Training Advice

The Adaptation Process

As you increase the intensity of your training you will start to notice subtle changes in the way your body performs; you will find that you be able to run further or faster and your breathing won’t be so laboured. Repetition and a gradual increase in the quantity and quality of your training, coupled with effective nutrition, hydration and sufficient recovery encourages your body to adapt and change. This type of training is called progressive overload and uses the Adaptation Process to improve performance.

With new runners the adaptation process happens fairly quickly - our beginners progress from jogging for 30 seconds to being able to run for a couple of miles without stopping in just 10 weeks. Once you start to run on a regular basis the adaptation process can be more difficult to spot, and the challenge all runners face is coming to terms with the fact that there are no quick fixes to performance improvement. If you increase the intensity of your training too quickly, or you don’t allow your body to recover sufficiently between training you risk becoming overtired, which in turn can make you more susceptible to illness and injury. As runners we need to understand the adaptation process and learn what we can do to assist the process.

The Adaptation Process has three main elements (1) Exertion (2) Restoration (3) Recovery

(1) Exertion

Progressive overload effectively forces your body to adapt to greater workloads. Depending on the sort of event or race you are preparing for and your experience as a runner, your training schedule should have a gradual increase in the number of miles or length of time spent training. Each training session should have a specific focus (e.g. building strength, speed or stamina) and be scheduled to allow for sufficient time to rest and recover in between. The golden rule is not to undertake hard training sessions on consecutive days; don’t attempt a speed session on Monday after a long run on Sunday. If you want to accelerate the adaptation process you can build some cross-training into your programme, for example swimming or cycling, but remember that this will also increase your overall training load and you will become tired. You must apply the same principles to all other forms of exercise you undertake – only increase the intensity and the time spent cross-training gradually and ensure you include sufficient time for recovery.


(2) Restoration

The restoration phase is when your body removes the metabolic waste which has built up during training. There are a number of simple things you can do to influence the time it takes your body to complete this bit of the process.

  • Cool down – A gentle jog after a hard speed or hill sessions before you start to stretch will accelerate the removal of lactic acid. Stretching after every training session will improve your overall flexibility and reduce muscle soreness.
  • Fluid replacement – Ensure you consume plenty of fluids – a minimum of half a litre of fluid for every hour you run is a rough guide but if the weather is warm or you sweat excessively this needs to be increased. Be aware that long periods of exercise can cause a temporary dip in your blood pressure which can make you feel light headed when you stop running. To overcome this drink plenty of water, avoid too much caffeine as this acts as a diuretic and resist the temptation to indulge in alcohol until you have eaten something substantial.
  • Nutrition – It is essential, especially after a long run, that you eat some carbohydrate and protein within 30-50 minutes of finishing. The protein assists with muscle repair while the carbohydrate replaces lost glycogen. You don’t have to eat loads – little and often should be your mantra – but a simple sandwich (tuna, ham, cheese, egg) or a handful of dried fruit and nut mix or a energy replacement bar will help your restoration. If you can’t face food consider trying a sports recovery drink or have a milkshake.
  • Give your body some TLC – After a bath or shower run some cold water over your legs for 3-6 minutes. This helps to increase the blood flow and reduce muscle soreness. If you have done a long run you can also try lying on your back with your legs resting up the wall for 5 minutes – this helps reduce any swelling or “pooling” of blood in the ankles. A light sports massage or even just a bit of self massage of the calves and ankles can be very beneficial. At big events and races they often have people offering massages afterwards for a small fee, but if you are training hard over a long period consider having a regular massage to help break down any little knots of scar tissue. These knots are sites of potential injury as they adhere to the muscle preventing smooth contraction.

(3) Recovery

A balanced training programme will have adequate recovery periods build into it, this ensures that the risks of overtraining and injury are minimised. The key to improved performance is not to measure how much training you can do, but focus on how quickly you recover from your training. If you are still tired on Tuesday from Sunday’s long run then you need to look at your recovery.

There are two types of recovery - passive and active.

  • Passive – This is basically resting and sleeping. As you increase your training you may find that you will require more sleep. As a recovery tool it’s not the actual amount of time you spend asleep it’s the consistency of the sleep pattern. This means that if you can’t sleep the night before a race you shouldn’t worry too much as it’s the previous 3-5 nights sleep that count. Remember - taking a whole day off and not doing any form of exercise is actually good for you! Your performance won’t suffer if you chill out for a couple of days.
  • Active – An easy jog (you should be able to sing while running) or doing things other than the running can be a great way to recover. Golf, walking, swimming or cycling at a moderate level will aid your recovery, but you need to learn to listen to your body. If you start to get little niggles or aches or you feel tired then take some time out and rest.

