How important is it to improve your running?Improving speed and endurance are always hot topics among runners; we sat down with four ladies to debate the merits of improvement and hear their secrets of success.

MEET THE RUNNERS

ALI VINGO: Ali, 53, is a natural health practitioner and has been running for the last four years – although she did run in her 20s in the 1980s during which time she ran her first and only marathon.

CARLA BARTCH:
Carla 33, is a business manager who started running when her personal trainer friend dared her to try it. She loves it and particularly relishes extreme, ‘survival’ events.

RONNIE HAYDON: Ronnie, 49, is a writer and editor. She has been running for six years and can’t imagine life without it.

LUCY SULLIVAN: Lucy, 30, is a social worker. She has run for the last five years. She started with a 5km charity event and particularly likes cross country and trail running.

THE GREAT DEBATE

Do you train regularly to improve your running?

ALI: I do now that I’ve recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome and am really keen to get faster. I’m following a training plan that I downloaded and have a few time goals I’m aiming to achieve. I also did a one-day Chi running workshop as I suffered a lot of injuries and heard the workshop techniques would help – and they really have!

CARLA:
I’m happy as a plodder but wouldn’t mind running more efficiently and a little faster. I took part in a one hour taster session last year and was hooked. I’d love to run as if I’m gliding along – like everyone else seems to do! I’ve learned a lot very quickly from taking running classes. It’s not easy but I feel I’m improving my technique and hope this will result in improved times too.

RONNIE: At the moment, I’m consciously trying to improve my speed as I’m stuck on slower times than I was running a year ago. I keep a running diary to track my progress and can see where I need to improve: I’m using parkruns to chart my progress.

LUCY: I haven’t really bothered much about time but have recently put more effort into running a little faster. I like cross country, scenic trail runs and for me it’s more about the experience than the speed.

What do you do to improve your speed?

ALI: I use my Garmin to help track my speed and when I have my strength back, I will use it to check my minute mile pace.

CARLA: I hope that by improving my running technique, I’ll get a little faster although it’s not my main priority so I don’t work as hard as I might on that aspect.

RONNIE: I used to do speed training with my running club on the track. But life got in the way and I couldn’t get to the track. Now I’d rather chase someone on a parkrun than round the track. Using the 5km weekly timed parkrun to chart my speed is a good way to help me improve.

LUCY: I joined a running club recently and they have more of a focus on speed so I’m beginning to think that way too. I have to say that I enjoy running faster and a group helps pull me along.

What do you do to improve your endurance?

ALI: I’ve had to build my endurance back up since being ill and started with a jog/walk and gradually continued for longer. The first time I completed 1km was amazing! Now I’m back up to around 13km but I still have a long way to go to cover the half marathon distance I’m aiming for. But I will keep at it – I may walk a little but I won’t stop. Endurance is as much in your mind as your body. I also find cycling helps build endurance while being gentler on my knees and joints.

CARLA: I run with a group where, on the first Monday of each month, we do hill runs for 30 minutes. I really hate “Hill Mondays” but they really work! I’m allowed to walk some of the hills – everyone does – but the idea is not to stop and to try and run more than you did the previous month. I don’t have speed but I do have endurance: I know I can run a half marathon without wanting to die!

RONNIE: I do have good endurance but whenever I run a marathon I always find the wheels come off at 37km: I always carry on and don’t walk but I do hate it when my pacer disappears up ahead. That happened at the Leipzig Marathon last year – I still got a PB but through gritted teeth. I think endurance for me is about having enough fuel – I’m not good with gels so I need to find some other fuel that will stop my energy draining away.

LUCY: I build endurance through running increasingly longer distances ahead of a half marathon event. Trail runs really work for endurance as they are tougher than tarmac. I really like exercising outdoors and I also do spin classes which help build endurance.

What motivates you to make improvements?

ALI: Nothing beats an impending race to make me want to improve. I’ve set my sights on running a cross country ultra and that would be hugely motivational to improve my speed and endurance to do it well.

CARLA: Races definitely motivate me to make improvements – I love the medals! I also find my Nike Plus really motivating – it feeds back to you whilst running and then once you’ve uploaded your runs you can see where improvements have been made. It also tells me if I haven’t been on a run – and that motivates me to get my running shoes on.

