Whether you’re training for a 5k, running a half marathon, trying to qualify for Boston, or just aiming to improve your running, if you are like many runners you’d like to be able to run faster.
There are some hard and fast truths about running. Certain things that, no matter what distance you are training for, will help you run faster. While I highly recommend following a training plan, especially for longer distances such as the marathon or half marathon, there are workouts that you can do that will improve your V02 Max, increase your lactate threshold, and help your leg turnover, all of which will help you run faster.
5 Tips for Running Faster at Any Race Distance
Intervals: Interval training is a high intensity workout that can be done on a track or on a stretch of road that is flat and safe. Always warm up for at least 10 minutes before your workout. Each interval should be run at about a 90-100% effort. The longer the interval, the longer the recovery. For example, do 12 x 400 meter intervals with a 200 meter jog/walk recovery. You can run all your laps at the same distance, like 6 x 800 meters, or 3 x 1600 meters, or spice it up a bit and try a ladder workout, where your intervals vary, gradually getting longer, or a pyramid workout where first you increase your distance, then bring it back down.
(I am really sorry for using the word interval so many times in the previous paragraph, but even after reworking it I still used it way too many times.)
They key is to run your intervals at a very high intensity. Aim for about three or four miles total of interval work.
Tempo Runs: The goal of a tempo run is to improve your lactate threshold (LT), the point at which your muscles start to build up more lactic acid than they can handle, so you have to slow down. While this is still a high intensity workout, it will not be as fast as your interval workout. You want to run as close to your lactate threshold as you can, which equates to about 80%-90% effort. There are several types of tempo workouts. They can also be done in intervals, where after warming up you run at your LT pace for a half mile or a miles, then slow down and recover. Or a steady pace tempo run. After your warm up, run at your LT pace for three to five miles. Follow with a cool down.
Strides: I’ve heard it said that strides are the “secret sauce” of running. Running 5-8 sets of strides several days a week after your easier runs helps your leg turnover and your running form, improves your finishing kick, and stretches out your legs after your run. They can also be used to “wake up” your legs before a race or speed workout.
Find an area where you can run undisturbed for 60-100 meters. A track works great, or the road in front of your house. They can also be done on the grass, barefoot if you like. You are going to build quickly (about 20-30 meters) to about 85-95% of effort. When you reach that point, sustain it for about 30-40 meters, staying relaxed and focusing on your form, then gradually decelerate for the last 20-30 meters. Take a full recovery between each set, about 1-2 minutes, until your breath and heart rate slow.
Negative Split Runs: This workout is done as part of a moderately long run. Depending on what distance you’re training for, it can be from six to 16 miles. The general idea is to run faster throughout your run. Your pace will also depend on your goal race distance. Divide the run distance into thirds (save a mile at the end to cool down). For the first third, run about a minute per mile below your race pace. The second third, pick up the pace by about 30 seconds per mile. Finish the last third at your goal race race pace. If you’re training for a marathon or half marathon, the last third can be run about 20-30 seconds faster than your goal race pace. This is a speed workout, so don’t do it for every long run, just mix it in occasionally along with your other speed workouts.
Hill Workouts: As Frank Shorter once said, “Hills are speedwork in disguise,” and he was right. Running up hills can work all of the same physiological systems as intervals and tempo runs. They also force you to lift your knees higher and help you develop muscle fibers that will increase your power. There are different types of hill workouts for different goals, but for an all around hill training workout find a hill about 200-300 meters with a moderate grade. Do four to eight intervals, running at an 85-90% effort. Jog back to the start.
Pick one or two of these workouts per week, plus a longer run, and one or two easy recovery runs, and you have a general training plan that will make you stronger and faster. Schedule your training so that you have an easier day or a day off in between your harder, high intensity workouts.
Do you have a favorite speed workout? What is your favorite race distance?