How to Improve Your Running in 16 Weeks

Follow these tips and tricks to learn how to improve your long-distance running

Whether it's for a competition, a race, your own satisfaction, or just for fun, running faster is something many people strive for. So if you want to learn how to get a personal best in running, then keep reading.


Specifically, we're going to take about how to improve your long-distance running, with some tips and tricks you can start applying today.


If you can include even some of these helpful tips into your training, then you will be well on your way to crushing your personal best (PB).


We're also going to go through an example of what a 16-week (or 4-month) training plan could look like.


Contents


1. What is Long Distance?

2. Form

3. Rest and Recovery

4. How to Avoid Injuries

5. Types of Workouts

6. What Workouts Should You Be Doing

7. Down Weeks

8. 16-Week Training Plan

9. Strength Training


What is Long Distance?


When we talk about long-distance running we're referring to any distance that is 5km or greater. The most common distances are 5k, 10k, 21k (half marathon), or 42k (full marathon).


We're going to take an in-depth dive into how you can improve your times over these distances, but some of the tips can also apply to distance such as the 1k or 800m.


Form


The importance of having good running form is often overlooked in training, but it can be one of the quickest and easiest ways to shave seconds or minutes off of your personal bests.


Compared to intense intervals, and long tempos, fixing your form is a walk in the park.


When you have an excellent running form, you improve your overall running economy and become more fuel-efficient.


Think of a car's fuel efficiency, a car that burns 10.0L/100km won't be able to make it as far as a car that only burns 5.0L/100km. It's the exact same with running.


When you run with bad form, you are wasting energy that over time will add up and cause you to get tired quicker. This becomes more important the longer the distance.


If you have to expend more energy to go the same pace as someone who is more efficient, then by the end of the race they will have a lot more in the tank to accelerate and leave you behind.


Thus by increasing running form and economy, you can actually run faster because you won't need to use as much energy to maintain your previous pace. This leaves you with more room to speed up.


Perfecting your running form can also reduce your risk of injury.


Our bodies are built to move in specific directions with specific motions. Of course, our joints have different ranges of motion and the muscles that support the joints can have increased flexibility.

However, a joint such as the knee is a hinge joint that can only move along one axis, with the patella bone tracking up and down through the patella tendon. This means it can often be susceptible to injuries resulting from improper form, due to tracking in the wrong direction.


The knee joint, along with the hip joint, and ankle joint are the three most influential joints in running. Generally speaking, they all feed off of each other, and an injury to one will leave the others at risk.


If you have poor form that affects your left hip joint, it normally won't affect just your hip joint.


It doesn't just end there, a lot of the time there will be a waterfall effect and your ankle or knee will try to compensate and fix the form, which can lead to also injuring those joints, and so on.


How do you fix your form?


The easiest and best way to fix your running form is by adding specific drills into your running warm-up.


Some fantastic running drills you should do before every run include:


A Skips

An A skip is similar to high knees. To do this, take a step and drive your knee up and make sure you keep a 90-degree angle with your knee and your toes pointed up (dorsiflexed). Land on the same foot and follow through into the other leg driving up. Repeat this for 10-15 meters.


B Skips

Following the same steps as the A skip, drive your knee up, except after you drive the knee up, you want to extend your leg out to straighten at the knee. As your leg comes down, paw the ground while engaging your glutes and hamstrings. Again, follow through and complete with the opposite leg. Repeat for 10-15 meters.


Butt Kicks

Typically butt kicks are performed incorrectly with swinging the heel towards the butt and having your knee in line with your hip. However, what you want to do is take your heel and follow a line straight up towards your glutes. Your knee will come forwards slightly in front of you. This better engages the hamstrings. Repeat for 10-15 meters.


Power Skips

Nearly identical to A skips, except you want to produce more drive and get your bottom foot off the ground. You should drive your knee up while pushing off the ground and let the momentum carry you through. Make sure to have a soft landing and move forward to the next leg. Repeat for 10-15m.


Bounding

A little bit different from skipping where the goal is more height, the goal with bounding is to drive for more distance. Push off the ground into the A skip form, while extending the back leg to propel yourself forward. It may be hard to build momentum from a standstill, so consider jogging a few steps into the drill. Repeat for 10-15m.


