Beginning runners like to know what the best way to get better at running is. That’s easy. Run more. Plain and simple. Don’t make it any more complicated than that. I should quit right here but I can’t help myself and now I’m going to complicate it some.
How much should I run? How often should I run? How fast should I run? All good questions. So, let’s start with the basics. What happens when we go for a run? If you don’t go too fast and your heart is not pounding out of your chest and you can actually talk some while running, then you are doing an aerobic run. That is good for the vast majority of our training. Running aerobically (in the presence of oxygen) is the most efficient way to run. Training aerobically helps your body get better at running aerobically. This means your body gets more efficient at getting oxygen to the muscles that need it and once there, that oxygen is used to help turn food into useful energy.
There are a lot of things in the chain that brings oxygen to the muscles. You need lungs to take in the oxygen. You need blood to take the oxygen from the lungs. You need pipes (arteries and veins and capillaries) to transport the blood. You need a heart to send the blood where it is needed. You need mitochondria in the muscle cells to use that oxygen. You need various enzymes to speed along the chemical reactions that take place in the mitochondria where the oxygen is used to help make ATP (our useful energy supply) from the food we eat.
All of these are things that can be improved. Your heart can get stronger. Your blood vessels can stay clean and you can make more of them. You can have more hemoglobin in your blood to carry the oxygen. You get the picture. How do we do that?
We run more. The best run for that is the long run. What is a long run? How far is it? That is totally dependent on what kind of shape you are in. For an Olympic distance runner, don’t even think about calling it a long run before 10 or more miles is up and that is probably just the beginning. For the experienced age group racer, it might be 6 or more miles depending on their current fitness. For the beginner just getting their feet wet, it might be a mile. It’s really just a run that is longer than what you are used to doing on the other days of the week.
During that long run, the goal is to go fast enough to get your heart rate up a bit but not going crazy. Then just keep on going. This forces your body to use oxygen as well as it can. Once your body sees that it is going to be needing oxygen more than normal, it will start preparing for that. Your body is smart. It will build more mitochondria. It will make more of the enzymes that are used during the aerobic process. It will make your heart stronger and more efficient. It will even help you create more blood vessels. That is one of my favorite perks. More blood vessels is what we call collateral circulation. The more of them we have, the harder it is to have a problem if one of them gets blocked.
Blood vessels, the more the better!
How often for this magic long run? No more than once a week. Doing it too often will end up breaking down something and you won’t be running for a while as you recover from your overuse injury. So, let’s say you are usually running for 3 miles at a time or 30 minutes if you go by time instead of distance. Try once a week to step this up to 4 miles, then 5, then 6. Weekends are the best time to do it just because you usually have more time and it gives a great name for a running blog.
The fastest way to get faster is to run more. Try building up to the long run. It will surprise you what you can do. Keep running my friends.
It’s a great feeling to look into the distance and know you can run to whatever you see.