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Winter tyres? Become a stronger runner

Winter is coming but has your training changed following the seasons? As runners, it’s a good thing to change the training during the autumn and winter months – mixing it up a bit, to make us stronger for the spring and our road racing season.

So how can we get stronger and how does this benefit our training and racing for the spring?

A good way is to start running off road, this can be in parks or even getting out into the countryside a bit.

How does this benefit us?

Trail running/off road running makes our ankles move around more, which makes the muscles in them work harder, making them stronger. When we run on grass and mud or even sand, our bodies start to engage our core and trunk muscles more, to keep up upright and this helps build a stronger trunk. Without a strong trunk, we are more likely to get injuries lower down in our legs.

Hill running is a fantastic way to build strength in our legs over the winter and doing this off-road on grass or mud is even better for our ankles, legs and trunk stability. In hill running, we are using our body weight as a resistance to push against, so the driving muscles from which their leg power is derived have to work harder.

The technique to aim for is a "bouncy" style where we have a good knee lift and maximum range of movement in the ankle. Aim to drive hard, pushing upwards with our toes, flexing our ankle as much as possible, landing on the front part of the foot and then letting the heel come down below the level of the toes as the weight is taken. This stretches the calf muscles upwards and downwards as much as possible and applies resistance which overtime will improve our power and elasticity. Aim to look straight ahead, as your run and not at your feet. Also try and keep the neck, shoulders and arms nice and relaxed.

Hill work results in the calf muscles learning to contract more quickly and thereby generating work at a higher rate, they become more powerful. The calf muscle achieves this by recruiting more muscle fibres, around two or three times as many when compared to running on the flat. The "bouncy" action also improves the power of the quads in the front of the thigh as they provide the high knee lift that is required. This can then mean that we can aim at higher running speeds and shorter foot strike times.

Hill training offers the following benefits:

  • helps develop power and muscle elasticity

  • improves stride frequency and length

  • develops co-ordination, encouraging proper use of arm action up-hill, driving elbows back

  • develops control and stabilisation as well as improved speed (downhill running)

  • promotes strength endurance

  • develops maximum speed and strength (short hills)

  • improves lactate tolerance (mixed hills)

Session Ideas:

  • A great session is Kenyan hill efforts where you find a 100m long gentle hill on grass and you run the same continuous speed up and down the hill for a period of 6-10 mins depending on your ability with a 2 min rest afterwards, try this for 2 or 3 sets. Thinking of keeping your form running tall with hip hips and bringing your knees up slightly more than when running on the road. This would be done at a pace of say tempo pace effort.

  • How about running down hill on grass fast and then jogging up hill slowly? Running down hill improves our speed & coordination, again it also makes our legs stronger by utilising all the muscles in our lower legs and our trunk. Running downhill is also very fun!! Plan this into your next run.

  • Or putting in more effort in the hillier parts of your daily runs,

  • Then by doing a short hill session and a long hill session each week. The short hills will take from 30 to 60 seconds to run up, and the long hills from one and a half to two minutes. The recovery is the length of time it takes to jog down to the bottom. The number of runs should be built up week by week e.g. 10 to 20 of the short hills and 6 to 10 of the long hills.

Moving on from this base you can include some or all, of the following into your weekly training:

  • One repetition session, 3-5 x 1500-2000m cross-country circuit (muddy off road running)

  • One long hills session on grass

  • One 'tempo run' e.g. 20 minutes hard running on grass

  • One 'high quality' session e.g. 4-8 x 1k on grass

  • One short hills session

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