Carioca

Running of course is performed in the forward direction, but the mobility of your hips plays a big role in your running efficiency. The carioca drill helps increase overall hip mobility and function. Turn sideways and cross your trailing leg in front with a knee drive and then cross it behind as in image one. Repeat 10-15m one way and then face the same direction on the way back.


Strides

Strides are a gradual acceleration to help you practice controlling your form at higher speeds. Start slow and increase your speed over the next 20m, then continue on for another 30m while maintaining good form. Form is the focus, not the speed. Stay relaxed throughout and try to pick a softer surface such as grass or a track. You can increase the total distance of the stride up to 100m as you feel. Repeat 4-5x.


These drills will increase mobility through the body and give you an increased range of motion, which will help you to have a more fluid stride.


They also promote the mind to muscle connection that creates muscle memory for when it's time to run.


Do these form drills at the beginning of your warm-up session a minimum of 3x a week. If you want to include them more feel free to do so because they are not high-intensity energy-draining exercises.


Another way of improving your running form is through various activation exercises. These are low-intensity exercises you can do that focus waking up the smaller muscles that may not normally get as much attention.


One of the most important muscles when it comes to running form and stability while running is the gluteus medius. Usually forgotten when focusing on the much larger gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius is a tiny muscle underneath the glute max. that aids in balance.


The glute med. can be activated using only your body weight and the exercises are quite simple. Here is a list of 7 exercises that can be done to help strengthen and activate the gluteus medius. (Featured in Tim Ferriss' book Tools of Titans)


1. Up/Down

Lie down on your side and use your arm to support your head. Keep your leg straight and lift your top leg up and lower it. You don't need to lift your leg very high because this will decrease the tension, try to have a max 30-degree angle at the groin.


2. Front Kick/Swing

Keep your top leg straight and move it forward to 45 degrees at the hip.


3. Back Swing

Keep your top leg straight and swing it back as far as you can while keeping your back straight.


4. Full Front and Back Swing

The previous two combined, with no pause.


5. Clockwise Circles

Draw an 18-inch diameter circle with your heel. At the bottom of the circle, your ankles should be about 12-inches away from each other. If you let them get to close, the tension on the muscle isn't as high and you won't get the full benefit


6. Counterclockwise Circles

Same as above, but in the opposite direction.


7. Bicycle motion

Pedal your top leg as if you were riding a bike.


Switch sides and repeat with the other leg.


Perform each exercise for 10-15 reps. Once you get stronger you can add weight to your ankles.


These exercises can take as little as 5 minutes but can make a big difference as you increase your running volume.


You should do these exercises 2-3x per week, and they can be done before a workout, after working out, before bed, or whenever you have time.


Rest and Recovery


Almost as important as the workouts themselves, recovering is vital to your success. Without rest and recovery, you not only increase the risk of injury, but you also won't get the most out of your workouts.



It doesn't matter if you're a beginner or a veteran runner, everybody needs rest and recovery to avoid overuse, and keep away long-term fatigue.


First and foremost, you want to ensure you're getting a good amount of sleep each night, 6-8 hours is recommended, with 8 hours preferred. This gives your body plenty of time to recover and get the benefits of REM sleep, including increased Human Growth Hormone to boost the recovery process.


You also want to make sure you're getting plenty of good nutrition after each workout. Ideally, within 30 minutes of your run, you want to get plenty of protein and carbs. This will ensure you get the best results from the workout you just completed, plus the added benefit of recovering faster for the next day. For the full rundown on what to eat after your workout, check out our post-workout nutrition guide.


The next phase of recovery is taking rest days. While more seasoned runners may be able to run more days in a row without the need for a rest day, at some point everybody needs a day off.


Having a day off will keep your legs fresh and ready to go for your next cycle of workouts. This will prevent fatigue from setting in over the course of your schedule, as too many days in a row can really start to take a toll on the body if proper rest is not taken.


Now let's take a look at some of the more physical aspects of recovery and how to avoid injuries through recovery


How to Avoid Injuries


In physical activity sometimes injury can occur randomly, such as rolling your ankle in the forest, but our goal is to best prepare the body for the more preventable injuries.


Running is a very impactful exercise and can place a lot of strain on the body, so it is important to get your body ready for each session.


It all starts with the warm-up. A good functional warm-up will activate the right muscles and increase ROM through the most important joints.