RONNIE: I keep a training diary and that can be highly motivating knowing I need to write down my improvements. My speed and running have suffered a setback recently but I have a place in the Berlin Marathon in September – it’s my 50th birthday present to myself – and that’s a strong driving force to train for it properly and do it well.

Have you ever worked on improving your running style?

ALI: When I did the Chi running I hoped it would help improve my running style as well as avoiding further injuries. My style still isn’t pretty but I have far fewer injuries.

CARLA: I hate the way I look when I run – my running club films me from all angles and that is a real eye opener! I’m beginning to see and feel the difference and I’ll keep working on my style – I suspect it’ll help my speed too.

RONNIE: My running style isn’t as important to me as my speed and endurance but I also did Chi running and think that has helped improve my style as it makes you very aware of how your body is moving.

LUCY: I’ve not really worked on my style of running as I’m quite happy with how I run. I haven’t had any injuries or setbacks so I hope that means my running style is fine.

Do you reward yourself for the improvements you make?

ALI: The feeling after you complete a good run is a reward in itself for me but in the past when I’ve run well and consistently, I have justified to myself the cost of a new pair of runners!

CARLA: I’ve never really thought to reward myself to be honest. My reward is being able to enjoy the wide variety of runs I do. Running just makes you feel so good – and it’s cheaper than therapy!

RONNIE: I agree that running is the treat and gives me enough of a high on its own. A PB is the ultimate reward though!

LUCY: I reward myself with food! On long or tough runs I do think about what food treat I’ll enjoy afterwards. And I’ll reward myself by having a long soak in the bath with my favourite Molton Brown products – I only use them on special occasions!

Do you use technology or gadgets to help you improve?

ALI: I use my Garmin to track my pace – without it I really can’t tell if I’m on track or not.

CARLA: I love my Nike Plus as it tracks every run and you can add in afterwards how you felt and what happened. It keeps a really good record of runs and I do like the artificial man saying I’m doing a good job and I’m nearly there!

RONNIE: I have a Garmin to track my interval training targets and progress. I rely on it to make sure I’m staying at my minute mile pace.

Is it ever OK to ‘just run’ when you’re trying to improve?

CARLA: Most definitely. It’s good to bring back the enjoyment of running and I love doing that on trails especially. I’ll stop and take pictures if I’m on a particularly lovely run.

ALI: I love running with no pressure or plan. I often run better than I expect to and feel really good afterwards. Coming back from illness, if I’m not feeling like hitting a target or improvement I’ll just run and enjoy it for what it is.

RONNIE: It’s a great feeling to just shove your trainers on and go for a hop, skip and caper in the hills! Also running early in the morning before other people are awake and as it’s just getting light feels very special.

LUCY: I love that feeling of ‘just running’ and taking a nicer pace, watching life going on as I run past. Our club did a pre-Christmas run where we checked out how tasteful – or not – people’s decorations were. It was great fun.

What was your greatest improvement last year?

ALI: My biggest improvement last year was managing to run for an hour, having not being able to run for more than 20 minutes before. I managed the hour run just before Christmas.

CARLA: My major improvement last year was to learn to listen to my body – sounds weird but I have a better awareness of what I can do and running for me is about feeling good.

RONNIE: My PB in the parkrun in November was my greatest improvement – I’m still trying to fathom it out to be honest!

LUCY: Finishing a couple of half marathons in under two hours showed a significant improvement in my running speed last year.

What targets or running goals do you have for the year ahead?

ALI: I’m aiming to run a half marathon in September non-stop.

CARLA: My goal this year is to improve my speed. Next time I do a half marathon I want the man in the banana suit, the power walker and the three-man caterpillar to be behind me.

RONNIE: This year my focus is the Berlin Marathon and I’d love to do it in under four hours. From where I am now, that will need to be a major improvement – so watch this space.

LUCY: My improvement target is to run a race well in another country. I don’t necessarily want to run a marathon, so my next step up from my local half marathons would be to complete that distance abroad.

Words by Katherine Selby