Lose weight: The biomechanical consequences of lifting 1, 5, or 10 extra pounds with each step can you get you huffing and puffing just a little more from climbing a flight of stairs, imagine what it does to your body over the course of a 26.2 mile marathon, or even a 3 mile fun run! Your body must lift that extra weight with each step. If you take 10,000 steps and weight 3 extra pounds, that's 30,000 extra foot pounds that you must hoist - a huge metabolic requirement. If you're going out and hammering your run sessions, but not focusing on proper timing and content of nutrition to achieve weight loss, you're basically getting about half the benefit of your training, if that. You would not believe the stories I hear from runners who feel as light as a feather by just losing a handful of pounds. Trust me...I have run competitively at 209 pounds and now run at 173 pounds. There is a huge difference, in both speed and joint impact.
Increase cadence: Until a cadence of 86-90bpm becomes second nature, you cannot let yourself "zone out" on your runs. Period. You must focus the entire time. You must count your steps. You must play "hot potato" with your feet and the ground. You must minimize ground contact time. You must take 20 second time spans and ensure that you're getting close to 30 footstrikes with either the right or the left leg within those 20 seconds. The *hard* part of running is to increase stride cadence - the easy part is to increase stride length. Once you dialed in a cadence close to 90, it will become much easier for you to increase pace by striding out just a little longer when you need that extra burst of speed. It pays dividends, bigtime! Initially, you'll feel like you're "bouncing up and down" as you try to achieve the high cadence. Eventually, it will feel smooth, steady and relaxed. Practice!
Use a treadmill: This recommendation ties into the cadence-increasing suggestion from above. Sometimes a treadmill can be a great teacher, because that belt keeps moving underneath you no matter what, so your feet must keep up their rapid 1-2 cadence. Like an indoor trainer, there are fewer interruptions like stoplights and street crossings on a treadmill, so it can really help you focus on cadence. Every once in a while, I suggest performing your tempo run on a treadmill, setting the treadmill at a slightly faster speed than you are comfortable with, and allowing your legs to experience and memorize the rapid leg turnover. Essentially, you're engaging your body in forced neuromuscular training, and it actually works.
Hills: The beauty of hills is that they can allow you to achieve high physiological intensities without the pounding of running, for instance, sprints on a track or strides on a flat trail. This is because your feet are that much closer to the ground when you're running up a hill, so there is less momentum of the body upon impact. By using hills regularly in your training, you reduce your risk of injury and increase your achievable intensity. For your long runs, attempt to regularly include courses that contain hills, and at least once every two weeks, attempt to include a hill repeat or rolling hill course workout, performed at a pace close to your ventilatory threshold.
Plyometrics: In my book, Top 12 Resistance Training Routines for Triathletes, (available for $5 from this website only), I include several plyometric, explosive type exercises. The benefit of these exercises is that they teach the elastic muscles of the lower leg to quickly absorb your body weight and re-contract after your foot touches the ground while running. As a result, you minimize your ground contact time and maximize your recoil with each step. Over thousands of steps, such as during a race, this can be a huge speed boost. Plyometrics do not need to be a daily routine - just once a week can provide enormous benefits. Good plyometric exercises include hopping with one foot or both feet onto a raised surface like a step bench, performing explosive jumps from a lunge or squat position, or standing under a basketball hoop and repetitively tossing a ball against the backboard while jumping to retrieve it. Your body can actually learn how to "rebound" far more efficiently. Typical plyometric workouts include 2-3 sets of 10-20 jumps for 2-3 different exercises.
Consistency: The best way to become a solid runner is to ensure that your running routine is not constantly interrupted with sickness, vacation time, injuries and business. Running every 48-72 hours keeps the muscle memory prepared for the unique biomechanical movements of running gait. On mornings where you'd be tempted to sleep in, slumber in your running tights with your shoes beside the bed. Always toss your running shoes in your bag or backpack before leaving for work. Include running gear in your suitcase when packing for vacation, no matter how short it may seem (48 hour layovers happen!). And remind yourself on those super busy days that when it comes to consistency, a short 15-20 minute jaunt is better than nothing at all.
Do you have a 10K or marathon around the corner? A cycling century? A triathlon? High-quality training from one of the nation's top triathlon coaches, Ben Greenfield, is always available for triathletes, runners, cyclists and swimmers through www.pacificfit.net/triathletes.html. Until next time, train hard and train smart!
I like the "increase cadence" recommendation - but I disagree about your approach.
What I did, and it was REALLY easy, was to run a beats-per-minute analyzer against my itunes library, and selected about 2 hours of high-energy songs with ~180 beats-per-minute. Loaded them onto my iPod, and I was good to go. I didn't have to count my steps, ever - I just had to make sure I was running in time to the music.