Friday, August 31, 2012

Can You Become a Faster Runner? Probably.

Last year I put on a running workshop at a local gym. I thought most people would want to know about injury prevention and how to not crap themselves while running, but I was wrong. The thing runners wanted to know the most about was how to run faster.

I’m a slow runner or a fast runner depending on who you talk to. It’s all relative. The 3 hour marathoner thinks I’m slower than a constipated snail. My grandma thinks I’m fast and wants my autograph.

If I am going to focus on competing with myself and not comparing myself to others, I’d say I’m doing okay. I started running four years ago and was able to shave 20 minutes off between my first marathon (January 2009 – 4:03) and my second marathon (May 2010 – 3:43). This 20 minute PR was no accident. I chose a course that was “fast,”trained my butt off and did race specific training. I know 3:43 isn’t super fast, but for me it was quite an accomplishment.

coloradomarathon

Me and my cheetah getting our BQ

While remaining uninjured and healthy is my top priority, next in line is getting faster. I still  have a lot of room for improvement. The question is whether my 45 year old self will allow for it.  Between form changes and heart rate training, I’m going to find out all that I can do.

I’ve done a lot of research on how to get faster. I used the Run Less, Run Faster program when I was training to qualify for Boston (and it worked, probably because I was also doping. JK). I loved this plan because it had me only running three days per week, but each run had a purpose: long, interval and tempo. I was able to do lots of cross training and yoga, and to keep my mileage low enough that my body never maxxed out. This is certainly one tactic, but there are more to consider.

I know not every runner wants to speed up. Many people are completely satisfied where they are and enjoy running without striving to be faster, or to go longer and harder. But, for those of us who want to increase speed, there are some things to try.

Tips for How to Run Faster (That May Or May Not Work):

  • Speed it Up. But, not all the time. Don’t run every run at the same pace. Do long runs slower to tap into fat as fuel and to spend time on your feet. During the week, add in tempo runs and/or intervals. In marathon training, I’ve found the Yasso 800s to be the ticket.

  • Head for the Hills. Ever heard the expression, “Hills are speed work in disguise”? Hills suck and will make you cry, but the slower pace will allow you to focus on form and efficiency. Running hills strengthens hip flexors and increases power: factors that contribute to an increase in speed and performance. Added bonus: running hills provides a high intensity workout without the amount of impact and pounding you’d have on flat terrain (since you are going slower, with fewer steps).
  • Lose weight. It’s harder to run faster when you are carrying more weight. If you don’t believe me, carry a 10 lb. sack of flour in your pants during your next run.
  • Increase Cadence: “Studies have shown that the world's fastest long-distance runners have a higher cadence than the average runner” (source). The magic number of steps per minute while running? 180 (90 per foot).
  • Train With a Heart Rate Monitor: This takes major patience, but if you are willing to stick with it, I am convinced speed will come with less effort. I wrote a post about this HERE.
  • Hit the Trails: Running on trails not only gives you a high intensity workout because you are usually climbing mountains, but you also get a different kind of running experience. Uneven footing increases muscle stability strength. Also, trails are a softer and more forgiving surface than asphalt. Bonus: you won’t get hit by a car (although you might get eaten by a bear).

[IMAG06425.jpg]

  • Form, Form, Form: Head up, feet landing under your hips, upper body relaxed, arms swinging forward to back. Good running form increases efficiency, which can lead to a faster pace.
  • Accept You’ll Be Uncomfortable: Running fast hurts. You breathe quickly, your heart rate soars, your muscles burn, your stomach cramps. Don’t be afraid. Embrace the pain and know it makes you stronger.
  • Take a Break: Be sure to have at least one rest day per week to allow muscles to rebuild and adapt.

Is running faster one of your goals?

Have you scored a PR lately? How did you train to do it?

What’s your best tip for becoming a faster runner?

SUAR

56 comments:

  1. I often struggle with these thoughts in my brain, do I want to get faster or do I want to run longer or can I combine it all? I seem to have found a very comfortable 9:30 pace and that is where I've naturally landed without doing any speedwork. If I want to break the 8min range, I know I have to employ the tactics you've mentioned, train/focus. I think for me personally, I have to decide what my long range goal really is. All I know right now is that I want to keep running!

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  2. At this point, endurance is a bigger goal. After my first half, maybe I'll push for faster on short races. I'm slow and overweight. It's all right right now, and I do see small time improvements in time but I've been working on form and endurance.

