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Running Faster

Posted Aug 10 2010 4:45pm
Jennifer from the wonderful Fit @ Heart asked me to do a post about how I got my speed.

First of all, speed is relative. More importantly, anyone can run fast, it is more about how long a person can run at a given speed. For example, most people can run some distance, even if it is short at a 6:00 min per mile pace. Even if it is only 100 yards and you are completely exhausted afterward, you most likely can run at that speed. What we really want to be able to do is extend the amount of time we are able to run at fast speeds.

Awhile back I did a post on my worst race times. Now, I am not saying these are bad race times. I wrote this post to show how much I have improved since I first began running races. The key is not to look at the overall times, rather the amount of difference in the times. For example, take a look at this race

President's Cup 5k
June '03 - 25:40 (8:15 pace)
June '10 - 19:35 (6:18 pace)

In 7 years, I was able to take almost 2 minutes off of each mile for a total of about 6 minutes off of my 5k time on the same course. There were a lot of factors that allowed for this improvement.

Factors That Definitely Improved My Speed

~Genetics. I probably have more fast twitch muscle fibers than slow twitch fibers.
~Experience. I have been running long distances for about 8 years now.
~Proper Training. If you are over training or not running enough miles, you probably won't get much faster.
~Weight Loss. I have lost almost 20 pounds since my college running days.
~Additional Mileage. You can actually get faster without doing any speed work at all. When you increase the mileage, the number of mitochondria in your muscles increases. The mitochondria are the known as the "powerhouse of the cells" which produce energy, thus making you faster.
~Speed work. Speed work also improves speed. I typically do a couple of different types of speed workouts
-Track Work or VO2 Max runs.
-Tempo Runs or Threshold Runs
- Race Pace Runs (i.e., Marathon Pace (MP) runs)

~ Hill Training . Running hills increases power and strength.
~Passion. I have grown to love running and rely on it for my mental sanity. This passion helps me to stick with training and run often.

Factors That May Have Impacted My Speed

~I take magnesium supplements to speed recovery.
~I am super competitive and race a lot . I don't like to get beat across the finish line.
~ Pilates , core work , and strength training .
~I don't run with an ipod. I used to run with music, but now prefer to run without it. I like to focus on form and breathing.
~I think I have a high tolerance for pain. Or maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment...

Some Tips
~Analyze your current training regime. You may need to add a certain type of speed work or increase your mileage, or allow for better recovery. Maybe you need to build a better base or add some cross training.
~Try checking out the book Run Faster by Brad Hudson. It gives tips for gaining speed across all distances.
~Do what you can. Start small. Brad Hudson recommends first building a base, then adding 1- 8 second hill sprint at the end of a regular run and slowly building from there.
~Don't go too fast. Running your fastest won't necessarily make you faster. It may just tire you out. There should be a method to every workout you do. For example, if the workout is 6 x 400, you don't want to run each 400 at a 100% effort (like I used to do!) Most likely you will either not be able to finish the workout, become injured, or be totally exhausted for your next run. Instead, depending on your goal, maybe you run 6 x 400 @ your goal 5k race pace or your current 5k race pace, etc.
~Don't stress out. Try to enjoy running. It is supposed to be fun.

Just remember that everyone is different. What works for one person may not work for another. These are just some things I found that have helped me. The good news is that other than your muscle fiber type, there is a lot you can do to improve your speed. Also remember, speed is not everything. I can run a sub 20-min 5k but my marathon PR is 3:55 (According to McMillan, it should be 3:10! That will never happen). If speed isn't your thing, endurance probably is!

There are a lot of speedy bloggers out there! Did I miss anything? Have you always been fast? What do you do to improve it? Is endurance more your thing? What type of running do you prefer?

In all honesty, I enjoy a long run almost as much as a track workout. When I trained for my first marathon last fall, I was worried I would hate marathon running and forever be a 5k runner. Fortunately, I fell in love with the marathon as well...
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