Spring officially begins in just a few days! (Someone please inform Seattle weather of that, as I write this we’ve had days of chilly temperatures, high winds, and rain.) Spring is perhaps the most welcome season for runners, inviting them out of their treadmill hibernation and back into the great outdoors for miles of sunshine and spring running.
While there is no wrong way to embrace spring running, these 5 ways to make the most of spring running will help you transition without injury and setting yourself up for a season of success and PRs in summer and fall.
5 Ways to Make the Most of Spring Running
1. Build a strong aerobic base with long and easy runs
Whether you’re gearing up for a summer full of 5Ks, start training soon for your fall marathon, or just want to stay fit for all of the outdoor activities that warmer weather brings, you will benefit from doing several easy runs and long runs.
An easy pace is essential here. By slowing down, you are able to run further, since you converse for energy. An easy pace is easier on your mind as well, which means you’ll mentally be able to handle more miles in addition to physically.
Don’t set a limit for how slow you’ll go! My current half marathon pace is a 7:30/mile, and I run most of my easy runs at an 8:30-10:00/mile pace, depending on the duration and the day. You want to worry more about going too fast than going too slow on your easy runs. If it helps, keep your GPS watch on timer mode or leave it at home.
You accumulate less fatigue when running easy, which again means that you can run longer distances more frequently. If you’re using spring as a time to increase your overall mileage, easy runs will help you do so without getting injured or burnt out.
Long runs of course are relative. For a runner doing 3-4 miles a few times a week, 6 miles is a long run, while for 40 mile per week runners, 12-15 miles is a long run. Regardless of how many miles per week you run, add in one longer run per week. For low mileage runners, try to build up to running for 60 minutes once a week. Higher mileage runners will want to aim for 90 minutes or more at least once a week.
Long runs increase your durability, fatigue resistance, and aerobic base, all of which will make you a better runner and overall more fit for any type of activity. Plus, you will be more prepared, both physically and mentally, for full or half marathon training if you regularly complete long runs.
2. Ease into speed work with fartleks
Want to get injured this spring? Then jump straight into difficult and pace-specific interval workouts such as 400 meter or mile repeats.
Even more so than the duration or frequency of runs, intensity significantly contributes to your risk of injury from running. Speed work not only works your lungs and legs, but it also applies a significant amount of force and therefore stress to your joints, muscles, and connective tissue.
Don’t want to get injured but do want to get faster? You don’t need to completely neglect speed training. In fact, speed work done at the appropriate intensity (usually 3K-5K pace) and appropriate duration (usually no more than 5-10% of your total weekly mileage) offers numerous benefits for even marathoners.
Focus this spring on easing into speed work with fartlek runs, which are run according to effort rather than pace and thus (as you’ll see in the next tip) decrease your risk of injury. Fartlek runs usually cover less distance at a harder pace, which prevents you from making the mistake of doing too much, too soon.
Try one of these fartlek workouts to ease you into speed training:
Fartlek Workouts for 5K through Marathon
Fartlek Countdown Running Workout (short and long versions)
Race Pace Effort Adjustable Workout
Fast Friday Workout
3. Run by effort, rather than pace
This piece of advice is particularly applicable if you spent most of the winter months running on the treadmill or cross-training. When you run on the treadmill, the surface is softer, which means less impact, the terrain is smooth, there’s no wind resistance, and unless you played with incline the elevation is unchanging.
Outdoor running is the opposite: concrete and asphalt are harder, there are dips in the road and trails aren’t smooth, the wind can be a powerful force in the spring, and the elevation changes even if you live in the pancake-flat Midwest.
With all of these differences, your pace will be slower outside than inside. Don’t force yourself to run the same pace as you do on the treadmill, but rather run according to the same perceived effort.
Some runners, however, may find they run faster outside, because of the scenery, cool breeze to regulate temperature, and the freeing feeling of not being confined to the dreadmill. Either way, don’t compare your outdoor pace to your treadmill pace, but focus on running by perceived effort.
4. Make injury prevention and strength training a priority
So far we’ve talked a lot about what can get you injured during spring running. In addition to keeping most of your runs easy and pacing those easy runs by perceived effort, how can you prevent injury?
Spring is the perfect time to make strength training and injury prevention exercises (aka prehab) part of your weekly routine. Add a couple days a week where you lift weight or do bodyweight strength training exercise. These exercises do not need to be intense, nor do you need to spend hours lifting: just 20 minutes twice a week of a few basic exercises will give you a stronger and more resilient running body.
Take time once a week to perform specific injury prevention exercises. If you’re prone to runner’s knee or IT band syndrome, focus on your core and hips. If you’ve dealt with muscular injuries in the past, consident yoga to stretch and strengthen. Other great injury prevention workouts include Pilates and barre workouts, which strengthen those small supporting muscles and your core for a balanced and strong body.
Try these workouts to build strength and prevent injury:
Pilates for Runners
Hip Stability Exercises for ITBS and Runner’s Knee
Pure Barre Tone in Ten Review
Balance Exercises for Runners
5. Build confidence for upcoming training and racing goals
Go ahead, share your awesome run on Instagram and give yourself a high five for that workout! Running, no matter how far or how fast, is an accomplishment that you should celebrate. By celebrating your little victories, you incrementally build self-confidence in your ability to achieve your larger goals.
Spring running is the perfect time to focus on those small accomplishments, especially if you aren’t training for a race at this point and feel a bit unmotivated. Without hard training plan or upcoming race, you place less pressure upon yourself during spring training and thus can enjoy your runs more. And as many runners find, enjoying your runs will help you realize just how much you accomplish!
How can you specifically build confidence during spring running? Dedicate one run a week to challenging yourself. As I stated above, stick to shorter and effort-based workouts such as fartlek runs or progression runs, and try to run without looking at your GPS instant pace. Afterwards, take pride in how you felt, how you surprised yourself with your pace, and everythng else you accomplished in that run!
What’s your favorite part of spring running?
Are you signed up for any races this spring?