I often say I’ll talk about a training method or strategy, but then don’t. I suck at that. I will strive to improve.
If you want to get faster, there are some “easy” ways to get faster:
1. Run more often
This may mean more miles, or it may mean mile-specific goals. For instance, if you are currently running 15 miles per week, spread over a 3 miler, 4 miler, and 8 miler, and training for a 5K, it makes more sense to run 5 times, at around 2-5 miles at a time (so switch it out to make it a 2 miler, two 3milers, a 4miler, and a 5miler). If your current mileage is 15 miles per week, and you are training for a 10K, up the mileage (slowly; the research shows increases of 25%, with a decrease of 25% every 3-4 weeks is best. Though a lot of people swear by the 10% rule, this hasn’t been proven and is thought, in the exercise physiology world, to be a random number).
Running more often forces your body to recover quicker. This allows your muscles to become stronger, and if your legs are less tired the day after a run, you are able to push yourself more, and become even stronger. Stronger = faster (though slower doesn’t mean weaker, always).
2. Run faster
(Duh!) Practicing running faster makes you better at running faster. You are teaching your muscles quicker leg turn-over, and training your body to breathe more efficiently while you are pushing your pace. If you can breathe efficiently, you will get more out of your muscles. I love these workouts. They are my favorites, because it breaks up the mundane activity. There are so many ways to practice running faster- from sprinting for a minute every 5 minutes, or with every turn, or at the beginning of a new song. Or, my personal favorite, when I am in a bad mood, I turn up the sped every time I have a negative thought. It is guaranteed to kick your butt, and teach you to love yourself and accept where you are physically right now.
Sprints are really teaching your legs/body how to coordinate running at a faster speed. If you are training for a 5K, a good workout might be doing 8x400s at your goal 5K pace. At first, this may feel excruciatingly slow. That’s part of the point- you are teaching your muscles that turn-over pace. Holding it for 1/8 of the distance you plan to race should be easy. If by the 4th sprint, you feel little to no pain/burn, pick up the pace. You might be faster than you realize. You are basically teaching your body how to pace.
For instance, if you run about a 7:00-mile, but want to break 20:00 for your 5K (but your current 5K PR is 21:30), your goal 400m speed is about 1:35. Running sprints at your goal pace is teaching your body how to maintain (or pace) a <6:30/mi pace. If you can train yourself to keep a 6:30 pace for two miles, you will be surprised what you are capable come race day… If you feel like you are close to your true fastest potential, practice much shorter sprints (so 50m sprints SEVERAL times), but a true all-out sprint.
[Here is a pace calculator from 400m for your 5K goal– http://www.hillrunner.com/calculators/pacecalc.php ]
3. Strength train
Don’t just train your legs. They may be overtired/ overworked, and you don’t want to get injured while trying to gain speed. Your body works together, and one weak area may contribute to pain and issues in other areas. Core workouts will always help 🙂 [unless you have a random abdominal injury like I did this year]. Shoulders and back are also overlooked, and can help you keep a “trim” straight line without effort and assist in easier breathing. As far as your lower body goes, strengthening your hips and glutes will assist you. These muscles tend to be linked with injuries of the opposing location– if your hips tend to hurt, they could be weak, but more likely your gluteal muscles are weaker, so your body overcompensates by putting more of the workload on your hips. This overworks on your hips, causing pain. When we are running, our body uses our strongest/ most-developed muscles, to make it easier. At first, this sounds great; but in the long run (no pun intended), it puts more strain on those stronger muscle groups, and wears them down faster.
This is probably most important. As you are strengthening (and getting faster), your muscles are going to become fatigued and tight. Tight muscles and tired muscles can lead to injury. There are a lot of ways to cross-train: cycling, swimming, yoga, even walking counts, any activity that uses your muscles in a different way than running. This helps to break up any tension in your “active” running muscles, and strengthens the other muscle groups, which may be neglected while running. Swimming can strengthen your shoulders, back, and core, which are all often neglected, and works out tension. Yoga can stretch your muscles out, and strengthen your core. Get the idea?
There are so many great opportunities out there. Like everything in life, moderation is key. You get faster by running more often, enjoying yourself (think of when you ran as a kid), and doing other things more often. Also, on a personal note, I think drinking beer and being happy in life makes you faster. It makes you lighter and less bothered by life.
NOTE: I, myself, am not fast, but have gotten faster this way.