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Runners, improve both endurance and speed

Athlete coach Kaushik Talukdar gives you expert advice on hitting the road to strength
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Photo for representation
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Kaushik Talukdar   |   Published 06.10.18, 02:30 PM

What is the best way to build both endurance and speed?

Let me talk about this in the context of middle- and long-distance running and not sprinting. Sprinting requires maximal effort that is much shorter in duration and explosive in nature, so the training prescription is very different.


The physiological mechanism behind endurance and speed development is different and often conflicting due to hormonal responses — anabolic (speed) versus catabolic (endurance). Speed development involves high-force output (vertical and horizontal ground reaction forces), greater stride frequency and predominantly anaerobic respiration (small amounts of ATP/energy supply). So longer rest periods will be required after speed work.

Endurance development, on the other hand, utilises the aerobic respiration (a large amount of ATP/ energy supply) with lower force output and stride frequency. So the recovery is much faster. Depending on the events, that is, short (middle distance) and long, both speed and endurance are vital aspects of overall running performance.

However, it is important to assess an individual’s requirement before prescribing speed and endurance training. If a runner lacks speed but has a good foundation in endurance, then focussing a block (six to eight weeks) of training on speed development, such as intervals at varying intensity, can be useful. But care must be taken with speed training, for it can be very demanding, particularly for novice runners.

The volume should be gradually increased (10-20 per cent) weekly. A runner can also maintain speed and endurance by alternating training methods within the week. For example, day one can focus on speed (intervals at various speed), and day two can focus on endurance work (steady, low-intensity runs). If an individual intends to train speed and endurance on the same day (less ideal due to the conflicting hormonal response), then speed work should be done first as the quality of speed deteriorates after a high volume of endurance work.

Further, it is important to assess a runner’s speed before prescribing any speed work. A simple test, such as 1,500 metre, can be performed by a novice middle-distance runner. For example, if a runner covers 1,500 metre in six minutes, the speed is 15km/hr (distance/time). Therefore, using 15km/hr as a guideline to create interval training can help in speed training sessions for the runner, that is, prescribing interval runs equals 15km/hr for a relatively shorter duration (one to two minutes) followed by active or passive rest (depending on the fitness level and the intensity of the work). It should be noted that the greater the speed, the recovery should be longer, and the duration of work should be shorter. Incorporating heart rate monitors can be useful in planning the rest duration for speed intervals.

What are the best stretches I should do pre- and post-run?

Dynamic stretching and slow controlled joint movements should be done prior to runs for a total of 10 minutes. Dynamic stretches are a series of movement sequences performed one after the other, slowly with relaxed breathing (avoid hyperventilation). For example, lunge with rotation — rotate on the same side as the lunging leg — movement should be initiated from the upper and mid-back (thoracic spine).

In addition, slow controlled joint movements can include hip circles, ankle circles, shoulder circles, cat and camel (segmental spine flexion/extension) and knee flexion/extension performed with slow, relaxed breathing. Static stretches for calf, hip flexors, hamstrings, upper and mid-back can be performed post-run. It is important to keep in mind that the breath is not held during the stretches. The primary goal of these stretches and movements is to improve range of motion and circulation by increasing blood flow.

How do I get rid of runner’s cramps?

Runner’s cramp or side stitch (side of the abdomen) is an acute, sharp transient pain that can occur during intense exercise most often in runners. There are two primary theories that explain this phenomenon:

Diaphragmatic ischemia (decrease in oxygen supply to the diaphragm): This can happen when the intensity of the exercise increases, the diaphragm has to forcefully contract and the lungs tend to inflate excessively. Thus, the blood supply to the muscle and oxygen delivery is compromised.

Ligaments from the abdominal organ (internal organ): The second theory, which seems to be very popular, states that the ligaments running from the abdominal organ, particularly the liver to the diaphragm, gets excessively stretched during intense exercise and thus causes sharp pain. This theory is based on the fact that the liver is situated on the right side, and the pain is mostly felt on the same side.

Both these theories suggest that forceful contraction of the diaphragm and excessive stretch of the abdominal organ can contribute towards the pain. So pacing gradually will be key to avoid stitch during runs, along with being effectively able to use the diaphragm for respiration (avoiding excessive hyperventilation during runs).

However, getting rid of the stitch is simple. Here are a few strategies…

Slow your pace or stop running completely, bend forward (from the hips) if required.

Perform some breath cycles: Inhale through the nose and exhale (breathe out) through pursed lips and contract the abdominal muscles during exhalation. Lie on your back with hips elevated and right arm supported overhead on the floor and perform the breath cycles mentioned above.

Change the foot strike-to-breathing cadence, that is, if you exhale when right foot hits the ground then exhale when left foot hits the ground.

How do I make running feel like fun rather than a chore?

One of the best ways to make running fun is by adding a little variety. Repeatedly performing long runs at the same speed can be monotonous. Therefore, adding interval running (running at various intensities/speed) can be useful and more fun. Running with a partner can also be very useful and help with motivation. In addition, participating in activities that require some amount of running intermittently, such as orienteering, can also make running more fun.

Kaushik Talukdar is the founder and CEO of Athlete Institute (``). You can tweet him @coachkaushik

As a middle-aged male, does marathon running transiently increase my risk for cardiac arrest?

There are many factors associated with the risk of cardiac arrest, such as genetic predisposition, coronary artery disease, diet and lifestyle. In the recent past, few studies have reported the incidence of cardiac arrest among marathon and half marathon runners due to a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thickening of the heart). But the incidental reports may not be enough to confirm if a certain population is at greater risk participating in marathon running.

Running should be a gradual process. If an individual has never run long distances and attempts a marathon, then there can be potential risk factors due to greater stress levels encountered without adequate preparation. A full assessment of overall health is required to confirm any risk associated.

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