While it might sound counterintuitive, improving running performance takes more than just clocking miles. Settling into a regular running routine does wonders for the body and mind (so many podcasts!), but it's easy to plateau as adding distance does not improve speed, and sprints aren't going to help you crack that marathon. If you want to shave a few seconds off your average mile time, or get out of your rut and set a new goal, it's time to switch it up — and regularly. To show you how, we recruited POPSUGAR staffers Lindsay Miller and Christine Abramo to take time out from their busy schedules to complete one fun, fast fitness challenge per day to up their respective running games. To give them an edge, we kitted them out in the lightweight support of adidas Ultraboost running shoes. Here's how to catch up to them.
Running has grown from something that Lindsay did as a warmup before dance practice and bootcamp classes to a genuine love. She recently completed a 10K and runs the 5K loop around her house several times a week for a quick, invigorating workout. She only sprints in class but runs around a 7-minute-mile 5K (including warmup and cooldown).
A runner almost all her life, Christine has completed 60 half marathons and will run the New York Marathon this year. She completes her half marathons at an average pace of 6:57 minutes per mile, but she sprints at a blink-and-you'll-miss-her sub-6-minute pace.
High Intensity Interval Training is a combination of brief, high-intensity workouts and a miraculously effective rebuttal to "I just don't have time to work out." The key is to work to full capacity, with brief periods of rest.
Here's the drill: Christine and Lindsay worked out side-by-side for 45 seconds to one minute on the following drills: mountain climbers, V-sits, donkey kicks, jumping jacks, shuffles, squats, and lunges. But really, the HIIT world is your oyster.
The workout partners fed each other's energy throughout to get their heart rates up and set the intention for the week. "It's fun to have a partner and trade off whatever task you're doing," says Lindsay. "Yeah, we pumped each other up," adds Christine. "And I love doing knee-tuck jumps! They are the hardest, but I actually mean that."
Relays are a great mix of friendly competition and camaraderie, and adding weights adds an extra weight-distribution challenge that improves running form.
Here's the drill: Find a continuous loop (if you're feeling extra energetic, incorporate a hill), then tag your partner to run. Jog until they catch up to you and tag you. RUN, then tag your partner and repeat.
Working as a team was a way for Christine and Lindsay, who both have backgrounds in team sports, to hold each other accountable. "I always really enjoy when you're working toward a shared goal," says Lindsay. And aside from the accountability aspect, weights added a whole new dimension to the relay exercise. "I was really focused on form," says Christine. "Holding a weight, staying on balance as we exchanged weights throughout — I had to make sure everything was on point throughout."
Running uphill increases the work for your calves, where so much of your running power originates from, making this a great exercise for increasing speed.
Here's the drill: Find a steep hill that's around half-a-mile long, run as hard as you can to the top, making sure to stay lifted in your upper body. Some lean is inevitable, but don't overdo it. Jog back down. High-five and repeat!
Despite their different styles, both runners found something to love about day three. But talking while sprinting up a hill? Not so much. "We were in the zone," says Christine. "You're always told to spring the incline and recover on the decline, so I think we just kept that in mind throughout." Adds Lindsay, "I'm not a big talk-while-I-run person. I'd rather run hard enough that I can't talk!"
Many runners steer clear of strength training for fear of adding body weight, but being strong aids recovery, which helps to avoid injury. And it's not just about the lower body!
Here's the drill: Lindsay and Christine completed three rounds of 15 of the following for all-over benefits: push-ups, tricep push-ups, lunge variations, and deep squats. For an extra challenge, end each exercise with a 30-second long isometric hold (the hard part!).
Neither Lindsay nor Christine needed any further convincing about the importance of strength training, which is already a valued component of their fitness routines. "I like feeling strong," says Lindsay. "I don't work out to be thin; I really want to feel strength too. For me, balancing it out is key." And as for its impact on running, Christine adds, "For sure, building strength in your legs, building your lower body, your core — it can all boost your speed."
Tempo runs improve your metabolic fitness by increasing the point at which your body fatigues at a certain pace. In other words, running past your comfort zone long enough, and often enough, will move your comfort zone.
Here's the drill: Warm up for 10-15 minutes. Run for 15-20 minutes, faster than is comfortable (but not quite a sprint). Cool down for 10 minutes. Repeat twice a week.
By day five, Christine and Lindsay were in the zone. "It gave us something to look forward to every day," she says, "and we were able to mentally plan for it." But Friday was a day to push hard. "Fifteen-20 minutes outside of your comfort is a lot," says Lindsay, "We were tired by the end, but happy that we had pushed ourselves."
After five days of sweat but no tears (!), Lindsay and Christine felt stronger and faster and looked forward to shaving seconds off their mile times with continued use. "If you're going to be doing this consistently, it's impossible to not improve," says Lindsay. "Even some of the strength training. I tend to do some of those moves in a class, but this week reminded me that maybe I should be doing this on my own alongside runs." For Christine, the biggest takeaway was tempo runs. "I like strength training — that's fun for me — and I love intervals, but I don't do tempo runs often. Running consistently at a certain pace was new for me."
Besides their new training tricks, both women were won over by their adidas Ultraboost shoes. Their adaptive arch support provided provided comfort and stability— no matter what the day threw at them. "The Ultraboosts are both super light and supportive, which I find can be a rare combo in a running shoe!" says Lindsay. "I felt like my foot could move and breathe. Wearing them was like running barefoot, but better. I also love that they're designed to be worn without socks. (I've hated wearing socks since I was a little kid!) Not only does it make me feel like I'm one with the road, but I'm sure it'll help keep blisters and bunching at bay on some of the longer runs I'm hoping to tackle."
Credits: Photography: Kat Borchart; Art Direction: Shanna Greenberg; Production: Susannah Orchard; HMU Art: Mellody Vere