Next up is the cooldown. An effective cooldown will reduce heart rate and allow fresh blood to pump to the worked muscles. A cooldown jog and light stretching will only take 10-15 minutes but it can be very beneficial to increase the rate of recovery.


You can also take some steps to ensure proper recovery between workouts with yoga, foam rolling or ice baths.


Yoga is a great way to help recovery because it increases fresh blood flow to your muscles while releasing tension from the previous workout. You can find any type of yoga video with a quick search on Google or Youtube. Personal recommendation is Yoga with Adrienne, she has videos for all levels that you can follow along with.


Foam rolling is fantastic to do between workouts or you can include it in your warm-up and cooldown. It helps promote blood flow and break down scar tissue in the targetted muscles.


It also can increase range of motion by maintaining proper lengthening of the muscles, instead of having them tighten up after each workout.


Couple options for foam rollers include the amazonbasics roller (cheaper option) or the trigger point roller.


Finally, while they may seem extreme, ice or just cold baths, are an excellent way to get your body ready for your next workout. It flushes the old blood out of the muscles and allows for new blood to flow through with nutrients that will help with the repair. It also reduces inflammation to decrease soreness that will have you feeling better sooner.


If you start to implement even one of these techniques into your recovery routine, you will find you will start to feel better after each workout and be able to attack the next one with more energy.


Types of Workouts


The most common types of running workouts are tempo runs, fartlek training, interval training, and long runs. (most information is taken from the ultimate guide to cardio)



Tempo running is when you pick a pace and run that pace for a specific distance or time. The pace you choose should be fast enough that you are pushing yourself for the duration of the workout but not hard enough that you find it too difficult to maintain.


You should feel like you’re running hard but not sprinting.


These runs usually range from 3-8km (2-5 miles), but they can be done for longer if you so choose. Make sure to keep a consistent pace for the whole run.


You can also do a variation known as a progressive run that requires you to start out slow and build up to a goal pace by the end of the run.


Most of you may be familiar with interval running. It involves running at a fast pace, followed by a period of rest or low-intensity jogging. The intense interval can be for time or a specific distance.


If you’re new to interval training, you will want to choose a rest time that is equal to or slightly greater than the running time. This is because interval training is harder on the body then slow consistent running so you will want to ease into it.


It is better to start slightly more relaxed and then slowly ramp up the intensity in future workouts. 


Fartlek running is a form of interval training that you may be unfamiliar with. With fartlek training you are running at a constant pace throughout, but with bursts of intensity mixed in.


So unlike typical interval running where you can have complete rest periods of no activity, fartlek requires you to be running the whole time.


A fartlek pace should be above your slow-steady state cardio pace, but below your tempo pace. The intervals you mix in are up to you, but I recommend you choose a time between 30 seconds - 5 minutes.  However, you can choose a longer interval if you wish.


Choose a pace you can keep for the whole interval, your 30-second pace will be different than your 5-minute pace. Remember you have to keep running at the end of it.



Long-endurance or steady-state cardio runs are easiest to do because they don’t involve changes in speed or looking at a watch. All you have to do is a slow long-distance run.


These runs aren’t just beneficial for new runners, they’re beneficial for all runners and should be fit into your workout routine when you can.


Another important addition to any run focused training plan is the inclusion of an easy run. Easy runs are fantastic because they allow you to increase your training volume at a very low intensity.


The key with these runs is to keep the intensity very low, it may feel boring and painfully slow but that is okay. Those extra kilometres at a very slow pace will pay dividends in the coming months.


If you do these runs at too fast of a pace, you will quickly burn out because your body can't take the high-intensity workouts day after day. It needs a break to recuperate at an easy pace.


What Workouts Should You Be Doing?


To start your training program, or even when you're just starting out with running, you want to include longer and slower "base building" runs. These are runs that won't leave you ready to throw up because of the effort, but they're runs that are essential for building the muscle and endurance in your legs that you will need later on.



1-2 long runs a week that increase by about 10% each cycle is a good strategy to implement. After the first 4 weeks, stick to 1 long run a week for the rest of your plan.


In the first 1-8 weeks of training, the "base building" phase, you also want to include tempo runs, as well as the occasional fartlek. these are great options to increase your aerobic capacity and push your lactate threshold. Including 1-2 tempos or fartlek runs a week is good practice during the first two months of training.


