Last week I talked all about our obsession with running fast. Be sure to read all about it here. We sometimes forget that running faster takes time and that we may need to adjust our priorities if we are just working into running longer distances. Distance running is not a sprint it is quite literally a marathon. When first started running I didn’t realize that my runs should be different. I was just running to get the time or distance in and not really thinking about anything else. I didn’t know I should be running hill repeats, hitting the track or doing fartleks to improve. I was just running the same pace everyday I was training and hoping that it would get easier and I would get faster.
As it turns out if you want to run faster and improve your pace you have to do more than just run. You have to actively work to know what your running gears are and you have to work at it. I’m not a fitness professional and I don’t pretend to know it all, but these are the things I wish I had known when I started training. My hope is that this will help you try new things so you can hit whatever goal you have. Maybe you want to run faster, pick up a PR in a new distance, train for your first marathon or try something new to break up the routine. This breakdown will help you do all those things. There are plenty of other running techniques to help you run faster, but these are the ones that I’ve been loving lately.
FARTLEK: The word “fartlek” is Swedish for speed play. This the most basic form of speed work in my opinion and the most fun. It’s an organic way to run faster without having to keep an eye on your watch or do math to determine when you should be doing what. A fartlek is as easy as saying to yourself, “okay pick up the pace until you get to that corner, the sign or that house”, then you go back to running at regular pace. I like this because unlike intervals I don’t have to worry about when to run harder or when to pull back. I can dictate my speed and my effort and I don’t have to stress about the clock. You can choose how far or how long to push yourself and how much to pull back based on how you are feeling, but still walk away from the run feeling accomplished. Teaching your body different running speeds for different lengths of time is so important if you want to run faster.
TEMPO: I’m not a huge fan of the tempo run, but they are so necessary. The best way to find your race pace is to teach your body how to maintain a certain pace. If you run all of your practice runs at the same pace then you won’t know your race pace and will probably run close to your long run pace for the race. Tempo runs are maintaining a specific pace for a length of time or distance that requires more effort than an easy run. Most runs will be maintenance runs, but a tempo run is essentially practicing race pace or running using more effort than you normally would for a maintenance or long run. Start with a warm up then try your best to run similar split times at a pace that is not quite comfortable but you can maintain for the length of time or desired distance then cool down. Unlike the conversational pace you should maintain for long runs, you should only be able to answer or ask questions during a tempo run. That is an easy way to gauge your effort. Tempo runs help you gauge your effort on race day and also help you practice running at a pace that will help you meet your race day goals. Over time your body will adjust, gain endurance and you will be able to run at your race pace for longer which will help you cross the finish line on race day.
INTERVAL: Interval runs can be fun too! Intervals are short, quick bursts of effort followed by equal easy effort. After a warm up, run for 3-5 minutes at a pace where you still have control but are pushing hard then follow with 3-5 minutes of running at an easy pace or fast walking to catch your breath. Then repeat. You could do these on the track, road or the treadmill. I find that the treadmill works best for me because it’s easier to watch the timer on the treadmill and adjust speed without all the guesswork.
HILL REPEATS: Hills are speed work in disguise so I’m including them in this list. Hill work is great training for running faster because your body will labor to run the incline and eventually the labored pace becomes the normal so you will run faster on a flat course. Hill repeats are basically just that, you run the hill back and forth. Start with a warm up, maybe a mile or so then run up a hill and rest on the way down and repeat until you hit your desired time or distance. Be sure to cool down. Some of the hills around our neighborhood are .3 or .5 miles long so they are perfect for hill work, but shorter hills would work just as well. Hill work is also easily done on the treadmill if you don’t have any hills where you live (lucky you).
If you only practice running slow or at your long run pace then your body will only know how to run that pace. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with speed work if you are new to running or think your body only knows one gear. Let me assure you that speed work pays off! It is also a great way to break up your running routine and keep things exciting. Whether you are trying a new distance, ready for a new PR or just want to run fast speed work will help you get there. Adding one or two of the above to your training schedule will get you in race shape in no time.
p.s. I haven’t tried doing strides yet, but I will be adding them into my speed work routine soon. Stay tuned!
Do you incorporate speed work into your weekly running routines?
Are you interested in trying new techniques so you can run faster?
What’s your favorite speed work routine?