Returning to running after having a baby, or a surgery, or an injury is a big deal. It’s not an easy trajectory. You’ve likely had to work on strength, load, impact, sleep, pressure, stress, mindset, and mobility.
So you’re here and you can run, but what’s next?
Do you have a strategy for your running schedule?
Do you have a plan for how to progress your running pace?
There are a handful of good strategies to prevent you from re-injury, most importantly not starting out too fast too soon.
“80% of runners run at 80% intensity 80% of the time which is why upwards of 80% get injured.”
Let’s dive in to three other strategies to progress your run performance.
Gradually increase the total time
There is a 10% rule which advises to gradually increase your total mileage per week by no more than 10%. However when you are beginning to run again and don’t have a weekly log of miles this can be difficult to know where to start. Another point of focus can be on total time not total mileage.
For example, If you run 2 miles in 20 minutes for 3x/wk that is 60 total minutes a week.
The 10% increase would be adding 6 more minutes of total running time per week. This gives you a solid goal of gradually increasing your run.
Build on this plan for 3 weeks then schedule in a recovery week in the 4th week. Recovery weeks are a great way to reduce stress and strain on the body. They help to prevent from injury and allow your body to adapt to the training you’ve been doing. Recovery can be done in a variety of ways. One idea is to decrease the workout volume by 10-30% but keep some intensity. So run for less time but keep some intensity. Other runners may need to reduce the intensity and the total time. Take the recovery week as a time to evaluate how you feel physically and mentally and where you may need to increase or decrease your level of training.
Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE)
RPE is a great model to for training intensity. It is a subjective assessment of how difficult a run is for you both mentally and physically. Training this way can improve your ability to lean into more effort gradually. We can mistakenly assume that to run farther and faster you must always be running at a high level of intensity. Surprisingly, the majority of your run training should be below a 5/10 on the RPE zones with the remaining 20% at higher intensity.
The literature shows that running according to the RPE zones can stimulate greater effects in training.
RPE training allows you to stay under an uncomfortable threshold. This works well for elite athletes, recreational runners, and postpartum runners. It puts you in the driver seat of your run and gives you a strategy on how to improve.
Consider these RPE zones introduced by Strava:
- Easy (1-3): Could talk normally, breathing naturally, felt very comfortable
- Moderate (4-6): Could talk in short spurts, breathing more labored, within your comfort zone but working
- Hard (7-9): Could barely talk, breathing heavily, outside your comfort one
- Max effort (10): At your physical limit or past it, gasping for breath, couldn’t talk/could barely remember your name
HR Training (Heart Rate)
Once your on a routine running plan, you can strategize your runs via heart rate training. According to Runners World, Heart rate training makes you faster. Gone are the days of pacing yourself according to time. This is a more personal way to ensure your training intensity matches your goal. Heart rate training requires a heart rate monitor and has you run according to your personal HR zone. It gives you a good cardio workout without over taxing your body.
Your heart rate is one of the most accurate ways to measure workout intensity. Also it’s important to note your heart rate is controlled by your breath rate.
Here’s how it works. Calculate the appropriate intensity, then adjust your pace to keep your heart rate in the right zone.
First you need to find your max heart rate (MHR) which is 220 minus your age.
Then calculate the percentage of the MHR to find your correct training zone.
- Aerobic training: 50-70 percent of MHR
- Tempo and threshold runs: 71-85 percent of MHR
- Intervals: >85 percent of MHR
These zones take you from very light to very hard intensity. 50-60% is a great intensity for recovery days. This is also a good zone to practice nasal breathing with running. For runs under 90 minutes and to stay in the fat burning zone train at 60-70% of MHR. With shorter tempo runs (30-45 min) to improve aerobic capacity run at 70-80% MHR. Going above 85% MHR is reserved for sprinting, not long endurance running.
Now you have a strategy in place, for more ways to improve your running performance, head here.