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  3. I think all of the above makes a huge difference! I run a lot of trails and that has been one of the biggest changes to my road runs. I am stronger and faster and hills feel like a breeze after climbing up some of the hills we encounter on the trails. And I've gotten much faster...went from an 10:30/11:00 pace to a 9:00/9:30 pace in about two years. Another plus, I embrace the discomfort while running, knowing it will make me stronger! Great post!!!

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  4. I love trails. Where I live, there are some wicked steep trails in the state parks. I started running trails for a change in scenery, but it's really helped me improve this year. I have 2 months until my 3rd half, and I'm hoping to knock another 5-7 minutes off my time. I'm going to add some speed work and run more trails and hopefully I can get another PR in October. I went from 2:21 in May to 2:12 last weekend in the half marathon. My big goal is 2:05 for this year and a sub 2 for next year.

    The other benefit to running hills is that when I come across hills in a race, I can tell myself how tiny they are in comparison to some of the trails I run. I visualize myself running up one of those steep hills and I fly up the hills in the race. I also like to chant "hills are my friend" or "this is barely a hill" during races. I'm sure it pisses off the runners around me who slow to a walk, but it gets me through it.

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  5. great tips! i don't run long distances so getting faster is always one of my goals. A medal is NOT guaranteed in 5k's just for finishing so i've gotta EARN that age group medal! ;-) I definitely need to work on running the different types of runs and not doing them all at the same speed...

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  6. Loved this. I'm down two half marathons, running 3, 4, and 5 before the New Year and I'm pushing hard to break 2 hours (my PR is 2:18) and I know with the right moves, I can do this.

    Thanks for sharing your tips! I loved them and am excited to start incorporating some!

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  7. Great article. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on HR training. In addition to most of what you mentioned above (I need to start incorporating trail runs into my training), I have found HR training to be a huge benefit to my running.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I've been HR training for a few weeks now and am starting to notice a difference. I think if people have the patience to do it, it is probably one of the best tools to improve performance.

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  8. btw that's fast in my book! I PRd on a half marathon by going to race at sea level :-)

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  9. I love that you are heart rate training. I use my HRM for HIT workouts mainly. I may have to look into that. However, that would mean I would have to run by myself and I don't like running by myself. The boogie man might get me.
    I thought speed came along with time on the road. I was wrong. You have to do the work, which I plan on doing! You are speedy in my books. ;)

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  10. Yes, I totally agree that with the right training you can become faster at any age. 13 years ago my daughter and I 'trained' for our first half marathon. I have always liked to run but had never ran any races until then. Being as inexperienced as we were back then we just ran without a plan and were happy with our results...finishing in 2:35. Over the years we continued to run off and on and took on some 5 and 10k's and 3 more halfs...again with no training plan and no real improvement in our times. I guess with age comes comes wisdom...last year we decided to do another half (our last was in 2006) in June 2012. We trained smart this time using the training program from Running Room and incorporating good form from Chi Running...we had fun, enjoyed all of our training runs and had no injuries...but best of all we both ran a PR....my daughter at 26 and 10 months after having her first baby ran 2:12 and me at 47 ran 2:18!! A month later we ran a 5k race in a hail/rain/thunder storm and I actually ran a PR and took first in my age group and despite what my family will tell you the other runners were not using canes and walkers!! So, yes you can get faster even while getting older. Next challenge will be a marathon when I turn 50!!

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  11. Everyone is different. Last year, I tried increasing my mileage. My legs were tired all the time and I barely met my paces. This year, I've tried more or less the method you mentioned, Run Less, Run Faster. I haven't been burned out and nothing hurts. Most of the time, I hit my paces in speed workouts. But I've also relaxed mentally in training. I do ok placing in the upper 1/3 of my age group and, although I'm always hoping for that first in my age group, realize it's not going to happen every time.

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  12. Well, I can hardly get slower, can I? I'm still aiming for consistency here. I'm working on the Run Less, Run Faster thing. Today will be my first run in new shoes and my resolution is to track milage and times better than I have. Any suggestions for tools?

    I think you're fast and totally want you to autograph that shirt I bought. Unfortunately that means a trip to Colorado. Are you SURE you're not doing a race in Calgary?

