster on purpose does not work.


6. HR based interval training - Training with metrics in the best way to analyze performance and train with structure. Running without any data is like running blind. When I was training by myself, I ran with just a stop-watch. The only performance metric was time. I had no idea what adaptation that run session induced, the goal of the session or the energy system in use. HR based training has helped me structure the training based on zones that work on different energy systems and use these zones for interval training. The main metrics I use is pace of the intervals, HR and time. The Garmin forerunner 945 is the watch I use and it has been a game changer.


7. Better shoes - I never used a running shoe till recently. I had a sports shoe that I did all my races with. I never changed them because I didn't have enough time to get used to them. I changed to a shoe that is particularly made for running when there was a break due to Covid. And the difference it made was huge. After wearing the heavier shoes for so long, the new shoes felt like I was just wearing socks. And it obviously improved my run times. I felt lighter and faster. I feel like this was a blessing in disguise. Running shoes also are made specifically for running which will reduce injuries. I do not advice anyone to use heavier shoes on purpose. Get good running shoes from the start. I use the Skechers Go Run RAZOR.


8. Breathing - I have always believed in focusing on breathing during my runs. The more relaxed I keep my breathing, the lower my RPE(rate of perceived exertion) and lower my HR. I always believe in nose breathing. Obviously for the hard Vo2 max sessions I gasp for air because that is the objective. But for the base runs, race pace runs or even tempo runs, I always try to breathe through the nose. I don’t force it, but try to stay as relaxed as possible and focus on rhythm. There are also studies that show that nose breathing releases nitric oxide that helps in vasodilation that reduces HR.


9. Diet - I eat light before all my runs, even for the high end sessions. An example meal would be a yogurt cup with a fruit. A protein bar. Or just a banana. No savoury foods before runs. Easy and light on the stomach is the way to go. I do all my easy runs in a fasted state to improve fat adaptation and improve glycogen sparing. During my hard interval workouts, I have a carbohydrate drink for intra-workout and gels if needed. No solid foods. This works for me and I stick to it. Dietary preferences are very individualistic and have to be fine tuned with a lot of trial and error.



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