3 Workouts to Improve Running Speed

Please welcome guest blogger Coach Mike, an RRCA Certified Running Coach, to the SPIbelt blog. He started running when he reached 235 lbs and felt terrible. After a first run of 1.9 miles, Mike thought I was going to die. But that was just the beginning of the journey. In less than 2 years of running, Mike completed a 100 mile ultra marathon. In 2013 he qualified for Boston twice in 2 weeks, ran back-to-back marathons and was featured in an article in Runner's World Magazine about running streaks. Today, he shares his love of running by coaching runners at all different fitness levels: from couch-to-5K to ultra marathons.
I have people ask me all the time, “What do I need to do to run faster?”. My answer is simple. Just run faster. When I tell them this I often get looks and stares as if I am trying to be smart, but if you really think about it that is exactly what you have to do isn’t it? In order to get faster, you have to run faster. You have to train faster than what you are training now. You have to pick up the pace to where your normal everyday five mile easy-paced run is going to be uncomfortable. But guess what? Just picking up the pace for a minute during that run will allow you to get faster and then maybe 2 minutes the next time then maybe 3 until what was once uncomfortable is now becoming comfortable again. Then what do you do? Repeat the process again and suddenly that 12 minute mile is now becoming an easy 10 minute mile, or that 10 minute mile is becoming an easy 8 minute mile. I’ve had a few people ask me how I have gotten fast and how I train in order to get that way. Have I always been this fast? The answer is no, I haven’t. My speed improvement really happened within a three month time frame leading up to races in 2014. Running at a conversational pace has lots of benefits for not just beginning runners, but experienced runners as well. I tend to do a majority of my runs at conversational pace. For one, it helps your muscles learn to burn fat more efficiently, helps you process oxygen better, helps your heart and lungs in utilizing oxygen, and also helps create a more efficient running style. Once you are a more experienced runner and have been running for 4-6 months, then you can start to incorporate some speed into your weekly running regimen. There are several different workouts you can do to help build speed. I am going to focus on three workouts that will help you improve your overall time and your race speed. run faster by training

Interval Training:

Interval workouts are a great way to work on your speed. Most interval work can be done on a track. The distance of the interval all depends on the distance of race you are training for. 400m repeats (one lap around on your typical track) are good for helping your race speed in a 5k or 10k event. For longer races, I usually suggest doing 800m (1/2 mile or 2 laps around the track) or 1600m (one mile or four laps around the track). How to do the workout: After about a 5-10 minute warm-up, start with two or three repeats (with a recovery lap in between each), and try to work your way up to five or six. If you don’t have a track or don’t want to run on a track, then there are other options for interval training such as fartlek workouts. It’s not only fun to say, but fun to do as well. “Fartlek” is a Swedish term that translates to “speed play”. Again, after warming up for 5 to 10-minutes, speed up to faster than your easy (conversational) pace. Try sprinting for two lamp posts or stop signs or whatever else you might encounter. You can recover for two, and then keep repeating the pattern.

Hill Training:

Find a hilly route. Run your normal run on a hilly route once a week and you will start to see your speed increase when you get on flatter terrain. Another way to accomplish this is by doing hill repeats. Hill repeats are a great way for runners to help build strength and improve their speed. As Frank Shorter has said, “Hills are speed work in disguise.” Hills come in different lengths and inclines, but the main concept of a hill repeat is usually the same. You run up the hill fast and then recover by slowly running or walking down the hill. How to do the workout: Before you get started, make sure you warm up. Once again make sure you get about 10-15 minutes of slower paced running in before you get started up the hill. Find a hill that is approximately 200m in length if possible with the incline enough to test you, but not to the point where your form is suffering. Try to run up the hill at about your 5k pace. Keep your arms at approximately a 90 degree angle moving forward and back, not side to side. Your back should be straight and you can lean slightly forward from the hips, however, do not hunch over. Make sure to keep your stride short and quick. When you get to the top of the hill you should be breathing heavily and your legs should be burning and feel heavy. Go back down the hill with a very easy paced run or walk in order to recover, and then repeat the process. Beginning runners—it is recommended to do three repeats adding one additional repeat each week for 3-4 weeks. More advanced runners—start with 5-6 repeats and build to 10 repeats adding one additional repeat weekly. You can also mix up your hills. Try doing some longer ones with not as much incline one week and then some short, steep ones the following week.

Tempo Training:

The third thing I recommend, and probably one of the most important ones for building race speed, is tempo running. What is a tempo running, you ask? Tempo runs are runs that are done at a good effort level. They are usually done a little slower than your 10K race pace. Tempo runs help you develop your anaerobic or lactate threshold which is critical for running faster for longer distances. How to do the workout: Start out by doing 5-10 minutes of easier paced running to warm up, and then start your tempo workout. In the beginning, start with about 15-20 minutes of running just a little slower than your 10K pace. Finish the workout with 5-10 minutes of cooling down as well. If you are unsure what your 10K pace is, run at a pace that feels somewhat hard. A weekly 15-20 minute tempo run is still good enough to get benefits from it. For more advanced runners training for longer distances I usually recommend doing tempo runs for 40 minutes. The tempo run is my number one workout in building race speed. One more trick: at the end of your weekly long run try running the last couple miles at your goal race pace. Doing this helps you get used to running faster on tired legs and gets you acclimated as to what it will feel like on race day. Now you ask me, “this is all great and everything, but how fast should I be running these workouts?" Check out this great tool from McMillan Running! Input your recent race time and goal race time and it will tell you what pace you should be doing each of these workouts at. Remember, running hard every day could lead to injury as well as physical and mental burnout from over-training, so rest days and conversational paced running is also an important part of the puzzle to getting faster. When people ask how to get faster, what are you going to tell them? Run faster!! Coach Mike Run Nerds Rock™ – Coaching For Running & Endurance Training www.runnerdsrock.blogspot.com