Micah from CO: What should I be thinking about when running downhill? I'm training for a road half marathon that has a ton of elevation gain, but also a lot of elevation loss. Any suggestions for training to prepare for so many road hills?


Coach Wilfredo Benitez: One of the best ways to train for a hilly race is to include hills in your training. A good start is to run hill repeats 1-2 times a week. Be sure to run these workouts with proper uphill and downhill running form (e.g. do not bend your back forward too much uphill or lean too far back on the downhill). If your goal is to improve your time, one thing to note is that you want to carefully speed up during the downhill sections. It's okay to allow your body to naturally speed up with gravity, but running too fast downhill can really take a toll on your quadriceps, and you don't want your muscles to be too tired for future uphills.

Joe from WI: I run cross country and it really is a mental sport. How should I best pace myself during and 5k, and how do I push myself mentally and physically during a race and during workouts?


In regards to pacing for a 5k, it's best to put together a race plan ahead of time based on the following factors: terrain of the course, your competitive goals (Do you want to set a personal best? Is it the right time for that?) the significance of the race, your current fitness level, and weather.

Coach Patrick Hammond: You are correct to say cross country is a mental sport. Like many runners, you have probably heard the phrase, "Running is 90% mental and 10% physical," but how much time do you actually spend on mental training? I suggest you implement daily imagery sessions to train your mind and build mental toughness. The basic idea is to imagine or visualize yourself in certain scenarios.

Since you asked about mental toughness during races and workouts, you should spend some time visualizing yourself in stressful race day and workout situations. Try to really put yourself in the moment and think about what you feel, see, hear, taste, and smell. Most importantly, try to associate positive feelings with your visualizations. Practice this daily for five minutes at a time. The ultimate goal is to build mental toughness by associating positive feelings with stressful race day and workout situations. Keep in mind that this mental exercise does not replace physical exercise, it enhances it. Therefore, you must continue to do your workouts and listen to your coach. If you would like professional guidance on this, consider purchasing our Mental Training Product. I have a Masters Degree in Sports and Performance Psychology, and I am trained to lead mental training sessions.

Evan from PA: I am long distance runner at my high school, and I run the 3200m and 1600m. I want to get faster at these event, and recently started spinning, which I think has helped. How else can I get faster in these events next season?


Coach Wilfredo Benitez: Having a really strong base will help you with the kind of speed you'll need for the endurance events your run. Since you are a high school runner with a coach or multiple coaches, you should follow their guidance. You should, however, be aware of the following information, and if you aren't you may consider having a conversation with your coach(es) about it. As a 3200m runner, you should include runs as long as 5-7 miles, and maybe even a 10 miles, during your base-building phase. After several weeks (4-6 at least) of building your base, you should incorporate tempo runs into your workout, as they will help you build speed. Also, don't ignore core and strength exercises! A strong, though not necessarily muscular, core, back, and arms goes a long way for efficient running mechanics. Lastly, don't ignore warm up and cool down routines. Dynamic and static stretches are important for optimizing your performance.

Dan from NY: How many calories should I be eating in a day? I'm at about 118 pounds and 65 inches tall. I feel like I'm underweight and not getting enough calories. I usually run about 35-40 miles per week, and I haven't been as fast as I've been in the past, but close.


Coach Oliver Lopez: Hey Dan, so I assume you are 18-30 years old for this answer, though if you aren't please notify us. I also estime that you currently consume 2300 - 2700 calories daily. This would make your current BMI 19.6, which is considered normal, but lean. If you feel you are not running your best, or if recovery seems lackluster, you would may benefit from increasing your daily calorie intake. It doesn't need to be a big jump; try adding another 200-300 calories in the form of a snack, or by increasing the portion size of one of your meals. Hope this helps Dan, please continue to ask questions!

Kaden from UT: I need to get my 110 hurdle time down from 16:34 to at least below 15:55 this season. Any tips?


Educated Running Coach Stephanie Herrick

Coach Stephanie Herrick: I would spend my time working on hurdle technique and improving rhythm between hurdles. This may help you shave off those last few tenths of a second from your time. Make sure you do hurdles drills several times a week. To improve your speed and rhythm between hurdles you can practice on mock hurdles. Set up the hurdles on a track on the correct marks for the 110m hurdle race, and then remove the top of them. Practice perfecting the 3 step rhythm between hurdles without worrying about clearing the hurdle. 

Then, add the tops of the hurdles back on to practice with the full hurdle. If you don't already work on your general strength in the weight room I would also recommend adding it into your routine. This will help you work on your overall strength, speed and explosiveness.

Marissa from CA: I have shin splints and I'm in season slready so I really don't have time to rest and wait for them to get better, so I was wondering if there is any other way to make the pain subside and/or prevent further damage?


