Train like a pro!
When I run a training sessions with on individual runner or a group they follow a certain format, but I've noticed runners don't often apply this to their own training runs! So I thought I'd explain a little about this format, why it's used and what you can take from it to apply to your own training.
The starting point it the warm up; but why? Getting moving, gently to start with, warms your muscles so you are less likely to tweak or injure them. It raises your heart rate gradually to prepare for the main part of the run. It also tells the body that you are about to exercise, which kicks off all sorts of processes like diverting blood to the muscles, stimulating more synovial fluid production to protect your joints and raising your breathing rate.
A warm up often takes the form of a 5 minute easy jog, which is fine. But start to think about it in terms of the session or run you are about to do. If you are doing a faster training session plan a gradual warm up to gently take you faster in a ramp up so you are completely ready to go for the speedier session.
The warm up merges into a section often referred to as drills; running specific movements and exercises to further raise the heart rate and body temperature as well as practicing the movement patterns you are going to use in the session. If you've been to a coached session you will be familiar with high knees, skipping, sideways running drills etc towards the start of a session. Again these can be tailored to the session you are going to do, so for a more fast paced session there will be more drills building up to the ones with more explosive power like jumps and sprints right at the end. Drills are a good time to practice any technique goals you have in mind, like improving an aspect of your running form.
Then you get to the bit you are really there for - the main running session! The content of the session will depend on your training goals and technical/technique goals. My top tip would be to give equal importance for the recovery parts of the session as well as the "efforts" if you are doing a speed or hill session. The recoveries make sure you are really getting the efforts right in terms of speed and effort, reduce injury risk and make sure you are training the right systems in the body for faster running. If you neglect your recoveries or run them too fast you'll tire and run out of energy turning the session into endurance training, instead of speed.
Once you've done your training you need to cool and relax the body back down gradually. If you've done a fast paced session take longer over this to gradually cool down. Reduce the pace of your running and increase the length of your recoveries until you get to an easy recovery jog. You should be able to talk in full sentences, and feel your breathing rate return to being steady and easy. Finish with a walk as this can help gently stretch out tight leg and lower back muscles.
Finally leave time for stretching! Try to stretch all major leg muscles for 10-15 seconds each, and don't bounce in the stretch as this will cause the muscle to contract to protect itself undoing your good work. Try to work in some back and upper body stretches too, as these muscles will have got tight with the effort of running and hard breathing. Finishing with some all body stretches, up to the ceiling or a roll down to touch your toes can be a great, relaxing, way to end. Counterintuitively the faster the intervals or the harder the efforts in your session the more gentle your post run stretching should be.
Once you get home, don't forget to have a think about what you've achieved on your run, the training benefits you've gained, how your body reacted and whether it needs any additional TLC. Doing this now will set up up better for your next training session!