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  13. Ha, ha, I love the little bit of humor that you manage to work into even your more serious posts. The bonus on the trail tip was great! :)

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  14. I just managed to get an under 2 hour half marathon and I feel speedy. My brother, who runs a half in 1:16, thinks that I too am a constipated snail and as a matter of fact doesn't run with me often. I have been reading so much about form lately and hoping that helps just with being able to run more efficiently and happily. I'm 48 and I feel like I can still improve! For my half - which I took 8 minutes off from my half in June, I did Yasso speedwork and long SLOW runs along with Tempo. I like to call it, smarter - not harder running plan.

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  15. Training on the elliptical has helped me become a faster runner! Partly because it is also heart rate training :) Eating well and getting good rest has also been key. I ran faster this past weekend than I did the same course a year ago...and with a dramatic DECREASE in running mileage...and no post-race injury sensations. Or maybe it was just magic and wishful thinking that made it happen :P

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  16. I ran my 5K PR in May by "accident," meaning: 1. I didn't even decide to run the race until the evening before; 2. I had been training for trail races like crazy and not doing any speed workouts. My fastest pace during all of my training runs was probably around 9:30/mile on roads and over 11 minutes on trails. I went into the 5K with a "let's see what happens" attitude and surprised myself with a new PR of 26:25 (8:27/mile)! So, in this particular instance, I think running harder (on hills, but one could substitute speed workouts too) and running longer did the trick for me.

    I'm training for my first marathon, so speed is a lower priority. My first priority is to cover the distance!

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  17. I wish I could train. I am relegated to the boot for 2-6 weeks, maybe surgery - torn ligament, herniated tendon...UGH!!!!
    I am so frustrated and was only two weeks away from my first half marathon. AND I WAS GOING TO WEAR MY SUAR SHIRT!!!!
    At this point, a pr would be getting up and down the stairs without tripping over the stupid boot, or finding shoes that are roughly the same height as the boot so I am not waddling. I guess it's still better than crutches, which was the orignal idea the orthopedist suggested.
    Boo hoo for me.

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  18. Since you read my post today, you know where I am on this right now. I am going to try some new stuff this time around, including speed development (which is different from traditional speed work) and some shorter, explosive hills. We'll see--I've been running so long and at 46 know that I am running out of time to really improve, but I'd still like to be where I was two years ago!

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  19. Zone training is definitely important to reaching your potential and running faster. Once you know your ability, interval training is very effective.

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  20. Believe it or not weight training has helped me drop my race times. More lean muscle mass also cleaning up my diet has prevented any "sports induced asthma". I refused to believe that's what it was. After diet experimentation I think I have a mild intolerance to gluten.

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  21. To be fit, it really requires discipline. To enrolled in a gym in se1 dedication and discipline is required. In every effort that we do, we must be true to it and pursue it all the way.

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  22. Awesome post. I've been running for 14 years and last year at 40 I PR'd at every distance I ran. Not just little PR's big, honking time drops. I ran 3 HM last year, 1st one was 1:47 something in the snow, 2nd was 1:41 and the third was 1:34:48. My previous half PR was 1:43 and that was when I was 33. I chalk it all up to losing 15 lbs, strength training like a mofo and doing speed work. I ran 3x a week, one long run (that sometimes had speed work in it) 1 tempo run and 1 interval / hill repeat or mile repeat session. Swam 3x a week and weigh trained 2x a week, took one day off a week. I've kept up that routine this year after taking a few weeks off in December and I PR'd in a 30km and the marathon distance. Took 16 minutes off my marathon PB that I set when I was 32. Who says you have to slow down when you get older??

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    Replies
    1. I love this!! So encouraging. I think you outline a great plan and one that is really well balanced and varied. Plus, lots of stuff built in for injury prevention. Thanks for this!

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    2. I can credit Ironman training for that. It's taken me years to recognize that my body can't take the pounding of running more than 4 days a week. I trained for my spring marathon on 4 days a week but realized that 4th day was just junk mileage. I figured I'd be better off riding my bike instead so that's what I'm doing for my NYC marathon training.

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  23. I would be one of the super slow runners who is perfectly content being slow because I'm too lazy to work harder at it. Someone has to be last so everyone else can beat someone!

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  24. My main running goal is to get faster and realise my own potential, and hopefully beat my times of 5 years ago when I got injured and gave up. I haven't done any recent races yet to attain a PB, but yesterday's run was my longest and fartherest! I am following most of the principles you list, and introducing speedwork has made a noticeable difference. Apart from that, rest and recovery days would be my best tip. Patience is another tactic I am trying to employ!

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  25. I love this post! I am about to turn the big 4-0 and have worried/wondered if my fastest days were behind me. I feel like I have never really reached my potential and that is now my latest goal. I love reading that some of the above posters have PR'd after the age of 40!

