For those people who are already well into their base phase in January, I would suggest hill intervals as the next stage in the training process. Personally, as a runner, hill intervals have always given me the greatest gains. Hills build strength and, if Ironman is your goal, then the key to running a successful Ironman marathon is to be strong. The last hour of the marathon isn’t about foot speed, it is about strength, both mental and physical.
The pitch of the hill will force you to run with a slight forward lean and on your mid- and fore foot, two key components of good running form and fast running. To run fast up a hill, you need to drive up with a slightly higher knee lift and push off using the butt muscles, which builds power! Your cadence will increase in response to the incline. Put together, these are the components of fast and technically sound running that will build strength, anaerobic threshold and confidence.
At first you can just make your runs hillier. Assuming you have already been doing one or two form runs a week including some strides, the next stage is to substitute some short hill strides midway through a shorter, mid-week run. For example, if you run for 30 to 45 minutes on Tuesday, you could use the first 15 minutes to loosen up to a nice 5 per cent hill and then run six to eight 30 second accelerations up the hill. Use the downhill to run easy and to recover. Finish with another 15 to 20 minute run.
After a few weeks of hill strides, introduce longer hill intervals of anywhere from one to two minutes. Run strong up the hill with an easy recovery for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Hill intervals are very demanding and you should not do them more than once every 10 days. Don’t do hill training at all if you suffer from Achilles tendon issues.
If you’re trying to improve your running during the first few months of the year, increasing the frequency of your run workouts will help. If you are currently running three times per week, you might want to increase that to four times per week but do not add too much mileage to your weekly totals. That said, if you are the least bit injury prone, you should add water running to your schedule as opposed to land running. Unless you’re an elite runner, you shouldn’t run more than five days a week, either. If you have the pool time, I would recommend you spend 20 to 30 minutes after a swim session doing a water run. It will teach you to run with a strong core (or you will sink), and it will stretch out tight hip flexors. It also acts as hydrotherapy – the pressure from the water around your lower limbs will help to flush out the toxins you have accumulated from training.
Add some circuit training that uses your body weight as resistance such as squats, lunges and squat jumps. Alternate between a leg and an abdominal exercise to create a continuous circuit that will improve your core strength.
Caledon’s Lisa Bentley has won 11 Ironman and 11 Ironman 70.3 races through her impressive triathlon career.