Reading Time: 7 mins
Word Count: 1,100-1,200 words
Fitness for free is something I really advocate. I personally believe cost should never be a barrier to health and so I want to discuss one type of the many free fitness activities out there, the “Parkrun”.
What is Parkrun?
Located in 475 parks around the UK, Parkrun is an organised 5km run at 9am every Saturday morning throughout the year and the best part of it, it is completely FREE!
It’s a great initiative designed to encourage fitness amongst the general population. Once registered online (http://www.parkrun.org.uk/), you create your own profile which will store all your official recorded times making it easy to check on your fitness progress. How competitive you make it, is totally up to you! You can compete against others to get the highest race position possible, or you could just compete against yourself. The volunteers and marshals are lovely, supportive and provide a great way for you to start your weekend in a healthy manner. It’s open to the whole family, including even the dog if you wish!
How can I improve my parkrun time?
Well that question all depends upon your start point; how fit are you currently? And, what does your training plan currently consist of? Answer these two questions and then create a training plan around this. It is important to note here, set a timeline of when you want to achieve your goals, as this will vary on the intensity of the plan itself and indeed the methodology.
Tapering forms part of a well-planned training schedule
Resting is a form of tapering that when utilised correctly (around 2 to 3 weeks before race day), aids the body in its recovery process. This point is particularly important if you are looking to achieve a PB (personal best) in a short period of time. Of course, it won’t help you if you have done very little for months but someone who has been training at a large volume will certainly benefit. There are of course other things you can do on the day that can help a short-notice PB attempt but that will be for another article.
What can I do if I have more time? (2+ months before race day)
Speed Endurance Training:
A truly personalised speed endurance plan, based on your target heart rates and fitness level, is always the best way to go. It is designed to improve your ability to run at a near maximal capacity, for a longer time. This may not sound fun, but once you see how much benefit it can provide to your running, I am sure the difficulty will seem worth the reward.
For those that are just starting and are less fit, it is possible to see great results from a generic framework and use the time to learn how your body best responds. As a general rule of thumb, once you are capable of steady state non-stop runs up to 60-90 minutes, you can then start to add a speed interval element into your training.
Overall, speed interval training will help increase your VO2 max and subsequently your stamina. Other improvements can include your gait/efficiency and should make a ‘normal’ pace feel easier. Look to work at 80-90% of what you perceive to be your max effort. The shorter the duration, the harder you should work (a better way is using heart rate intensity zones but I prefer to give specific numbers and this rather depends upon your individual max heart rate).
Each interval should last about 30 seconds initially. Intersperse this with 5 mins at your steady jog pace as your recovery period. You can start to increase the interval to recovery ratio as you start to recover quicker from the speed work.
Lactate Threshold Training:
The other type of training is Lactate threshold work. This works well because it floods your body with lactic acid and other metabolites that contribute to running fatigue. It is done by running relatively shorter distances at the edge of what you can maintain. It is essentially ‘controlled-discomfort’ so be prepared to work.
There are a lot of ways that can be done and I implore you to vary your workout here. After all, variety is the spice of life and can help you maintain intensity as these become a struggle to do well if repeated over and over. I will name just a couple of my favourites that don’t involve track work and as such, can be applicable to everybody. WARNING: THESE ARE TOUGH!
One Minute Lactate Builders – can be used for all goal distances
- 8 x 1 min repeats at nearly full pace with 2 min recovery jogs at an easy pace.
- 1 min repeats at a very hard pace (close to your all-out pace). Stay relaxed throughout the repeat.
- 2 mins of very easy paced jogging between each 1min repeat.
12 x 400 Hill Repeats – improves lactate threshold, running strength, economy and power
- 12 x 400m hill repeats at what feels like your 5km pace.
- Find a hill that is about 400m or more in length and of a moderate to steep incline.
- Run 400m up the hill at what feels like your 5km intensity. The actual pace will be slower due to the difficulty of the incline, but try to maintain the same perceived exertion level as your flat 5km.
- Recover between each repeat by an easy jog back down the hill.
- This can also be done on a treadmill, I favour 5-8% incline and then 0% for the downhill portion.
- Pace: Run the uphill portions at what feels like your 5km parkrun intensity. Do the downhill portions at an easy pace.
- Recovery: None – recovery consists of the downhill easy jog. If you are using a treadmill, recover with 400m at 0% incline at an easy pace.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this is tough but dedication to this training will see those running times improve. Are there other ways to train? Certainly. Weight training can improve anaerobic pathways (for sprint finishes), body composition work helps to ensure you aren’t carrying ‘dead’ weight and periodisation of your training will mean you get the most from each training ‘block’. This in turn enables appropriate volume (and rest) allowing quicker progress.
The more advanced you become the less you can get away with ‘just run more’ or ‘just train harder’. Your body won’t respond to stressor upon stressor over the long term, so easy periods both in terms of volume, intensity and speed need to be utilised to consolidate fitness gains and allow the body a chance to recover, re-group and prepare for future improvements.
Hope this helps!