Training FAQs

This page contains most of what you need to know about the training on offer. So if you’re eager to find out more or if you’ve ever asked yourself “why am I doing this?” read on!

For starters, please do not be put off by any of the names or descriptions. While some sessions are obviously more intense than a steady run, everyone is welcome at all of them, regardless of ability. If you are unsure about a particular workout, just come along and give it a try. Once you’ve completed a few sessions don’t be surprised if you’ve developed a taste for them.

No one is expected to do all the workouts available but if you are keen on racing successfully, you are strongly recommended to attend as many of them as possible. The repetition sessions are particularly beneficial.

If you are just taking up running or if, at present, you are looking to run purely for general fitness and relaxation, you should check out the beginners’ page for what is arranged specifically for you.

Training Schedules:

Some information about our standard week-to-week training schedule can be found here.

Descriptions:

 

Steady Runs

Without going into too much exercise physiology, running very quickly cannot be continued indefinitely because lactic acid builds up in the muscles, causing the pain you all know too well and forcing you either to slow down or stop. Steady runs are called “steady” because they are run at a pace such that steady-state conditions prevail. That is, at a pace that is fast enough to initiate gains in fitness but not fast enough to cause any lactic acid build-up. They are relaxed runs in which you feel you could continue for a lot longer than you actually do.

Notice that they always fall between the harder workout days. This is because steady runs have a second purpose: they help your body recover from the tougher sessions by promoting blood flow in the muscles which prevents soreness and injury. When you run hard, microscopic damage is caused to soft tissues. Gains in fitness are only achieved by your body recovering from, and over-adapting to, this damage. It is thus vital that sufficient recovery is taken between hard sessions.

The steady-state pace will differ for runners of differing levels of ability and fitness. It is for this reason that three groups are formed on these runs: fast, medium and slow. So come along and there will always be a group to run with. We use many different routes so it is a great way to see parts of Cambridge(shire) that you never knew existed. As you get fitter, feel free to try out the faster groups. The relaxed nature of the runs also means you get to chat to each other too!

To sum up, steady runs are important for 2 main reasons:

  1. They improve your cardiovascular fitness along with the strength of specific running-related muscles.
  2. They help your body recover from the more intense sessions without tiring you out for the next one. Indeed they are often referred to as recovery runs.

The Long Sunday Morning Run

A particularly long version of the steady run designed to increase your stamina. But forget about that… it’s a fantastic way to start a Sunday. The length allows us to reach parts of the countryside that other runs cannot, and there are plenty of nice paths and trails out there if you know where to look. Believe me, Sunday brunch is a much better experience when you’ve just run 12 miles!

The Tea Run

The tea run is a Hare and Hounds tradition that dates back many years. It is essentially a relaxing run suitable for all abilities. Expect beginners and Blues runners alike, all taking it really easy for around 30 minutes. So what’s the incentive? Tea, and some form of high-carbohydrate snack (biscuits, flapjack, cake) will be waiting for you when you get back. If last year is anything to go by, the snacks will still be warm too, having been freshly baked by one of the domestic gods or godesses of the club.

The venue will change from week to week depending on who’s hosting the run so keep an eye on the weekly schedule.

Long Reps

Running very hard over grass and mud a number of times for a number of minutes with not much rest. That about sums it up. They hurt but they’re supposed to and the benefit to your fitness is irreplaceable. The total time spent running is typically between 20 and 35 minutes which is similar to a cross-country race. Indeed if you want to race well over the country, there is no better preparation.

It’s not just physical either. The sense of achievement you get having just nailed 5 x 5 mins off 2 minutes recovery is remarkable. It’s a wonderful endorphin-enriched relief when they’re over and you wont have any trouble sleeping that night!

If you want to beat Oxford in the Varsity Match, if you want to take on the rest of Britain at BUSA, if you want to go into the track season with an awesome base level of fitness, come along to this session and get stuck in.

Short Reps

Similar to long reps but each rep is shorter and there are more of them. The total time spent running may be as little as 10-12 minutes but you run quicker than in the long reps. The session is quite intense but over quickly. Typical workouts include 10 x 1 minute with 1 minute rest or 4 x (90sec, 60 sec, 4 x 30 sec) with not much recovery.

Short rep sessions run off track are an excellent way of maintaining your speed (and lactic acid tolerance!) over the winter months in preparation for a proper return to the track in February. They are also very good at preparing you for the fast starts and surges that you may encounter in cross-country races.

Tempo Runs

The aim of a tempo run is to increase the workload you can run at before lactic build up starts, so you can run faster for longer. Therefore tempo runs involve running just below or at your anaerobic threshold for sustained periods (usually between 20-45 minutes). This will be slightly slower than race pace and although it requires a sustained effort and high concentration, you shouldn’t create a large lactic build up in your legs.

A normal tempo run will involve periods for warm up and warm down, and a peroid of hard running. If not used to undertaking long spells of hard running, a good introduction are ‘cruise’ runs, where the hard period is interspersed with short spells at steady pace.

