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Running Faster for Dummies (by a dummy)

Posted Jun 16 2012 4:31pm

Fast is a relative term. I used to think that maintaining a 10 minute mile for 6 miles was fast.  It was.  For me at that time in my running/fitness journey, a 10 minute mile was the definition of fast.  My pace has improved significantly since the beginning of this year, so much so that a 10 minute mile now feels slow.  I know for a fact that there are runners out there who think my current average comfortable pace is like a snails pace, mind numbingly slow.  It is fast for me, and that is all that matters.  That is the great thing about running.  No matter how many races you enter, it is always just a race against yourself.  The more you run, the more you learn, the more you can improve. I don't run races with hopes that I will come in first place at my next half marathon. HA HA!  I'm more likely to win the next Texas jackpot.  I will probably never even place in the top 3 of my age group, it is all about beating my own personal record and winning against myself.  This is one of the many reasons that I love to run.  No matter what your pace, there will always be someone faster and always someone slower.  

So given that, I would be the worst person to give someone advise on how to get fast. What does that even mean?  Fast?  The guys/gals who are running 6:30 & 7:30 minute miles would scoff at my current version of fast.  The idea here is to share with you how I got fast(er).  Faster than the Lea of six months ago.  Faster than I'd even been before.   I'd like to share with you how I was able to improve my average comfortable running pace by about a minute & a half (without really trying).

Well, I did try.  Really hard, actually.  When I say 'without really trying,' what I mean is that these are things that I did, that I believe caused me naturally to move faster.  I didn't hit the streets and try to run faster, I just got out there and ran, and the result was that my comfortable pace was faster than it ever had been before.

Here is my average weekly pace break-down since the beginning of the year from

1. I lost the extra weight.  When you weigh less, it is easier to move your body faster.  I have read that for every pound you lose (that you are overweight), you'll cut about two seconds off of your mile time. So in theory, losing five pounds could shave two minutes off of your half marathon time.   Of course, this is only referring to the pounds that you need to lose.  Once you are at your healthy desired weight, losing more weight would only make you lose muscle, which would likely make you slower.

2. I run hill repeats.  Runners World sometimes makes it sound so technical and complicated.  Run up and down a hill.  Simple as that.  I found a steep hill in my neighborhood that takes me about a minute to run from bottom to top.  I sprint up the hill just about as fast as I can go, like there was a grizzly bear chasing me.  That would make you run fast, right? When I get to the top of the hill, huffing and puffing, I walk until my breath is mostly recovered and then jog the rest of the way to the bottom.   It takes me about one minute up and two minutes back down.  Repeat until you feel like you might die, then you are done.  For me, this was anywhere between 6-10 repeats.  Within a couple of weeks I saw improvement in my comfortable average running pace.

Did I miss my calling as a graphic designer?  Yeah, probably not.

3. I do treadmill intervals, HIIT or high intensity interval training several times a week.  There are many ways to do interval training, all effective.  I run short fast runs on the dreaded treadmill (the dreadmill).  I run slightly faster than my comfortable street pace for the length of one song on my iPod, then for the next song I go a little faster and for the third (and usually final) song I go about as fast as I think my legs will take me, then repeat.  These runs last between 15-22 minutes and I believe they are very effective in improving street speed.  

4. I weight train.  I saw the biggest improvement in my pace once I started doing serious weight training.  When I joined a fitness boot camp at the end of last year, I saw some improvement in speed, but when I stopped going to boot camp and started lifting heavy on my own, I saw the greatest improvement in my pace.  Heavy weights make strong legs.  Strong legs move you faster.

5. I started running less.  Sounds strange that running less would make you faster, but I do believe it is a piece of the puzzle.   I used to run 6 miles a day 5 days a week and a long run on Saturday, logging anywhere between 40-50 miles a week.  Since I started weight training, I just didn't have that kind of time for weights and running, so my miles were cut back drastically to about 20-25 a week.  I run less than ever, but I am faster than I have ever been.  Coincidence?  Maybe. 

I'm no running expert.  I am just a blogging running dummy figuring it all out along the way.  These are the things that are currently working for me.  I will continue to strive to improve my training, set new goals and learn new things.  Maybe in a year from now, I will read this and laugh that I thought an eight and half minute mile was fast.

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