Fall racing season is upon us and I’m getting a little anxious to see if I can run any faster this year than I have in years past. When I started running I was happy just to survive a half mile without keeling over, but as my body adjusted and distance no longer intimidated, I started to wonder how I could shave a few seconds off each mile I ran. That lead into specific race goals a sub-4 hour marathon, a 20 minute 5K that I continue to chase.
As a mom, I find chasing down these time goals, seeing if I can run faster, supremely satisfying. Knowing if I’m doing a good job as a mom feels impossibly subjective. Knowing if I ran a 7-minute mile is not. Plus it feels good for me to have a concrete goal to work toward, to see measurable progress, when so much of my life’s work is based on moving, growing, changing targets.
But aside from the challenge and satisfaction of working toward specific speed goals, training to run faster has plenty of other benefits. If you are looking to lose weight, pushing yourself to run faster appears to help curb your appetite for the entire day. Running faster is a short-cut (albeit a somewhat uncomfortable one) to better overall fitness. And it teaches your body to be more efficient. Eventually, it can even be something you look forward to doing or at least to having done. I know I’ve never once regretted running fast, even if it hurts in the moment.
Do you feel the need for speed yet? If so, think about adding one of these workouts to your weekly running schedule. See how it makes you feel and then watch your race times drop.
If You Want To Run Fast, Run Faster 1 of 9
Speed work isn't just for serious runners. Even beginners can benefit from going fast.
Fartleks 2 of 9
Fartlek Swedish for "speed play" is just that: playing with speed. It is unstructured and free-flowing. It should be a little bit fun. A fartlek workout starts like any other run, but every now and then, whenever you are feeling it, you speed up and run faster for as long as you want. Then slow down to your normal pace, recover, and then do it again. There aren't any rules for how long or how far or how fast or how many times you add these bursts of speed. Just add them in as you wish. Play around with speed and see how it feels.
Strides 3 of 9
Strides are another good workout for speedwork newbies. To add them to your running regime, go out for a normal, easy-paced run. When you are finished, instead of going inside and showering off, start running again. Accelerate to a comfortable sprint over about 30 yards. Hold the sprint for another 30 or so yards, then gradually slow down and stop. Rest for a minute, then repeat. Do 6-8 strides.
Tempo Runs 4 of 9
Tempo runs are meant to increase your lactate threshold so that you can run farther, faster before lactic acid builds up in your muscles and forces you to stop or slow down. Tempo runs are run at a difficult but sustainable pace, a pace you could keep up for an hour if you were running a race (probably most comparable to your 10K pace), for a relatively long period of time — 20-50 minutes. Any shorter than that and you probably won't be getting the benefit of an increased lactate threshold.
To do it, start with a couple of warm-up miles. Then increase your speed to "comfortably hard" on your internal odometer. Use your breathing or ability to converse (you should be able to say a couple of words at a time) as a guide to let yourself know how you're doing. Keep up that pace for 20 minutes if it is your first tempo run. Then cool down with a slow jog for a mile or so. Increase your tempo distance over the next few weeks by adding a half mile or so to your weekly tempo run. The next day, do an easy run to help your body recover.
Track Work 5 of 9
Speedwork is similar to fartleks in that you go fast, you rest, you go fast, you rest, you go fast, you rest. But unlike fartleks, it is more structured and usually easiest to do on a track. You are running a specific distance (usually 200, 400, or 800 meters) and trying to hit a specific speed. Again and again and again and again. Shorter distances (200 meters), mean more intervals and a harder effort (close to all you've got). Longer distances (800 meters) mean fewer intervals and at a more sustainable pace (comfortably hard). Jog in between each interval until you have recovered enough to do it again.
Because there are so many factors involved (what distance you are training for, your current pace, your activity level, etc.) I cannot tell you how fast you should be running each interval or how long you should be resting or how many intervals you should be doing. But if you are interested in doing some track work and need some help figuring out the best pace and how many intervals and such, I suggest checking out the Runner's World training calculator. Plug in a recent race finish time and it will tell you what you are likely capable of in other distances as well as training paces for various distances and types of speedwork. Here is another article about speedwork that can help you figure out how hard to push yourself, when to slow down, and when to speed up.
High Intensity Intervals 6 of 9
High intensity intervals are like track work, but on fast forward. Each interval is only 10-60 seconds, but run at nearly an all-out effort. The rest period between each effort is long enough to give you time to catch your breath and do another interval with good form usually between 1 and 4 times as long as the interval itself.
High intensity intervals have been shown to have health benefits as well, from lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes to improving heart health, but one of the major benefits it has over other methods of speed training is that it can accomplish the same goal in a much shorter period of time.
Hills 7 of 9
Running up hills makes you stronger. No matter how you slice it, tackling hills will make you a stronger, faster runner. Take them 10 seconds at a time at an all out effort and you'll increase your strength and build your "fast-twitch" muscle fibers. Take them long (miles long) and slow(er) and you'll have the nicest quads on the block. If you have only one hill to choose from, run up it, jog (or walk, or walk backward) down, and run up again. If you live in a hilly place, try to hit as many as you can while you are out on your run. If hills are hard to find where you live, I've heard that parking garage ramps will do the trick nicely.
Strength Training 8 of 9
Push-ups, planks, sit-ups they're not for runners, are they? Runners need strong legs and that's it. Wrong! Strength training can balance out your muscle groups so you can run more efficiently and more quickly before getting tired and losing the strength to hold your form.
Add a couple of sets of squats, planks, and push-ups after an easy run to build power throughout your body and prime you for a great performance on race day.
Cross Training 9 of 9
Cross training swimming, biking, or playing sports, for example is really beneficial in building better, faster runners. Not only does it allow you to continue gaining fitness without overworking the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints that are used in running, it strengthens your body and helps it to become even more efficient. Cross training can keep you from getting injured either from overtraining or from having muscle imbalances. And without having to take time off to recover from injuries, you have more time to run and get faster.
all images via istockphoto.com
Parts of this post appeared previously on my blog MotherRunner.com
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