Started running during lockdown? This is how to run farther, faster and stronger, according to Irish athlete Nadia Power
International Irish athlete Nadia Power (22) is from Templeogue, Dublin. Last year she won a European (U23) medal in the 800m. Power recently launched the Irish Life Health Mile Challenge, a free race for all ages that everyone can run locally but enter ‘virtually’ during one week in August.
Power predicts a massive take-up after personally witnessing the running boom that blossomed during Ireland’s COVID-19 lockdown, when a whopping 250,000 new runners are estimated to have taken it up.
Beginners usually have this one day when it suddenly clicks and completely refreshes you and clears your mind
Some of her best friends were among the horde of running newbies, milking her for advice about shoes and training. “I loved that. Beginners usually have this one day when it suddenly clicks and completely refreshes you and clears your mind. You come back feeling great with that natural ‘runner’s high’ and it’s been so great to hear some of my friends say ‘Oh, I get it now!’”
Running proved the ideal outlet while we were confined to our 2km and 5km loops but, if bitten by the bug, how do we take our running to the next level now? “By challenging yourself,” Power says.
“Start by putting a race down in your diary. A lot got cancelled but there are virtual races now and something like the Irish Life Health Mile Challenge is ideal to keep you motivated. It makes such a huge difference to have something to aim at and to enjoy accomplishing it and it’s a lovely distance.”
So how exactly do we get stronger and faster now? “Don’t keep running the same pace and distance every time you go out. Add in some speed workouts, which will make you faster and fitter,” she explains, recommending variations like intervals, tempo runs and Fartlek training. (See below).
Hills build great leg-strength and speed and the great thing is it always takes longer to jog back down so you get a nice break
Power also recommends varying your location whenever possible. “I actually love running hills. Find even a small hill and put in some effort up it. Hills build great leg-strength and speed and the great thing is it always takes longer to jog back down so you get a nice break,” she grins.
Staying injury-free is vital while you push yourself more, so she strongly recommends building strength and balance in your body through some weight training and stretching. “Go to a local physio and get your biomechanics assessed. Then get a basic strength and conditioning programme and do it for half an hour twice a week. Honestly, people don’t realise how much I do to keep my body in the best condition to run.
“Staying injury-free is something I think new runners neglect. Stretching is a huge thing for recovery and I really recommend yoga. I’ve actually never attended a yoga class but you can find lots of 10-15 minute post-run yoga videos on YouTube. Finally she recommends keeping a training diary — an old school paper one!
“We’ve all got data on our phone apps or watches but write it down. Make notes on how your training made you feel, how your body reacted. That’s much more personalised feedback that will really help you keep improving and avoid injury.”
Power shares the exact same aims, just at a much higher level and the global pandemic, ironically, could yet benefit her track ambitions.
She started mixing 800m with her usual speciality last year and it knocked six seconds off her 1500m time. Winning a medal at European U23s was major but she’s still a developing talent so the postponement of the Olympics means Tokyo 2021 is a more feasible target.
She is splitting her remaining studies in DCU (studying Marketing, Innovation and Technology) across the next two years to give herself a decent shot at Olympic qualification. Right now, she can’t wait to get back racing yet, post-lockdown, even blossoming 22-year-old track stars have the same preoccupations as the rest of us.
“I am soooo ready for a haircut!” she laughs. “I couldn’t get a hair appointment until the 24th of July and I badly need to get my colour done.”
The Irish Life Health Mile Challenge takes place from August 17-23. Register for this ‘virtual’ race at Irishlifehealth.ie and find training programmes that suit you. A limited edition ‘Mile Challenge T-Shirt’ can be purchased at the registration stage which is open now and until August 23.
How to take your new love of running to the next level
Interval training involves short, intense effort followed by an equal or slightly longer recovery time. If you train around pitches, for example, pick up the pace on the short side of a pitch to at least 70% of your full effort and jog the long side and repeat this.
Tempo runs involve training at an effort level just outside your normal comfort zone. “You should be able to hear your breathing but not be gasping for air. For a tempo run you’d do a 10-minute easy warm-up, then pick it up close to your 5km race pace for 10 minutes, and then do a 10-minute cool down.”
Fartlek sounds rude but it’s actually Swedish for ‘speed play’ and exactly that. While training you incorporate sprints into your sessions, as easily done as sprinting to that next tree or a road sign, followed by an easy effort to recover.
Have fun on the hills. Push yourself hard up them and enjoy the gentle recovery of jogging back down them.
Vary training location. Even an impromptu trip to the beach or the woods can help challenge you in different ways and variety is the key to still having fun.
Avoid injury. New runners often feel they must push themselves to the limit to improve. Completely wrong. Instead add a little strength and conditioning and stretching (yoga or Pilates). It balances your body biomechanically and helps you avoid injury set-backs.
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