Second, you should check to see if you are over-striding when you run. If your foot lands in front of your body, as opposed to underneath it, when you run, then you are over-striding, which stresses your shins. Try shortening your stride and landing underneath your body when you run. Third, you should make an effort to run on soft ground. Get off the concrete and run on grass, dirt, gravel, or rubber track. If you run on softer ground, there is less shock to your body from impact. Fourth, you may need a new pair of running shoes. Old shoes do not absorb shock well, which means your legs have to absorb more. Lastly, wearing compression sleeves during your run can help to keep your muscles closer to your bones, which prevents jarring movements and cuts down on soreness. And wearing them after a run promotes blood flow, which helps you recover. I hope this helps. Good luck with your season!
educated running coach rolanda bell

Coach Patrick Hammond: Shin splints are an overuse injury that puts a damper on your running, as you already know. Don't worry, though, as you can beat them with some work. First, I suggest starting a recovery routine for your calf and shin. Recommended Calf Routine: Using a handheld roller, roll back and forth along your calf muscle for 30 seconds to promote blood flow. Next, inch along your calf with the roller until you hit a knot or feel a slight discomfort. Once the roller is on your knot, pause and apply pressure for 20 seconds. 

Then, knead the knot for 20 seconds, and do the same with the next knot. Repeat this routine with your other leg. Often a tight calf can put strain on your shins, so that's why you should make an effort to help your calves recover. Recommended Shin Routine: Sitting down in a chair flex your foot up, to activate the muscles on the front of your leg. Move a handheld roller gently along these muscles for 30 seconds. Only push as hard as you can handle. 

Joe from WI: How do I improve my 5K cross country time?


Coach Alex Arslan: There are many ways to better your 5k time; you can increase the volume of your mileage, the intensity of your workouts, or change the surface on which you run your hard sessions. You can also refine your strength training, and more. The first thing you should do is figure out your current level of fitness, and assess your current training, so that you can determine what your strengths and weaknesses are. A new stimulus is a good way to 

educated running coach rolanda bell

improve fitness, it's just about determining what and when to add a new element into your training, so that you can properly time your fitness peaks. A few generic tips I would suggest is to start doing hard workouts on the surfaces you will be racing on. As an example, instead of doing 12x400 meters at 5k pace on the track, run 10-15x2 minute efforts at 5k pace on a course that resembles the course you'll race on. Also to run a fast 5k it's still mainly an aerobic event so I'd focus on getting a good amount of lactate threshold work in, sprinkle in a good amount of V02 reps, as well as some faster than goal pace work. Be honest in your efforts and don't leave the races in training, train smart, then rip it on race day. Good luck Joe!

Tyler from FL: What's the best way to get faster? I play soccer and im pretty quick but I wanna be the fastest!


Coach Rolanda Bell: Great question, Tyler! I am not sure what kind of speed and agility training you are already doing, but let's talk about overall speed development. Also, as a side note, I suggest that you incorporate aerobic conditioning into your workouts, because soccer players cover a lot of distance in the course of a game, and strong aerobic conditioning will help you sustain your speed for longer periods of time.

educated running coach rolanda bell

Here are few ways to develop speed:

  1. Short Hill Sprints - sprinting up short hills helps you develop your acceleration. Power down to the ground with your feet and take quick, short steps. Make sure you focus during your first few strides to establish a good rhythm. (30-40 meter long hills are ideal)

  2. Short Sprints (Flat surface) - Short sprints in repetition translates the strength you develop during hill sprints to faster times on the track.The hills create resistance and certain muscle fiber recruitment which make it easier for you to run faster on flat surfaces. Try doing your sprints in different ways, e.g. falling to start or beginning by laying on the ground, in order to develop quickness.

  3. Power Lifting - Strengthening your muscles and recruiting more muscle fibers that are involved in running will help you create more power, and power enhances your natural speed. Try incorporating a short weight routine twice a week if possible. Examples include deadlifts, squats, and lunges.

  4. Speed/Form Drills - My favorite drill is High Knees against a wall. The best way to execute this drill is to lean into a wall at a 45 degree angle. This will teach you proper mechanics while driving your knees forward and really activating your hips. Try adding resistance for 12-15 seconds of High Knees and then a set without resistance and repeat 5-6 times. This will increase your speed and acceleration.Also, if your team, as many soccer teams do, incorporate ladder drills in practice, utilize that time to develop quick feet. The better your running mechanics, the easier it will be to improve your speed.

    Lastly, when running fast always remember to:
    • Drive your arms
    • Lean slightly forward
    • Quicken your cadence to avoid over striding

Amy from MD: How different should training pace verses race pace verses fastest pace be for a beginner runner?


