By Hayden Shearman. For years I’ve dreamt about hosting a running training programme for everyday runners, joggers and sports people that replicates the training of elite runners. And in the Auckland spring of 2013, that dream became a reality with 75 runners taking part.
I had lost count of how many runners I had worked with or talked to who found themselves stuck in a rut in their running. Unable to improve their racing times and also unable to lift their easy training paces. Essentially they were single-speed runners. All this, while seeing elite and club-level runners continue to improve, often to mind-boggling times.
The key differences that I was seeing between these two groups was not mileage—some slowing runners were doing plenty of hours pounding the pavement. It wasn’t just weight—I’ve seen non-athletic-looking men run well under 35 minutes for 5k. It wasn’t natural ability—whether you’re improving or staying the same/getting slower is not dependent on your genes (only your objectively measured end-potential is restricted by genetics).
No, the thing that was different between the “getting faster” and the “getting slower” groups was simply the amount of variation in speed of their training.
Top runners have an incredibly diverse range of speeds that they train at. An Olympic-level male will race a 5k race at around 2:38min/km and they will do a certain amount of training at that pace, but they will also include jogging as slow as 6min/km in their training. Whereas your everyday runner might stick at 5min/km religiously every day of the week, at the start of the run, at the end of the run, in the middle of the run, and in the race itself—the same speed all the time.
Let’s face it, this single-speed running is not the most exciting way to pass the time and it also carries risks of injuries: if you want an overuse injury, perform the same motion at the same speed over and over. But it also restricts any opportunity they might have for improvement and here are just three key reasons why:
- Style. Most elite runners have beautiful running styles because they spend a certain amount of time in training running at higher speeds. When running faster, our bodies naturally want to iron out any inefficiencies of motion as quickly as possible. In the runners that I’ve trained, nothing cements good running form like speed training.
- Strengthening Different Systems. I often heard joggers who regularly run for two hours or more say how much they dislike speed work. The words they used are similar to that of a non-runner saying how much they dislike jogging. But that same jogger will know well that their enjoyment of jogging is simply conditioning, and once the body has become used to jogging rather than just walking, the walker or non-runner will also start to enjoy it. It’s exactly the same with introducing a jogger to speed training.
- Slowing Down. When an elite runner incorporates speed training they will also include more slower-than-normal jogging. This pace is used for recovery, both within sessions and on easy training days. The single-speed runner also misses out the opportunity for the body to slow down when running and perform active recovery.
So, long story short, this September, my wife and I started TempoFit. It’s a six-week course that incorporates all the key elements we see in elite-level training but are often (not always) missing from your everyday runner’s weekly mileage:
- drills and technique development
- strides and sprints
- core and conditioning
- speed work (threshold, intervals and repetitions)
- long runs
So with all these components put together, over a 6-week programme, and 75 incredibly motivated people, the Spring Season of TempoFit saw huge improvements. I was expecting maybe half the group to improve, but what we saw was across the board and at levels that I didn’t even think would be possible. Here are the numbers:
6.0%: The average improvement over 3k for all members of the Spring Season of TempoFit
55 seconds: That 6.0% improvement represented a whopping average of 55 seconds over 3k
11.4%: The highest improvement over 3k of all TempoFit-ers (represented 1min 41secs).
6120km: Approximate distance run by TempoFit-ers during workouts of the 2013 Spring Season
These numbers were so encouraging to me, but most of all I was excited about what the runners were saying as to how they felt as they run. By the end of the season you could sense a new bounce to their steps and a new excitement to lace up their trainers (you can read some of their experiences here).
I would like to send a massive thank you to all those who took part in this first season of TempoFit. You guys and girls are incredible and inspirational to me!