    I am actually planning to set some big goals for myself in the next year. I have realized that if I really commit to it and WANT to get faster, then I can hit some big PR's.

    Anyway, as for the HR monitor, I am debating getting one. My only hesitation is that I have always loved the "simplicity" of running. Just being able to put my shoes on and go. Now I like to run with my ipod. And sometimes borrow my husband's Garmin. And if I'm running long, I might bring along a hand-held water bottle. The thought of adding yet another item to the ever-growing list of things I "need" for running is hard to swallow. BUT, I have heard so many great things about training with HR monitor that I may just do it after all!

    Kristen

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    1. I see what you mean about wanting to keep it simple. But, keep in mind you won't have to wear the monitor forever. You can train that way for a few months and see what it does for your performance. If you are consistent,you may be able to guage your true exertion w/o the monitor after awhile.

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  26. My problem is I enjoy long slow runs but then that is how I run slow. Great article, I need to work on speed.

    Drew
    www.fullcontacttriathlete.com
    www.borrowedfaith.com

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  27. Great blog. It does take work to get faster. I'm a 3x a week runner (and lots of cross training for tris) and track work outs made a difference. I completely agree the statement that running fast hurts. A couple of years ago I shared my goal in an upcoming 10K with non-runners. THEN I realized they wouldn't understand if I missed it. At mile 5 I knew I'd make it. And realized, damn, I'm going to have to run this hard next year too.

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  28. I have to say the speedwork (either hill repeats or on the track) have helped me amazingly. Since I started doing it 2 years ago I have taken 8 min off my 5K time and 50 min off my half marathon time. Probably helps that I'm training more consistantly and I added in some swimming and lifting...

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  29. I definitely want to get faster. Since I started marathon training at the beginning of the year, I've been running Yasso 800s. I think they really helped me prepare for my first marathon (I broke 4 hours, and my previous half marathon PR had been just under 2 hours about 5 months before, so in those 5 months I increased my half marathon pace to my marathon pace) and I'm hoping they'll help me again when I run the Chicago Marathon in a few weeks. I agree that it's uncomfortable to do speedwork, but I think my brain finds it more challenging (I'm concentrating so much on my form and on my breathing) that I don't get as bored as I would on a long run.

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  30. These are all great tips as far as I'm concerned. I like to run intervals on the treadmill instead of a track, and I totally agree that running hills is helpful in many ways!

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  31. The way I finally scored my 5K PR this year was to just be consistent with speed work. I do mine on the treadmill to keep me locked into the correct pace. Also, running fast does mean embracing pain. The impending fear of puking as you cross the finish line becomes quite real.

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  32. Definately want to continue to get faster and run father. I use every thing here you've talked about except run less, run faster. I have pr'd recently and I attribute it to learning to swim and building upon my breathing as well as my track workouts. My next goal in sight is my second half marathon 3 weeks out. I've been running 19 months is all, never before and never been an athlete, I am 46 and loving running! Put in a 40 mile week last week and finished out the month of August with 151 miles. I hadn't seen either one of those numbers before, yee-haw!

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  33. I have stepped up my running goals for this year and found that yes, you can get faster! Even at my age-48! I discovered that I haven't been pushing myself hard enough as evidenced by HR's barely pushing 100! Talk about lazy. lol. I guess it is true, running for 20 years does get your heart in shape! I believe in quality over quantity. Pretty much every run now has a purpose, either a recovery, tempo, long and slow ,you get my drift. It is a mental challenge though to adjust to the increased pain for sure of running faster. I plan on adding HR training too this year.

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  34. Great info! I am 48, started running 3 years ago, first full marathon this November. I am a slower running, but getting faster. Using this first marathon as a base to build on.

    Oh, and I WOULD like to know how to avoid crapping myself during marathon. Ha ha!

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  35. The interval work that Claudia has me doing has proven itself in getting me faster. I am much faster today off the bike than I was last year off the bike, proven by the 1:45 13.1 mi run at Maine compared to the 1:55s I've been putting up.

    Intervals in the water, on the bike and on the run have been the choice du jour for this training cycle and while I curse her under my breathe each and every time I read that schedule it is definitely working.

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  36. Loved this post. Great tips on speed work which just happens to be my nemesis

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  37. Speed work sucks but the results don't lie. I took my 1/2 PR from 2:02 to 1:58 just by adding speed work once a week for 4 months.

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