Another great addition to the "base building" part of your plan is hill sprints. They are great for increasing strength in a functional way, while also improving overall aerobic fitness. 1 day a week is enough.


After the first 8 weeks or so, you can start to include some higher intensity interval workouts into the mix. These include 200m or 400m repeats. After building up your endurance and strength for the past two months, your body will adapt better to the high-intensity training.


You will still want to include 1-2 tempos or fartlek runs a week to keep up the volume alongside your interval workouts and long run.


Heading into the final cycle of your overall program, you will want to add an extra interval workout and take away a fartlek or tempo workout. The base building has already been done and the last 4 weeks is the time to convert to more speed training.


Essential for your training plan is to include 2-3 easy runs a week to separate intense workout days, or to be used as recovery before an off day.


Depending on your level of fitness, you will want to include 1-2 rest days a week.


Down Weeks


If you're looking for sustained progress and improvements in running then you need to have down weeks.


Down weeks are when you decrease your running load for a week, typically at the end of a short term cycle. (E.g. the fourth week of a 4-week cycle).


You can do this in a couple of ways. One common way is to cut your workload in half. You do this by taking each scheduled workout and only doing half. So if you have a 70-minute long run, then you would only do 35. Apply that to each workout and you will have a successful down week.


Another way is to reduce the number of workouts. By doing this you lower the frequency and volume of your running to give yourself much needed recovery.


You can do this by taking a day off between each workout. For example, if you are on a 6-day a week training plan, for that fourth week you should run every other day. Run Monday, take Tuesday off, run Wednesday, etc.


The inclusion of a down week into your training cycles is so important because it allows your legs to get added rest, and gives your body time to recover from the previous sessions of intense exercise.


After this easy week, you will feel refreshed and your legs will have an extra bit of juice in them for your upcoming workouts. So it's not only to recover from the previous weeks but also to prepare your body and increase performance for the coming weeks.


16-Week Training Plan


When you're making a training plan you need to factor in your current level of fitness and what you're training for, as each person may be slightly different and will need to adapt for themselves.


For this training plan, we only have 16 weeks, so it's important to fit in all the important details without pushing to fast and getting injured.


To accommodate every level of runner, we're going to have a beginner, intermediate, and advanced plan. Based on your experience with running choose the program that you think best suits you. Be honest and don't choose the advanced plan if you've never run before because there is a high chance of getting injured before completing the 16 weeks.


We're going to divide each 16-week period into four different 4-week cycles. This will give your body enough time to adapt to the increases in volume and intensity before moving on to the next cycle.


Beginner


Weeks 1-4: Two Long Runs, Two Easy Runs, One Tempo or Fartlek

Mon: Easy Run 20 minutes

Tues: Tempo Run - Progressive run for 20 minutes (slowly get faster)

Wed: Rest Day

Thurs: Long Run 45 minutes

Fri: Easy Run 20 minutes

Sat: Rest Day

Sun: Long Run 45 minutes


Weeks 5-8: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, Two Tempo or Fartlek

Mon: Easy Run 25 minutes

Tues: Tempo Run - 20 minutes, pick a pace and hold it

Wed: Rest Day

Thurs: Fartlek - 5-10k (depending on how you feel) add-in 5x1 minute accelerations, rest as you feel

Fri: Easy Run 25 minutes

Sat: Rest Day

Sun: Long Run 60 minutes


Weeks 9-12: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, One Tempo or Fartlek, One Interval

Mon: Easy Run 30 minutes

Tues: Fartlek - 5-10k (depending how you feel) add-in 800m-2k intervals, rest as you feel

Wed: Rest Day

Thurs: Intervals - 6-8 1km repeats, rest 2 minutes between each

Fri: Easy Run 30 minutes

Sat: Rest Day

Sun: Long Run 75 minutes


Weeks 13-16: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, Two Interval

Mon: Easy Run 30 minutes

Tues: Intervals - 10x 1 minute on/ rest 90 seconds

Wed: Rest Day

Thurs: Intervals - 6x200m hard/200m jog

Fri: Easy Run 30 minutes

Sat: Rest Day

Sun: Long Run 75 minutes


Intermediate


Weeks 1-4: Two Long Runs, Two Easy Runs, One Tempo or Fartlek Mon: Easy Run 25 minutes

Tues: Tempo Run - Progressive run for 20 minutes (slowly get faster)

