Photo by Veri Ivanova Unsplash
Most runners want to be faster because we use the metrics of speed, somewhat erroneously, to quantify our progress and fitness. The major lesson to learn is that just trying to run faster on each run is NOT the recognised optimal route to being capable of setting ourselves new pbs, whether we are new runners or elite athletes.
To be able to run faster we need our bodies to function more efficiently and there is no magic formula to make an overnight adaptation to do this. It requires months and years of appropriate training, which will show incremental improvements over this time, so patience is required and we have to say this repeatedly to new graduates who somehow seem to expect that they will now be able to get faster in a few weeks, when they still have only a handful of hours of running on their legs.
For me, my all time 5k pb occurred three years after I completed C25k and was less than three minutes faster than my time at graduation. By this time I was running between 20 and 30k every week. It doesn’t happen overnight.
If you are still in the middle of C25k, then please, for the sake of your body, forget about trying to be faster and follow the optimal route to develop your stamina, strength and endurance and do all your running at an easy conversational pace. If you cannot speak full ungasping sentences as you run, then you are going too fast and will be increasing your risk of injury as well as exhaustion.
This easy pace is the one at which your fully oxygenated blood can transfer oxygen to your cells to develop greater capillary density and more numerous mitochondria, which in turn will be employed when you want to run faster. You can actually damage muscle mitochondria by running too fast…….undoing all the slow miles you have put in…….so you need to preserve a balance and this is generally reckoned to be approximately 80% at an easy pace and only 20% working on speed.
Have a look at this training pace calculator and you will probably be surprised at how slow it recommends you do most of your training. runnersworld.com/uk/trainin... Most runners are neither slow enough for long enough, nor do they push hard enough when doing speed work. A “comfortable” middling pace is not optimal.
Some trainers will forbid runners wanting to become faster from running at more than an easy conversational pace for many months, simply because they believe it gives optimal returns, only allowing them to pick up pace once strength, resilience and injury resistance have developed. Be warned, speed work will increase your susceptibility to injury, so don't rush into it........build your body first.
So when you are ready to introduce speedwork, what is the best way to do it?
Intervals and fartlek are the simplest ways to start working on pace for new runners. When I first completed C25k, I remember programming intervals into Runkeeper and gleefully setting off on a run only to find that I could not sustain my fast pace for the required durations, especially when encountering hills. The recovery periods were also not adequate after some intervals. All my time programming was wasted.
For this reason, I suggest that fartlek is more appropriate for new runners. This Swedish word translates roughly as “playing with speed” and is far less formal than programmed intervals. You decide when you want to pick up pace and when you want to slow down. On my home 5k run I cross many fields and have employed fartlek by picking a particular tree or field boundary to run to at fast pace, followed by a slower easy pace recovery run, before finding another landmark and repeating the process. This enables you to find out how long you can maintain the fast pace for and how long you may need for recovery, without requiring a timing device. On subsequent runs you can either find another landmark that will increase your fast interval duration marginally or decrease the recovery run, while not being dictated to by a merciless timepiece.
Of course, the information garnered from fartlek can be used to set up intervals if you wish, but fartlek does have flexibility. The overall duration of your speed sessions needs to be balanced against your overall training load and your ability.
Three things to bear in mind when you start speed work are to ensure that you are fully warmed up prior to attempting any high pace intervals, so ten minutes of easy running is a good idea to precede the speed, to keep injury risk minimised. Also, as mentioned above, you need to push hard in these intervals to maximise adaptation and your VO2 max, which is your body’s efficiency in utilising oxygen, working well in excess of 85% of your maximum heart rate, preferably higher. This is in contrast to your easy pace which should be at approximately 70-75% of your MHR. Thirdly, to run faster do not be tempted to lengthen your stride…….this will cause undue stresses and increased injury risk……...so increase your cadence or number of steps per minute.
Working consciously on form, posture and running efficiency will also pay dividends. As will hill work, good diet and hydration habits, strengthening exercises and increasing your long run.
Working on a four run cycle, rather than a weekly cycle, is a good way to make sure that you never follow a hard run by a hard run. The following might be the basis of your cycle, not forgetting rest days which remain essential for new runners for an absolute minimum of six months, especially when working the body hard. This is assumed as starting from a base point of three 5k runs per week.
DAY ONE Long run. Increasing by maximum of 10% of total mileage each week. Although run at an easy pace, this is considered a “hard” run, because it is pushing your boundaries.
DAY TWO Easy pace 5k, or possibly shorter.
DAY THREE Fartlek or intervals. This is a hard run………...intervals are hard work!!
DAY FOUR Easy pace 5k, or possibly shorter.
If you Google “How to run faster” you will come across a plethora of articles, many of which will give you extra tips, but which ultimately boil down to the bones of this post. All will tell you to slow down, get strong, eat well and work on posture and form.
I referred earlier to my all time 5k pb, set in the same year I set my all time 10k pb, at the age of 60. In the following years I have had to deal with critical illness and injuries, including a knee which is not going to respond well to speed work and so I have had to come to terms with no more pbs, which does not worry me in the slightest. In fact I would now say that speed is overrated. To be honest running fast is hard work and now I am in my mid 60s I enjoy my gentle plods probably far more than I actually enjoyed the pb runs when I was doing them.
This article suggests that slow and short distance runners live longer than the average non runner, but also longer than those who run hard and fast womensrunning.com/culture/s...
As I said, speed is overrated.
Do you really want to get faster?
There are more FAQ posts giving general information here healthunlocked.com/couchto5...