Coach Herbert Plummer: Great question. There are lots of "pace calculators" out there that can you give you an approximation of what your race pace should be, whether it's a marathon or a 5k, but what if you haven't done a race yet? For beginners, I like to forget about numbers and focus instead on going by feel. Think of your body as having a three speed bike right now. Easy, medium, and hard.

educated running coach herbert plummer

Your "training" pace should be easy, your "race pace" medium, and your "fastest" pace hard. Of course, your training should incorporate all 3 of these speeds at some point to get you familiar with race pace and develop your speed. This is where a coach comes in handy! Balancing these various efforts to produce the best outcome is the art of coaching. Stick to these 3 speeds right now and after a while you'll be ready to upgrade to a six speed bike, one with more specific paces somewhere in between easy, medium and hard. Hope that helps!

Kaylin from OR: What should an easy day be like before a meet?


Coach Herbert Plummer: Great question! The big day is almost here and we want to make sure our bodies and minds are ready to race. First, you should do a "shakeout" of 10-20 minutes of easy jogging in the morning (or 24 hours prior to the actual start time, if the race is later in the day), followed by a few easy strides. There should be nothing stressful about the shakeout at all. It should be very comfortable.

educated running coach herbert plummer

For the rest of the day, eliminate any stressful activities if possible (cramming for a test, rearranging the furniture in your room, etc.) You'd be surprised what we sometimes do when we have a surplus of energy! Save it all for race day. Mentally, you should do something relaxing and enjoyable, which may include school work, and you should take 10 minutes or so to visualize your race. In your mind, visualize yourself going out at a controlled pace (not a prolonged sprint), bouncing up hills and cruising down them, and finishing strong by passing 3 or 4 other girls. If you are familiar with the course, make that part of your visualization as well. 

Lastly, eat a healthy, balanced meal several hours before bedtime (nothing new/spicy/heavy, etc.), drink enough water that you are properly hydrated (and don't go to bed thirsty), and do some light stretching/foam-rolling before bed. Go to bed a little earlier than usual if possible, and keep a bottle of water next to your bed to drink in the morning, since you'll be in a slightly dehydrated state after a full night's rest.

Marcus from IN: I am in high school and currently we are doing tempo runs on Mondays, medium intensity runs on Tuesdays, and 2k or longer repeats on Wednesdays. We then take Thursday and Friday as easy days, Saturday race is day, and Sunday is for long runs. Is it normal or smart to do this?


Coach Alex Arslan: Hey Marcus. There are a lot of variables to consider in your question including: when your base phase started, how many weeks it lasted (as well as what it entails), how far along you are in your development as a runner, and the race you are training for (I assume it's 4-5k races). Personally that weekly set up doesn't make much sense for me simply because it's repetitive.

educated running coach rolanda bell

Ultimately it will not allow for enough of a fitness boosting stimulus, and it might lead to mental and physical burnout, since your training doesn't seem to have enough recovery built in...I suggest you talk it out with your coach and ask them why the training looks the way it does. Ask if it will change, and if you aren't comfortable with your training, ask whether adjustments can be made. A good coach always wants to hear how their athlete is feeling. Another important thing to know is that it is better to be 10% under-trained than it is to be 1% over-trained. Be smart and get after it!

John from OR: Hi I'm training for a cross country in 3 months. I do a long run on Sunday, speed session on Tuesday, tempo on Thursday, and easy runs in between. I am at around 45-50 mpw, how do you think I can improve my training plan?


Coach Rolanda Bell: Great question! It sounds like you have a good training model so far. I find runners get more out of workouts when they do either Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday because it allows for more time in between to recover, but the work can certainly be done either way. Below are two basic one-week training cycles that I tend to follow for my when I make plans for athletes:

educated running coach rolanda bell

For the purposes of the suggestions that follow, I will assume your cross country races are at the 5k distance, which is usually the case. This race predominantly stresses your aerobic system (80%), makes the total mileage and lactate threshold tempo runs you do now perfect. Most runners also neglect the speed component which it seems like you have been adding in (so you are already ahead of the game). As you get closer to raceday, I would introduce tempo intervals, where you run at a pace slightly faster than tempo pace, with very short rest. This will also help develop your VO2 max. 

Some Examples: 
  1. 8 X 2:00 minute intervals at a pace slightly faster than tempo pace with 75 seconds of rest
  2. 6 x 800 meters with 75 seconds of rest between each interval. 

For your speed days, you should focus on running intervals at race pace or faster at distances ranging from 200 meters to 1000 meters. Every other week you should think about incorporating Hill Repeats in place of your Tuesday speed session, preferably outside but they can also be done on a treadmill. Hills are great for two reasons: 
  1. Hills can increase your running economy and overall biomechanics
  2. They are an excellent means of anaerobic training 

I would recommend finding a hill with around a 5% grade for 1 minute at a time, for up to 10 total repetitions, with a 2:30 minute rest. 

Lastly, make sure you do not neglect your core work, proper stretching, and drills throughout the week, either after runs and even before runs wherever you see fit, so that you maintain proper form and avoid injury as you progress in fitness. If you follow this advice, when race day comes and you look back at your training, you will be nothing but confident knowing the hard work you put in! Best of luck!

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