Training Intensities and Heart Rates

When someone asks you “How much are you training?”, they usually want to know how far or how often you train each week. Seldom does anyone ask “How hard are you training?” Yet understanding the “hardness” or intensity of your training is the key to understanding how to achieve a progressive, balanced training programme.

Training intensities are generally categorised into 3 basic types; Low, Submaximal and High.

  • Low Intensity (LO) is aerobic exercise (with oxygen) which can be performed for long periods of time. This is the what we use for Long Slow Distance runs
  • High Intensity (HI) is anaerobic (without oxygen) and can only be performed for brief periods of time – basically sprinting.
  • Submaximal (SM) training is the cross-over between LO and HI and is what we refer to as Tempo or Threshold training.

Because running has so many variables (e.g terrain and weather), it is difficult to assess for yourself exactly which level of intensity you are working at, and if you are maintaining that level of intensity. Your heart rate gives you a constant indication of how hard you are working: the higher the rate the harder you heart is working to supply oxygen to the working muscles.

Knowing your training heart rate is a simple method of controlling training intensities so that you maximise your training time and effort. To do this you need to start by understanding your resting heart rate.

Try measuring your heart rate (HR) each morning for a week or so. Take your pulse for 15 seconds when you first wake up (if you are woken by the alarm wait for a couple of minutes as this can raise you HR slightly). Multiply the rate by 4 to give you an estimated beat per minute (BPM). Do this for a week and then work out your average resting HR (add all the numbers up and divide by the number of days)

The simplest way to work out your maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. This is not entirely accurate because of individual differences in heart size, but it’s a good starting point. By subtracting your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate you can then calculate your heart rate zones for the 3 intensities.

  • LO Intensity Training: aim to work at 60–75% of your max HR.
  • SM Intensity Training: aim to work at 75-85% of your max HR.
  • HI Intensity Training: aim to work at 85-95% of your max HR.

For example to calculate the training zones for a 40 year old with a resting heart rate of 58 we would use the following formula;

  • For 60% 180(HRmax) – 58(HRrest) x 0.6 (60%) + 58 (HR rest) = 131
  • For 75% 180(HRmax) – 58(HRrest) x 0.75 (75%) + 58 (HR rest) = 150
  • For 85% 180(HRmax) – 58(HRrest) x 0.85 (85%) + 58 (HR rest) = 162
  • For 95% 180(HRmax) – 58(HRrest) x 0.95 (95%) + 58 (HR rest) = 175

Like a rev counter in a car, your heart has a red zone. Working in the red training zone (HI and the top end of SM) for too long will result in overtraining, leading to injury, reduced immunity and feeling run down. Conversely if you only train in the LO zone your performance will plateau and your ability to metabolise fat stabilises.

If you don’t have access to a Heart Rate monitor you can do a quick check yourself simply by taking your pulse against a stop watch – but remember your HR will come down very quickly when you stop running so do it immediately and only count for 10 seconds and then multiply by 6.

The rough test we did last week suggests that your indicative HR zones are as follows
Based on an assumed HR of max and resting
LO (60-75%)    
SM (75-85%)    
HI (85-95%)    

Please note to accurately calculate your HR zones you do need to check your resting heart rate.

If you would like to borrow a HR monitor during one of the coached sessions, or want more information or help assessing your heart rate zones please ask.

Runners Dietary Requirements

As your fitness improves, and you start to run further and faster, your body adapts to become more efficient at using food to repair and recover from exercise. Therefore it’s important that you start to consider your diet to ensure you are able to maximise your performance.

Contrary to popular opinion you probably won’t need to make dramatic changes to what you eat if you already have a good balanced diet. It is also unlikely that you will need to increase the number of calories you consume (in fact if you want to lose weight you need to maintain an average of 2000 calories per day), but you will benefit from changing your eating patterns.

Carbohydrate is an absolutely essential for runners, it provide the glycogen which fuels your muscles. Most people who train for a marathon have about 3hrs, or 18 miles worth of glycogen stored in their muscles, so when you hear of runners “hitting the wall” what that actually means is that they have used up all their glycogen stores. This is why you see marathon runners drinking Lucozade or eating bananas on their way round the course – they are trying to replenish their glycogen stores.

Newer runners often struggle to eat before running, either because it makes them feel sick or because they suffer from stitch. Often the last lot of fuel their body received was some 5-6 hours before they run, consequently their glycogen stores become depleted quite quickly, they become tired and their legs feel really heavy. If this is your problem try eating low fat food in the 3-4 hours before you run, and ensure you warm up properly before increasing the pace or attempting a hill session.

