So, How do I get faster?
When I was actively coaching there was never a day when I was not asked this by someone.
My stock answer was always “practice more”. Although it always comes across as a bit sarcastic, it is also a basic truth of endurance. To be a runner, you need to run. For many reasons in my opinion. Nothing trains you for running like running. Period.
This is the basis of endurance sports. Converting oxygen and food to muscle energy. You are born with the little “power plants” that are largely responsible for this in every muscular cell. Mitchondria are responsible for producing ATP, which as it turns out, is the only currency your muscles will accept to force them into action. So, you may ask, “if I am born with them, what can I do about it”? Good question! You can do a lot. Our bodies adapt to endurance training in many ways, one of which is the creation of MORE mitochondria, making our muscles more packed with them. We also develop some larger “super” ones as we continue to adapt to the stressed of long bouts of training.
OXYGEN (or I can’t get enough of it)
Iron in our bloodstreams carry oxygen carries oxygen to the power plant. That’s why endurance athletes typically have above average hemoglobin counts. If you are training at a high level and your bloodwork comes back normal, well that may not be normal. You don’t have to get Iron from meat, but it is the most common source. Do your research if you are vegetarian or vegan so that you can maintain reasonable Iron levels (also don’t take Iron supplements without consulting a Dr).
And breath through everything that can get you air. That’s right, trying to breathe through your nose only inhibits performance. Breath through your mouth too. Your ears and eyelids if you can pull it off. Get that fuel into your body and give it a chance to work.
So, all I have said so far is run more, eat well and learn to breath. There’s got to be more to it than that, right? Yes, there is, and if you have done the above well you have a foundation. Let’s talk briefly about building on it.
The long run is the staple of distance training. Try to make it 20-25% of your total weekly mileage if you can, and make it in a single session if at all possible. LSD (no not acid you hippes). Long Slow Distance. Make it slower than everyday pace, but not a slog. If your everyday run is at 9 minute pace, back it off to 9:30.
Tempo – Anaerobic Threshold – AT-Threshold
For my money, anyone running a goal race longer than 5K can focus almost solely on Tempo Runs as their workouts. Since most everyone works and then fits in running where possible, the amount of “quality” workouts are limited. Tempo runs are run at in steady state for at least 10 minutes and can generally be thought of as 85-90 % of max heart rate. When your body is at threshold, it is just about to start using making some energy anaerobically (without oxygen). Since anaerobic metabolism can only be maintained for a short time, this is a bad place to be. But, if we train for segments just at our AT, then the body adapts and raises the bar. Allowing us to stay in the aerobic zone will going faster. Tempo can be done without a track or a measure distance. (a heart rate monitor is a great idea tho). Start with small segments of 10 minutes (once a week or so) and work your way up. For more advanced runners, tempo segments in a few of your long runs (per cycle) are a great idea.
Intervals (some call Speed Work)
Unless you are training for the 400 meter dash (or shorter), short fast intervals can be a waste of your valuable (and limited) training time.
If you are really stepping up your game, talk to a coach about VO2 Max Intervals.
Prefaced with “In My Opinion”. If you have unlimited training time, get yourself into the gym and sling some iron.
If you do not, strength training for runners can be achieved in other ways. I am not discounting strength at all. In fact, each stride for a runner can be thought of as a small jump. Since we all run at around 180 strides per minute, the difference is how far we go on each stride (and don’t even think about trying to lengthen your stride). Strength is a key component in all forms of the sport.
But running uses a very specific set of muscles (and there aren’t really that many). So why not strengthen them with specificity?
We are fortunate to be in an area where hilly routes can be part of our routine. Add strength by running one of them weekly. They don’t have to be hill repeats or hill surges. Just steady state runs on hard courses will specifically work on the muscles that are required to lift and propel your body. It’s that simple. Trails are a great way to get in running specific strength work.
If its absolute torture it may make for a great story. But odds are against you sticking with it.
Above all, make it fun.