Runners who don’t care about getting faster DO exist. Some runners just run for fun, others run for hundreds of miles in ultramarathons and the distance matters more than the speed, some runners are simply out there to lose weight or get stronger. But there are many participants in this sport that toe the line at races looking for personal records, train all year for time goals, and who are looking to get faster.
I started focusing on running around 2010/2011, and, at that time, I ran a 9:30-10 minute mile on easy runs. Now my easy runs hover around 7:45. I’ve cut 30+ minutes off both my half and marathon times and am now looking to break a 3 hour marathon and a 1:25 half. My first 5k was 28 minutes; now it is 19 minutes. How did I get there?
CONSISTENCY IS KING
I heard Greg McMillan speak once at a local shoe store, and he told the audience “Look what you can do with a solid season of training. You could PR by 5 or 10 minutes. But think about what you could do with a solid year of training. What about two years?” That comment resonated with me; consistency truly is king. By training smart, you can run more miles. By running more miles, you get better at running (and better, in this case, usually means faster).
There is a dedication that needs to be there as well. This doesn’t mean that you need to follow a structured training plan for years. I often use summers to run lower mileage while lifting more. Many others have periods of time where they bicycle or swim along with their running or decide to have a cycle of heavier lifting gains. But running does need to be there if the long term goal is to get faster. However, you can mix it up, play with your schedule, and keep things interesting when not sticking to a race specific training plan.
QUELL THE INNER SLACKER WITH A COACH
Consistency may be better achieved by hiring a coach. My inner slacker is a constant presence when I am not being told what to do. With a coach, I get a monthly plan to follow. Coaches may seem like a rigid idea, but they actually have offered me incredible flexibility. I can simply tell my coach that I need X,Y,Z day off next week and he does the work of tailoring my plan to fit my life schedule. He helps me see the benefits to different workouts, guides me running injury free, and helps prevent over training. A coach makes it so that all the “chore” part of run planning is taken care of, and I can just do the fun part, which is executing the sport.
BE THE TURTLE
Whether you are reading running literature from Matt Fitzgerald, Arthur Lydiard, Greg McMillan, or any of the well known coaches that are out there, a common theme will become apparent: RUN SLOW. As much as eighty percent of the running you do should be at a conversational, easy pace. Rather than re-invent the wheel here, I am just going to link to this blog post wherein I talk extensively about this phenomenon of running slower to get faster.
BUT CHANNEL THE INNER RABBIT NOW AND THEN
Once you have consistent weekly mileage for a period of a few months, it is probably time to add in some faster work. Two of the most beneficial workouts for getting faster in distance racing are tempo runs and strides. Here is a post detailing the benefits and the “how-to” of strides. Tempo runs come in a few different varieties. The first step is determining a goal tempo pace. Check out the McMillan Calculator and plug in a recent race time and a goal for your next race. It will give you pace windows to help improve your running. Tempo intervals are longer than typical track work, usually 1000 to 2000 meters run at tempo interval pace with rest in between. Straight tempo miles are a bit slower than tempo interval but a tad faster than half marathon pace. It is said that the gold standard tempo run is 20 minutes, and I found that, working myself up to this amount of time greatly improved my race times at all distances.
Tempo runs probably deserve their own blog post, and I plan to write one soon.
Hopefully some of these tips can start you on your way to a PR this fall, winter or spring!