Fartlek

“Fartlek” (yes that’s “Fartlek”) is a Swedish word meaning “speed-play” and essentially consists of running various distances at speeds ranging from jogging to sprinting. Sessions can vary from being quite formal, with the fast efforts more or less pre-determined, to highly improvised, with runners having complete freedom when it comes to deciding when to put a burst in.

One popular way to structure the session is for each runner to take control of the run for say 3 minutes. During your 3 minutes, you can do what you like. You may put in a surge of 90 seconds followed by a jog then some sprinting. You could even stop and do press-ups, though this is rare! It’s entirely up to you. Everyone else has to follow you and respond to the pace changes you inflict without ever overtaking. Best results are achieved with this method by first splitting into groups of 6 or 7 runners of similar ability.

Apart from the obvious benefits to both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, the main purpose of fartlek is to simulate changes of pace that occur in races. To be able to cope, without too much trouble, when someone makes a move (so to speak) can make all the difference.

Ideally, to help break up your rhythm, fartlek should be run over varying terrain and include a few slopes.

Track Intervals

Track work tends to start being incorporated after the BUCS cross-country championships in February when many members start to focus their attention on the summer track season. In particular, the track & field Varsity Match is a very important target for Cambridge athletes. Being in may, the meet is early on in the season so preparation for the event cannot be delayed.

Even if competitive track athletics is not your thing, joining in with the track sessions can make a very significant difference to your performances in all other running disciplines. This is essentially because you run a lot quicker on the track, almost without realising it, and good basic speed is always an asset.

Two groups will tend to develop: one concentrating on 800m/1500m work and the other on 3k-10k sessions. The former places more emphasis on exercising the anaerobic system while the latter works more on the high end of the aerobic system.

While the principles involved are similar to the long and short off-track rep sessions, there are a huge variety of sessions possible serving a range of different functions. The track work will follow a carefully structured plan with different aspects of your event emphasized at different points in the season. The technicalities are too extensive to go into here, so just come down to the track and run the session without worrying about why!

See also Beginners’ Track sessions.

Hills

Hill reps are superb for improving strength and power for athletes. And yes, strength and power are important, even for distance runners. Hill running is also fun. It makes an interesting change from all the other sessions of the week.

In fact hills are particularly important for Cambridge runners since Cambridge is also known as flatasapancaketon. There are some nice slopes hidden away though. Commonly used venues are Coton Hill, Netherhall School and the Magog Downs. By far the most spectacular set of slopes used, however, are at the golf course in Royston. They are a 15 minute train ride away but it is well worth making the effort.

So, when you are pulling away from your competitors off the top of a climb, be glad that you have included the hill work in your training.

Circuits and Core-Stability

These sessions are an excellent way of improving your general level of strength, fitness and flexibility. Regular circuits and core-stability will make you a better and more robust runner who is less prone to injury.

A typical circuits and core-stability session will go something like this:

  1. a good warm up (many will jog to the gym or there may be a run on beforehand),
  2. a few drills and plyometrics for the legs,
  3. a short circuit mainly consisting of abdominal and arm exercises,
  4. core stability exercises,
  5. warm-down and stretch (many will jog home or there may be a run on afterwards).

Plyometric exercises usually involve explosive jumps or hops in which there is a sharp change of direction. Squat jumps and burpees are examples. They are highly beneficial to runners: if you can polish off a set of squat jumps with style, it makes running round a field feel a whole lot easier! Your strength is improved in a dynamic, running-specific way. You become more efficient. However, a note of caution: to avoid risk of injury, you must do them correctly and not do too many. They are about quality not quantity: 3 sets of 10 with 30 seconds rest is a good target. Another reason not to over-do them is that, by killing yourself doing large numbers of them, you may get very strong in the long term but you will also hardly be able to move for the next few days and the more important running sessions will be ruined. Hence they must also be incorporated into the training plan sensibly. The main circuit will involve sets lasting for 30 seconds or more. This is too long for the plyometric exercises and it is for this reason that they are done before rather during the main circuit.

Core stability work is a fairly recent development in a lot of sports and for many runners it has proved to be an extremely worthwhile addition. You may be very proud of your amazing six-pack. Well-done. However, have you been neglecting the lower-abdominal muscles, as is so often the case when doing only conventional sit-ups? The lower abs are an absolutely vital set of muscles when it comes to running with the correct posture. You may look great at the start of a run but if the lower abs are weak and start to tire, you’ll be all over the place by the end.

Strengthening your lower abs will give you a stable core. This will do two things

  1. It will improve your performance by making your running more efficient,
  2. It will help prevent a lot of possible injuries related to running with a poor posture.

Do not be afraid that core-stability work will be tough. In reality, most of the exercises are, frankly, easy and relaxing. It’s more about getting the technique right. The exercises are not hard and yet they have huge benefits.

So everyone will improve by coming to Strength and Conditioning sessions, which we have joint with the Triathlon club at the university sports centre. They are really enjoyable sessions. You wont be doing any running for one thing which makes a nice change.

If you’ve read or heard any terms being used and were unsure what was
meant, please email the Club Captain, Su-Min Lee, sml56@cam.ac.uk,
who will add them
here.