4 steps to running faster

  • This was printed in January of 2015 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 87th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I see a lot of runners log mile after mile, reaching more than 100 and sometimes even

more than 200 miles in a month — but they don’t seem to get any faster.

My group is fortunate enough to have a coach who creates a training program that will

help us hit our “peak” for a race. Over a 10- to 12-week period we build up our distance

and speed so that we will (or should) be in optimal condition on race day to have both the

endurance and swiftness to run a personal record (PR).

Logging mile after mile at a comfortable or moderate pace will probably not get you a

PR. Here are some tips for becoming a faster runner:

1. Make your hard days harder

You should incorporate at least one day a week of speed work into your training

schedule. This can mean fast repeats on a track or on the road. You should be working

hard, at about 95 percent of your maximum effort. Take recovery laps or breaks in

between your sprints.

Your long runs should also be hard. Try to run at your goal race pace for as long as you

can.

“You have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and love the runner’s high after

an exhausting workout,” says our coach, Brad Castillo. “Leave it all on the course or

track.”

To qualify for the Boston Marathon I had to finish with an 8 minute and 12 second per

mile average pace. To train I ran all of my long runs (10 to 20 miles) at an 8:05 to 8:10

average pace. It worked!

2. Make your easy days easier

Our coach chastises us when we run too fast on our easy days. “I’m not impressed!” he’ll

yell. Easy days should be built into your training schedule as a form of active recovery.

When you work very hard on your hard days, your body will need a break.

Mileage should be short, and pace should be slow. You should be able to have a

conversation without any heavy breathing on your slow, easy day.

3. Incorporate surprise speed work during moderate-paced or long runs

Just as your body starts to feel tired, it’s the perfect time to force it to go faster. This is

called a fartlek, which is Swedish for “speed play.”

Next time you feel tired mid-run, think “I’m going to fartlek!” Giggle to yourself and

then sprint to the next stop sign, tree, or whatever visual marker you want to aim for.

These little sprints will force your body to get faster. Just remember to recover at a slower

pace afterward.

4. Rest

Elite athletes sleep about 9 hours each night and even take additional naps during the day.

Sleep is the best body-repairer. Without proper recovery, your body won’t get (much)

faster.

Remember these four essential elements to improving your speed, if that is your goal.

Slow and steady may have been the tortoise’s strategy, but sometimes it’s fun to be the

hare.

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