The term fast is relative and I was hesitant to write this post considering that I am a midpack runner at my best. However, I have managed to make some fairly impressive gains in speed during my short running "career" and there is no harm in sharing what I've learned. I am not a former college track star or athlete or any kind. I'm just a woman who started running late in life and learned a few things along the way. If I can improve, you can too!
1. Train Fast: You don't teach your body how to adapt to running faster by plodding along at a conversational pace. You have to run fast to get faster. There are many different methods of incorporating speedwork into your training.
Fartleks - Swedish for "speedplay" this is a casual approach to speedwork. To do fartleks, you might run very fast for 30 seconds during a run, then jog to recover and then do more speed intervals later. There is no official format to fartleks other than what you feel like doing that day.
Track Workouts - Traditional speedwork might come in the form of 4 x 400 meter repeats with 2 minute recovery jog between intervals or mile repeats with a 400 meter recovery interval. It is best to do these types of workouts on a track, treadmill or flat road with few disturbances. Your focus should be speed - not running hills or dodging cars!
Tempo Runs - Tempo runs are runs performed at a steady but comfortably hard pace over an extended distance. An example of an appropriate tempo run in half-marathon training might be 5 miles run at 10K race pace. Tempo runs will push you to your anaerobic threshold. The whole point is to get you to learn to sustain a hard pace over a long distance.
Those are some techniques, now you need to figure out how fast to run! My favorite way to figure out appropriate paces is to use the McMillian Running Calculator. Given a recent race result, this calculator can predict your finish time for various race distances and suggest target paces for your running workouts. Likewise, you can use the calculator to figure out the correct training paces to run to achieve a target race time. The calculator will give you paces for tempo runs, various speedwork distances, long runs, easy runs and recovery runs.
Many training plans offer some combination of the above techniques to help you achieve your speed goals. I am a big fan of "Run Less Run Faster" plans. These plans helped me go from a 2:05 half-marathon to a 1:54 half-marathon and shave 5 minutes off my 10K time to get down to 51 minutes. They feature 3 runs a week and 2 cross-training days. Each run is a quality run and a real challenge - no easy junk miles!2. Lose Weight: I manage to move pretty fast for a runner of my size but I am very aware that I would run faster if I lost another 10lbs. Less mass = less impact = more speed. That doesn't mean you can't be a fast runner and be overweight or that you can't fly past a skinnier girl in a race. That just means that all things being equal you will perform better the closer you are to a healthy weight. Check out this calculator for a rough estimate of how your performance might improve or degrade with weight loss or gain.
3. Strength Train: Die hard runners are notorious for avoiding the weights section of the gym. I've been running for 4 years and strength training for 8 years. Running has given me great cardiovascular fitness and endurance, but I credit squats and deadlifts for my strong glutes, hamstrings and quads. Having a strong core and upper body is extremely beneficial for your running as well. When your upper body is strong, you are able to maintain good form throughout your run. As your legs get tired over the miles, your upper body can pick up the slack and hold you up better. Good running form allows you to achieve and maintain speed.
Training fast, achieving or maintaining a healthy weight, and strength training are the keys to the kingdom. Now get out there and run your fastest race yet!
Kia is an amazing inspiration, check our her fitness blog, Determined to Be Fit.