When I first starting running in October of 2013, I was more concerned with distance than speed. It wasn’t until I ran my first race that I started to think about running faster.
One of the things I really love about running is that there’s no bar that I have to meet. I don’t have anyone’s expectations to think about. The only person I really have to compete against is myself. Sure, when I race, I’m trying to beat as many people as possible, but ultimately, I know I’ll never win a race. My real goal is just to beat MY best time. To race against myself. In that way, running poses a limitless challenge. I love that!
But to race against myself, I realized I needed to run faster. So I set out to do just that. Fresh from a speed workout at the track this week, I thought I would tell you how I learned (and am still learning) to run faster.
- Run on a treadmill. That may seem like a silly suggestion, but early in my running days, treadmill running really helped. I had no idea how fast I was going when I ran outside, since I didn’t even know Garmins existed then! But treadmills gave me that information. So I would start my run at a pace I could run comfortably for 3 miles. Then, for the last quarter mile, I would increase the pace by 0.10 mph every minute or two. As the base pace became easier, I would increase that pace by 0.10 or 0.20 mph and then again gradually increase the pace at the end of the run. It was a slow but steady progression, but it worked! I finished my first 5K in 34 minutes in May. Two months later in July, I ran another 5K in 30 minutes!
- Run with a running watch. When I finally decided I was a runner and wanted to be serious about the sport, I invested in a Garmin Forerunner 220 running watch. It has GPS so it can track distance when I’m running outside, but it also calculates pace and cadence (how many steps a minute I’m taking.) I eventually got bored of running mostly on the treadmill, so my running watch gave me the ability to still work on pace outside. I continued my practice of running at a certain pace and then speeding up at the end, but what running outside did was really help me begin to judge my pace by level of exertion. So when I began to feel tired and winded, I could look at my pace and know that, “Ok, when I feel like this, I’m running this fast.” I’m still not great at judging pace by level of exertion but I’m getting better.
- Join a running group. Running with a group has been one of the best things I’ve done to improve my running. Sure, the social aspect is great! But having runners of varying levels of experience in the group makes for a great learning environment. I pick brains as we run, asking questions about form, nutrition, ice baths, whatever. But running with a group has also been good for learning to run faster. The coach of the first group I trained with would say, “If you want to run fast, you have to run fast!” So on runs that we would do tempo runs (running at a faster pace than base pace) or other types of speed work like fartleks (seriously, but farts are optional!), where the pace varies for random distances, running with a group pushes me to run fast. If I don’t want to get left behind, I have to run fast enough to keep up with them! I can do tempo runs and fartleks alone, but doing them with a group is so much more bearable.
- Do track workouts. I feel fortunate to live in a city with a college that has an amazing track that is open to our running group. Every week year round a coach puts us through a speed workout. Sometimes we run a certain number of 800s (2 laps around the track). Other times we run 1600s (4 laps) or we’ll run a combination of distances. It’s always different, but always FAST. I’m not a fast runner, and I’m not kidding myself about ever being an elite runner. The pace I just naturally default to when I’m not really thinking about pace is between 9:15 to 9:30 per mile. At the track, I’m running between 7:05 to 7:30 minutes per mile. To me, that’s HARD. It’s so much faster than I usually run and pushes me way out of my comfort zone, but good things are born in discomfort. I can always tell that even after one track workout I just naturally run faster without feeling like I’m working harder. This is me after the track workout this week. Running fast not only makes one tired, it also gives one crazy hair and a goofy smile. I think it must just be giddiness that it’s over!
- Run consistently. The last thing I did to run faster was simply…RUN! Even if I wasn’t focusing on speed for a particular run, the more I ran, the faster I ran. I think it probably had something to do with getting stronger, losing weight, and maybe just getting comfortable with running. But just run. It’s like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
- Have a yapping dog chase you. Ok. I’m totally kidding, but it’s still true. Sometimes in my neighborhood these little ankle biter yapping dogs chase me down the street. Seriously, I can run a 7:00 minute mile without thinking about it when there’s a dog at my heels! I’m not buying that cuteness!
One word of caution–NOT EVERY RUN NEEDS TO BE SPEED WORK! Change up your runs. If you’re following my marathon training, you may notice that I only do speed work once a week. Varying the types of runs (another post for another day) you do will make you a better runner, but always running as fast as you can go may increase your risk for injury. That would be no bueno.
So there you go–my unscientific and non-researched guide to running faster. Here’s to running…at whatever pace is fast for you! Or to just running!
Talk to me:
What are your running goals?
What makes you run faster?