Wed: Rest Day

Thurs: Long Run 60 minutes

Fri: Easy Run 25 minutes

Sat: Rest Day

Sun: Long Run 60 minutes


Weeks 5-8: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, Two Tempo or Fartlek, One Hill Sprints

Mon: Easy Run 30 minutes

Tues: Tempo Run - 25 minutes, pick a pace and hold it

Wed: Easy Run 30 minutes

Thurs: Fartlek - 5-10k (depending on how you feel) add-in 5x1 minute accelerations, rest as you feel

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Hill Sprints - Pick a hill that takes around 30 seconds to get up, jog/walk back down for rest, repeat 6x

Sun: Long Run 70 minutes


Weeks 9-12: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, One Tempo or Fartlek, One Interval, One Hill Sprints

Mon: Easy Run 35 minutes

Tues: Fartlek - 40min fartlek 8X 3min, 2 min easy in between

Wed: Easy Run 35 minutes

Thurs: Intervals - 6x800m, rest 2 minutes

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Hill Sprints - Pick a hill that takes around 30 seconds to get up, jog/walk back down for rest, repeat 6x

Sun: Long Run 80 minutes


Weeks 13-16: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, Two Interval, One Hill Sprints

Mon: Easy Run 40 minutes

Tues: Intervals - 2 sets of 4x400m, rest 90 seconds, take 5 minutes between sets

Wed: Easy Run 40 minutes

Thurs: Intervals - 4x300m, 90 seconds rest, 4x200m 90 seconds rest, 4x100m, 30 seconds rest

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Hill Sprints - Pick a hill that takes around 30 seconds to get up, jog/walk back down for rest, repeat 6x

Sun: Long Run 90 minutes


Advanced


Weeks 1-4: Two Long Runs, Two Easy Runs, One Tempo or Fartlek, One Hill Sprint

Mon: Easy Run 30 minutes

Tues: Tempo Run - Progressive run for 20 minutes (slowly get faster)

Wed: Easy Run 30 minutes

Thurs: Long Run 70 minutes

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Hill Sprints - Pick a hill that takes around 30 seconds to get up, jog/walk back down for rest, repeat 6x

Sun: Long Run 70 minutes


Weeks 5-8: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, Two Tempo or Fartlek, One Hill Sprints

Mon: Easy Run 35 minutes

Tues: Tempo Run - 25 minutes, pick a pace and hold it

Wed: Easy Run 35 minutes

Thurs: Fartlek - 20 minutes, rest no longer than ½ of hard effort (e.g. 5-minute interval, rest for max 2 ½). Finish with 10 minutes of tempo, pick a pace and hold it

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Hill Sprints - Pick a hill that takes around 30 seconds to get up, jog/walk back down for rest, repeat 6x

Sun: Long Run 80 minutes


Weeks 9-12: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, One Tempo or Fartlek, One Interval, One Hill Sprints

Mon: Easy Run 40 minutes

Tues: Fartlek - 40min fartlek 8X 3min, 2 min easy in between

Wed: Easy Run 40 minutes

Thurs: Intervals - 3 sets of 4x400m, 2 minutes between reps, take 5 minutes between sets

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Hill Sprints - Pick a hill that takes around 30 seconds to get up, jog/walk back down for rest, repeat 6x

Sun: Long Run 90 minutes


Weeks 13-16: One Long Run, Two Easy Runs, Three Interval

Mon: Easy Run 45 minutes

Tues: Intervals - 4x300m, 90 seconds rest, 4x200m 90 seconds rest, 4x100m, 30 seconds rest

Wed: Easy Run 45 minutes

Thurs: Intervals - 6x800m, rest 2 minutes

Fri: Rest Day

Sat: Intervals - 6x200m hard/200m jog

Sun: Long Run 100 minutes


Strength Training


Not included in this training plan is strength training. Some of you may be interested in supplementing your running regime with extra strength work.


For the most part in a 16-week schedule, it is best to keep the strength work to a minimal amount as you slowly increase the volume of your workouts. For the first 8 weeks, you can add in 2-3 days of strength workouts in a week. Preferably major compound movements such as squats or deadlifts, that can translate into strength for running.


For weeks 9-13 reduce these workouts to 1-2x a week, and for the final 4 weeks reduce them to 1 day a week for maintenance.


If you're interested in a strength training guide for runners, leave a comment at the end of this post!


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