Five Minutes (or less) To Being A Better Runner
By Marathon Don Kern
Who has time for all this stuff? Not me. Most of us have a lot of life going on, so running mega-miles every week in order to get stronger and faster isn’t always going to work. But if you have just a few minutes, you can squeeze in some of these workouts. Maybe right after one of your mid-week shorter runs or even while you’re waiting for Game of Thrones to come on.
1. Get To The Core Of The Matter. If your core muscles aren’t strong, your endurance will be compromised. Experienced marathon runners know that as you get into those higher miles and the fatigue sets in, your form starts suffering. Your shoulders droop a little. Your lungs are compressed and you don’t breathe as well as you did a few miles earlier. They put a finisher medal around your neck, and the weight of it seems to pull your head down. It’s not just because someone turned up the gravity where you are—it’s because your core muscles aren’t supporting your body the way they should. This will help.
The workout: Rolling Planks. Start in a plank position, which is like a pushup position but resting on your elbows. Keep your body as close to perfectly straight as you can. That’s the front position. Hold it for 30 seconds. Now, without allowing your body to touch the ground, roll to your right side and rest on your right foot and right elbow. Hold it there for 30 seconds. Now back to the front position for another 30 seconds. Then to the left side for 30 seconds. Now back to the center for the final 30 seconds. Total time 2 minutes 30 seconds. Do this three times a week while you’re waiting for something else to happen.
2. Building leg strength and turnover. Running long distances keeps you in the fat-burning zone for a long time, but if we don’t pay attention we end up running slower. So take a few minutes once a week for this quick drill to get those legs turning over.
The Workout: Hill Blasts. Start with an easy warm up run, then stand at the ready at the bottom of a hill that’s steep enough to get your attention. Now run uphill FAST for 10 seconds. Then walk backwards down the hill, focusing on recovery and stretching your legs out on the way back down. Repeat until you’ve blasted the hill 10 times. Then do the grand finale for the eleventh time and run hard up the hill for 20 seconds. Walk down backwards and stretch out a little bit. Total run time is 2 minutes. With the cool downs in between you’re finished in less than ten. As you jog back to your car on a flat road, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to run flat on the way back. Get enough of a cool-down run to get your legs back to a relaxed state. By the way, your calf muscles will be a lot happier with you tomorrow if you be sure to strike mid-foot instead of running on your toes during the blasts.
3. Increasing leg speed. As a distance runner, sometimes you need to make sure that your legs “remember” what it feels like to go fast. Every couple weeks, throw this one into your rotation.
The Workout: Speed Bursts on a track. Do a few laps and warm up until your legs and your breathing feel good, then start the repeats. In the straightaway sections, pick up your speed a couple notches to just past your “comfort zone” and run hard for the full length. My training buddy Jim likes to call that speed “comfortably uncomfortable.” That means if you can talk while you’re at that speed, you aren’t working hard enough. At the curve, slow to recovery pace, even if that means walking for a little bit. As you approach the next straight, pick it up again and run until the next curve starts. On a 400-meter track, do 5 or 6 laps. On the indoor track at the club, adjust the count accordingly, or maybe alternate a hard half-lap with a recovery half-lap. Aim for 5 minutes total at the fast speed. When you get done, run easy for a lap or so to cool down.
4. Building the Glutes. Hey, we all like it when someone looks at us and says, “Nice butt!” Well, at least I do. This will benefit your hill climbing ability while it strengthens and firms up that backside of yours. Not that it’s bad right now.
The Workout: Step ups. Find a picnic table, hopefully one sitting on level ground. Step on the bench then on the table top and bring your feet together. Then back down to the bench and to the ground and bring your feet together. That’s one repetition. Alternate your leading foot on each repetition, or if you aren’t that coordinated, start with your right leg 5 times, then with your left leg 5 times. Reach the top of the table 20 times before you stop.
5. Quads and Abs. A long run is one continual progression of lifting one leg after another. So here we’ll work on getting the leg lifting muscles to be a little happier with us.
The Workout: High Knee March. Slow, then fast. Stand in a normal posture, walk in place, lifting each knee a little higher than it takes to make your upper leg parallel to the floor. Swing your arms as if you are walking at the same time. It takes a bit to get the rhythm, but it works. For your first couple sessions, stand close enough to a wall so you can reach out and balance yourself if you need to. You’ll get the hang of it pretty fast. As you lift each leg, count it. When you get to 100, you’re done. It’s a LONG way to 100 the first few times you do this.
Now catch your breath—we’re not done. Second verse, same as the first. A whole bunch faster and a whole lot worse. Repeat the exercise, but at double time. Or faster. Count to 100 lifts, and make sure your knee comes up as far is it’s supposed to even when you get past 70 or 80. The good news is that the second time goes ever-so-much faster than the first time.
6. Building the Endurance. Short blasts are good for a lot of things, but let’s ramp it up a bit. These actually go fast. But it doesn’t seem like it. When you get done with this workout, you’ll feel like you did something.
The Workout: HIITs - High Intensity Interval Training. Get a warm-up in so your legs and your breathing are ready for this. Find a fairly flat, or even a slightly downhill stretch. Sprint for 60 seconds. Turn around and walk back to the start. Keep a mental note of how far you got—or drop a rock or a stick or something. Repeat 5 times to start with. Try to get at least as far as the previous spot on each succeeding sprint. Work your way up to 10 repeats on this exercise. Be sure to recover fully after each one.
7. Day After Day Stamina. If you’re preparing for a multi-day event, it’s important to train for many days in a row. The good news is, it’s not that hard. Runner’s World ran a challenge at Thanksgiving, encouraging runners to run at least one mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year. Since I was signed up to run a challenge of running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, doing at least some running every day seemed like a good idea.
The Workout: Run a Mile Every Day. For a couple months run at least one mile every day. (More than 5 minutes for most of us, sorry.) Your normal runs which are over a mile, are included, of course. But on any day that would have been an off day, just go run a mile. Even if it’s on a treadmill or taking two laps around the block. Keep your legs working every day for a while.
8. This Might Be The Hardest One. Or the easiest. There are some days you just don’t feel like working out. That’s normal. This drill will change your attitude toward today’s workout FAST. And it’s easy.
The Workout: Tie your shoes. Just throw on a pair of shorts and put your running shoes. Take one step out the door. That’s it. Very small actions make very big changes in attitude. You will be amazed. And you’ll be running.
That’s it. Not a lot of complicated stuff. Not a gigantic effort. Rotate some of these into your regular routines and before you know it, you’ll see the improvements.
and the adventure continues….
“Marathon” Don Kern is a marathon race director, a veteran of over 300 marathons, and a former Guinness World Record holder for running marathons on seven continents in the shortest period of time.