This Runner's Trials

How to become a faster runner

Posted by runnerstrials

I get a lot of comments from friends about my speed. When I tell them I haven’t always been so fast the follow up question is always “how did you do it?”

Well, I’m here to answer that question today :)

Note that speed is relative. I’m not even that fast of a runner. These tips can help you become faster than you are now. But if you want to learn how to get super speedy I suggest checking out other blogs and asking those ladies how they did it ;)

When I first started running, I didn’t run to train for races. When I first started racing, I didn’t race for PRs. The majority of my running career was spent running for fun.

Then in May 2009 I ran my fourth half marathon. I somehow knocked out an 1:50:25 half marathon in the pouring rain (my previous PR was 1:55:40). Granted the course was very flat, but I felt awesome the whole time.

I ran another half marathon 5 months later on Halloween. I kept up my same “training” in between the races: 2- 3 short, untimed runs per week; 1 long, untimed run; and 2 spinning classes each week. I assumed I’d PR. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? You just get faster each race? It was working for me so far. But on this day it ended. I struggled to finish in 1:59:12.

Regular training can only take you so far. You will peak eventually if you do not add speedwork into your training.

The day of the Halloween half, I was miserable. I was sore, tired, and incredibly disappointed. That night I consulted the running gods and downloaded a Smartcoach training plan. I was running another half in 2.5 months and I was going to break 1:50.

I followed my training plan to a T. I never missed a day or varied my pace from the prescribed workouts. I even hiked a mile in 2 feet of snow to get to the gym and knock out 11 miles on the treadmill a couple days before Christmas. (There’s a thin line between determination and obsession ;) )

A few days before the Disney half I felt strong and confident. But Mother Nature got in my way. At the 5:50 a.m. start it was below 30 degrees, sleeting, and dark. My husband and I decided just to run the race together for fun and do our best not to slip and fall. What resulted was the most fun race of my life, I was literally smiling the whole time, and my “easy” race ended after 1:53.

I stuck to my training plan for the next 3 months. In April, I lined up at the start of the Clemson Easter Bunny half. I knew the course was hilly, but I knew the course like the back of my hand since I ran it all the time in college. I didn’t just beat 1:50, I crushed it coming in at 1:43:12 and earning second in my age group.

The next 2 halves I ran were also sub 1:50 and now I expect to always beat that clock time. Both my 10k and 8k PRs have improved by more than 5 minutes in the past year.

Here’s how I did it:

  • Have a plan. There’s a reason there’s a host of race training plans: they work. I suggest Runner’s World Smart Coach or Greg McMillan’s plans.
  • Embrace the speed sessions. Your plan is going to call for tempo runs or 800 meter (half mile) or 1600 meter (mile) repeats. They hurt at first, but you’ll adapt. They teach your body to make an uncomfortable pace more comfortable. Of course, if you have chest pain or shortness of breath, stop running. (source)
  • Go slow. You can’t go hard all the time; it taxes your body too much. I always aim for at least one slow run per week. (source)
  • Know your pace. A year ago, I bought a Garmin and it was the smartest investment I ever made. This helped me learn what an easy and hard pace was for me. I have no doubt this helped me increase my speed.
  • Cross-train. Cross-training reduces your risk of injury, helps you recover, and makes you speedier. (source) I’m currently loving swimming and yoga, but past loves include cycling and strength training <--- wish I could enjoy lifting again.
  • Have one goal at a time. Concentrate on speed or distance. Unless you’re very experienced, trying to get faster and increase your mileage is a recipe for injury. (source) Training for your first half or full marathon? Ignore your pace and worry about speed the next time.
  • Be patient. You’re not going to get faster overnight. I was a distance runner for 6 years before I started concentrating on speed. You don’t have to wait quite that long, but be patient at first. You will improve in time.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. Running is an individual sport. It’s just you and the clock (and your husband if you’re crazy competitive ;) ). There will always be someone faster than you, and someone slower than you.

Note that you can take many different training approaches to get desired results. This is just what worked for me. And always talk to your doctor before you start running your heart out :)

How do you feel about speedwork? Are you a faster runner now than when you first started?

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