News - 3rd July 2018

parkrun Pacers: Tom Craggs

Amongst the parkrun family there are numerous international athletes, Olympians and experienced coaches. 


Each week we invite one of them to share their top tips and advice on training and improving your running, whether you’re looking to complete the course without stopping, break 45 minutes, go sub-20 for the first time, or just bag that new PB.


This week it’s the turn of Tom Craggs!


Tom Craggs is an England National Team coach and regional coaching lead for England Athletics, as well as being UK coach for some of the UK’s biggest sports brands.


Tom also coaches Great Britain elite athletes such as Louise Damen, as well as those just starting out on their running journeys – plus juniors too! Tom is also a talented runner himself, with a parkrun PB of 17:06.


Hi Tom! It can be hard to fit in running and training around a work, family and social life – what’s your best tip for finding a work-life balance?

For so many of us life throws more and more obstacles in the way as you move through the day, getting out early in the mornings to bank training before working or the family day starts can sometimes be the best decision.


Also be honest about the time you have to train. Consistency is the key and loads can be achieved from 3-4 runs a week, much better than 6 runs one week, and then nothing the next. It’s about finding a routine and pattern that is sustainable and most importantly enjoyable!


It can also help if your passion for running is shared by colleagues and family, so check out junior parkrun and get the kids involved!


What is your top tip to new parkrunners on how to improve their running?

If you keep doing the same things over and over, you can’t reasonably expect a different result! Well in fact you can but you will find that you plateau quickly. Here are some examples of way to mix-up your training:


The spice of Life - Add variety into your training week, perhaps initially by just varying the routes on which you run, including some trails or undulations, but then thinking about a bit more structure.


‘Threshold’ training is a great foundation for distance runners – blocks of effort at a ‘controlled discomfort’ or 3-4 word answer effort. Start with a simple session of 4 x 5 minutes within a 40 minute run, and build as the weeks progress.


Smile for speed - It’s common for runners to be a bit nervous about pushing themselves and feeling that bit of discomfort that comes with running faster. Every kilometre of your next parkrun, make a conscious effort to relax your face and shoulders and smile – yes literally smile to yourself!


Set up to succeed - Whether you are following a training plan or devising your own training, take an approach that is realistic and sustainable with your work and family life. There is no point picking a plan that has you running 5-6 times a week if you know you will only have time for 3 runs. Try ring fencing your training as a ‘meeting’ in your diary!


Become a mechanic - Speed doesn’t just come from a bigger heart and lungs, it’s also a mechanical process of literally getting your body to move faster. Improving your technique by short fast uphill efforts can really help maintain your speed in the last 1k of your parkrun.


You could add 5 or 6 hill sprints after one of your easy runs, focusing on power, tall posture and extending fully at the hips, knees and ankles with each stride. Make these only 8-10 seconds each with a slow walk back to the bottom for your recovery.


Train with your head, run with your heart - If you want to run your best parkrun time, sometimes your best approach could be to take a risk and forget the watch. Try taping over your watch and running to effort in your next parkrun, instead of concentrating on the pace on your wrist you – might just suddenly in that parkrun PB!


What would be your advice to parkrunners who are thinking about going beyond parkrun and training for 10ks and half marathons?

As you inevitably start to build up the volume of your training ready for the longer events, try to really focus on keeping your easy runs at a genuinely conversational pace. This will allow you to recover better as the mileage increases.


A good weekly core routine, Pilates class or even some conditioning in the gym is a great way to prevent injury and hold your pace over longer distances.


As you train for longer events it might be wise to not look to always smash your parkrun hard every week! Consider going for your parkrun PB every 3-4 weeks, with the weeks in between used for other training. I’ll often ask athletes I coach to run a parkrun at 10k-10 mile race pace and add some additional fast efforts after.


You also need to be patient in building up your mileage, build carefully by adding 5-10 minutes to your weekly long run, and try to avoid adding intensity, frequency and additional running all in the same week.


Finally, sharing your goal with family and friends is a huge motivational factor, so see if you can find some company on those key runs, or consider joining a local RunTogether group or running club.


Many parkrunners find that after weeks and months of PBs and improvements, their running can start plateau. What would you suggest to mix things up? 

The body is a very adaptable machine, it plateaus easily because we adapt to routine. Remember we have to stress the body and recover from that stress if we want to progress, rather than repeating the same things.


So, in order to progress you need to either change the training, or recover more effectively. Change up your routine and add some of the quality sessions suggested above!

And finally, for those people who want an insight into the training of an elite athlete, what’s your favourite training session and why?

There are so many great sessions for getting fitter to for parkruns and 10ks, and any coach will tell you there is no magic session – the key is looking at your own strengths and areas for development and working specifically on these.


But if I had to pick a session though, I’d suggest a mixed session on the flat and hills:

  • Warm up well for 10-20 minutes of easy running and include some strides
  • Run 5-10 minutes on a flat route at a controlled discomfort or 3-4 word answer effort
  • Rest for 2 minutes
  • Run 8-12 sets of 45-60 second fast hills each, with a jog back to the bottom recovery
  • Short rest
  • 3-4 sets of 3 minutes on the flat, running at 5-10k effort, with 2 minute recovery in between


You can follow Tom on Twitter.

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