In order to get the most out of your training session as a newer runner you need regular intakes of food. This teaches your body to use its glycogen stores effectively; as a runner your mantra should be little and often. Try eating a small amount of food every 3½ - 4 hours, for example:

  • Breakfast (07.00) Cereal/porridge with banana
  • Mid morning (10.30) Apple or cereal bar
  • Lunch (12.30) Sandwich or soup, side salad and piece of fruit
  • Mid afternoon (16.00) piece of fruit or handful of dried fruit and nuts
  • Early evening (18.00 if running at 19.45 that evening) crumpet or small slice of Malt loaf, or banana
  • After running – small piece of grilled chicken or fish, brown rice and salad.

You burn about 100kcals for every mile you run, but as the intensity increases (eg taking part in a coached hill or speed session) so does the number of calories burnt – up to 10kcals per minute per mile. You will also continue to burn kcals after running, which is why it is essential you eat and drink after a run. Try and eat foods that contain both carbs and protein - the protein will help repair your muscles. Runners need about 75-100grams of protein per day.

Carbohydrate can be sub-divided into two simple groups - starches and sugars. As a runner you need to focus on carbs that contain starch (low GI) rather than sugar. You should aim for 60% of your total daily food consumption to be carbohydrate. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you need to eat loads of pasta or increase the size of your portions just because you run. Brown rice, beans, wholegrain bread and jacket potatoes are excellent alternatives to pasta and often have a lower GI index.

By far the biggest problem new runners experience is feeling light-headed or dizzy after a run. Generally this is simply because they haven’t drunk enough water. Dehydration causes fatigue and slows down your ability to digest food. Try and aim for at least 8 glasses of water a day and more as the weather improves.

Finally, running may not actually help you lose weight as muscle weighs more than fat, but it will help you tone up. The best way to test this is to find a skirt or pair of trousers which are a bit tight now and then try them on again after a couple of months of regular (3 sessions a week) running, coupled with a good balanced diet, and see the difference.


What is Stretching?

Stretching is the range of movement that we experience at a joint. Other words that are used to describe it are flexibility and mobility. Stretching is largely an undervalued component of any training programme but if you feel stiff the day after you have run it probably means that you haven’t stretched enough.

Why Stretch?

Stretching will help you develop a range of movement that will assist your running action and your performance, regardless of how fit you are or how fast you run. Stretching decreases the risk of injury by increasing the supply of blood and nutrients to your joints. It also improves your co-ordination and balance and helps alleviate soreness and stress in your muscles. As a runner stretching should be an integral part of your routine, along with effective warm-up and cool-down.

Types of stretching

There are a number of different types of stretching, but the most common used by runners are (i) dynamic or ballistic, and (ii) static.

Dynamic or ballistic stretching: is so called because it tends to be made up of a number of movements and utilise several muscle groups at once – a good example is a tennis player serving the ball or a 100m hurdler leaving the starting blocks.

As distance runners we only use dynamic stretching as part of a controlled warm-up. Incorporating dynamic stretches such as cross-overs, high leg kicks and heel flicks into warm-up drills is a useful way of preparing your body for a training session and can reduce the onset of delayed onset muscle soreness.

Because dynamic stretching demands that the muscles have to react rapidly they don’t have time to adequately adjust to the function they are required to perform and this can result in injury - just think about the number of back injuries that are caused by people bending over too quickly. For this reason we only start dynamic stretching after we have been running for at least 10 minutes and have increased our heart rate; any sudden movement of cold muscles may cause soreness or injury.

Dynamic stretching doesn’t allow time for the nervous system to adapt, so it won’t help you if you are aiming to improve flexibility or range of movement, for this you need to use static stretching.

Static stretching: so called because it involves slow movements; taking the muscle through to the end of its range and then holding that position for a period of time, thereby encouraging adaptation to take place. Distance runners use static stretches following an effective cool-down to prevent muscle soreness and increase flexibility/ mobility.

On the attached sheet are examples of stretches to cover the main groups of muscles you use whilst running. If you find these difficult or uncomfortable please speak to one of the coaches who will be able to advise on alternatives.

It is recommended that you hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds. Breathing out as you stretch the muscle assists the body to relax and improves the effectiveness of the stretch. During this time the tension in the muscle will partially diminish and you will be able to move into a deeper stretch. Aim to repeat each stretch at least 3 times.

Static stretching has a lower risk of injury than dynamic/ballistic stretching but it is important that you move slowly and do not bounce whilst in the static position.

Key points

  1. Never stretch cold muscles
  2. Only use dynamic stretching as part of your warm-up
  3. Develop a static stretching routine that works for you and follow it religiously after every run:
    • Start from the feet and work your way up the body
    • Never bounce, start slowly and gently ease your muscles into position
    • Hold the position for 30-60 seconds
    • Repeat each stretch 3 times
    • Remember to stretch both sides (left and right legs)
    • Spend more time on areas that are particularly stiff or old injuries
    • Only stretch within your limits