This is the time for planning your running year. Just ‘going out for a run’ can lose its attraction when both mornings and evenings are either dark and cold or dark and wet.You need something in the short term to aim for, and this should be tied in with a long term plan. The ultimate aims will be very varied – to run a good mile or to run a good marathon, to reach the top level as a trail runner or to run a good 10k at the end of a triathlon; however, they all demand sound basic conditioning, which is what we should be putting in at the moment.
This is not the time for big mileage – that will start in the new year. What we can work on now is muscular strength, from gym work and/or hill running and speed endurance. Leg strength, in relation to your body weight, is vital to a runner, whatever your distance. You can do it by sprinting up sand dunes, by running hard up hills, and the advantage of this is that you are using the muscles in a running action, which is not the same as using them in squats or dead lifts in the gym. Working in the gym has the advantage that it is independent of the weather and that it is quantifiable – you can actually measure your improvement. You need to mix this with running sessions so that the muscles continue to function smoothly as they get stronger. I would suggest two weight sessions a week, jogging to the gym and back, if possible, plus two serious running sessions and two easy runs.
I mentioned hill running, and I consider this to be vital, whether or not you are doing weight training. Hill running reaches all parts of the body. It works the feet and the ankles as well as the big leg muscles; it works the heart and the lungs and it improves your lactate tolerance, especially on the long reps.
I have always advocated two different hill sessions, done in alternate weeks, partly because variety is more interesting and partly because they stress different systems.
‘Short hills’, in my book, take less that one minute to run up fast. They are largely anaerobic, but you will feel the pain in your chest and the lactate in your legs over the last ten or fifteen seconds. In my youth I used to do these over a sand dune circuit, but anywhere will do. You need a slope between 1 in 20 and 1 in 10 – too steep a slope impedes your running action. ‘Long hills’ can be from 90 seconds to 3 minutes. Obviously these are done at a slower speed and the lactate build-up is more gradual. Because you are pushing uphill, you are working at close to maximum oxygen uptake, so it is very good training for every type of runner. A good weekly dose would be 10 short hills, building up to 16 or 20 over 3 months, or 5 long hills, building up to 8 or 10.
The other thing you need to think about is altering your training pattern. If you find it difficult running in the dark, try to fit in one or two lunchtime running sessions plus two daylight sessions at the weekend and do the rest in the gym. Alternatively you can work out on the bike or the cross trainer for extra endurance sessions. Whatever you do, make sure that you have the right gear – high visibility for running at night – and several layers for running in the cold, so that you can remove layers as you warm up.
And one more thing – enjoy it!