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How hard should I run?


Disclaimer:  This piece has been put together by Adela Carter.  All scientific merit, substance or credibility is purely coincidental.  No Houghboy brain cells were harmed during the writing of this blog:

What type of runner am I?

It’s probably worth noting that the answer to this question – in part depends on your reason for running.

• If you are looking to improve your times in races – you have a performance goal.

• If you use running as part of your training for another sport – you have a fitness goal.

• If you are running as a way to stay active or loose weight – you have a health goal.

• If you see running as social activity or chance to get away from it all – you have an enjoyment goal.


The interesting thing is, we probably belong to more than one of these groups at different times in our lives, or even have several goals occurring concurrently. The difficulty with having multiple goals is that this can sometimes cause conflict with how we ‘train’.

Performance and Fitness Goals.

For those who have performance goals, and probably fitness goals – increasing speed is of paramount importance. In order to do this you need to be able to generate more force per foot strike and/or increase your foot strikes per minute. Simply trying to ‘run faster’ probably doesn’t cut it.

Incorporating technique-based drills can improve the effectiveness of the foot strike, by placing the body in a more optimal position through the push-off phase of gait. This type of training is best done over a short distance and should be built up to a maximal speed of execution without a breakdown in technique. Coaches have also used fast running on a slight decent or with a tail wind to encourage faster leg-turnover speed – using nature to aid in momentum.

Exercises that help to increase tissue strength can improve the efficiency of running. The greater force generated at push-off subsequently increases the distance traveled per step. Gym-based strength and power training programmes have been shown to be beneficial here. Similarly, hill sprints or fast running into the wind demand greater force production than running on the flat or treadmill.

Once an athlete has a swift ‘top speed’, the key then is to be able to utilise the highest proportion of that possible, for the distance of the race – be that 100m or an ultra marathon. Indeed, Paula Radcliffe is still the current British record holder for the 5000m and 10 000m on the track whilst being the current world record holder in the Marathon – over 8 times the distance of the 5000m!  Therefore, if you are more performance or fitness goal orientated, getting strong, fast and efficient is important first – then being able to hold this speed for longer should be your aim.

Health and Enjoyment Goals.

For those who run for a health or enjoyment goal, there may be less emphasis on speed, and more on being able to run for a particular distance or duration at a more comfortable pace. In this case, technique drills are still important as we know they can help with effectiveness, and some strength work is also key as this can improve efficiency – making running at a given pace easier. Whilst some time should be spent on increasing effectiveness and efficiency, your running emphasis is likely to be more towards gradually increasing the time on your feet.  Working on distance run may not be the best method here, as we know that 10km on a hilly, windy, off-road route is far different to 10km on a warm, calm day on the track. It may be more beneficial to quantify running by duration rather than distance – especially when working towards health and enjoyment goals.

Of course, it is highly likely that someone who wants to improve their race time also runs for enjoyment and health. Most of us preparing for an event have faced the scenario where we feel we ought to do our intervals, but have had a rotten day at work and just fancy an easy run with the club – this is a classic example of how our goals can clash. If we were professional athletes, and as long as our health monitoring showed we were well, our performance goal would trump our social goal.  However, as most of us compete for enjoyment, it is likely that our enjoyment and social goals may not be a bad idea in this instance.

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Special Guests who love to run and have something to say. Running, kit and gear, racing and adventures... anything goes, thank goodness!

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