By Kurt Simonsen
Everyone who runs can do so faster. No, not everyone can suddenly develop world class speed, as talent and ability usually dictates just how good you can be. But, every person who runs can do things in their training to make them cover more ground in a quicker way.
Generally speaking, you have to consider two ideals: form and training. If you can revise some of the flaws within your current form, thus making you a more efficient runner, you can increase your speed. Likewise, if you inject various types of workouts, such as hill work and interval training, into your weekly plan, you’ll find that the added strength makes you quicker for longer periods of time.
With that said, think about the suggestions below, especially if you are a less experienced runner looking to improve. When I prepare to set up a schedule for the week, I try to involve a variety of situations that will let me enhance my speed. Although I primarily need an endurance base when getting ready to do a triathlon, I know far too well that not paying attention to speed work will hurt me badly.
While you do not have to do all of them, integrating most into what you already do, or having them replace some of the less productive sessions you have, will give you tangible results over time. I know because they’ve all helped me.
1. Intervals: This is a simple and enjoyable way to get speed work done. On the track, for example, I like to do 400 meter repeats. After loosening up, I run one lap (400m) hard, and then I follow that with one at a recovery pace. Normally I do this six to 10 times. You can, depending on what you want, play with the distance of the interval.
2. Hills: Fantastic way to build strength and increase speed, but, trust me, they hurt. Find a hill that has a fairly steep grade, and sprint to the top. After jogging easily back down, go at it again. Do as many repeats as you can, up to roughly 10. I find these to be grueling and painful, but the end result is worth the pain.
3. Tempo runs: Rather than simply “going for a run”, I will begin with a 10-minute easy pace, then I will push harder for 15 to 20 minutes, at a pace that is tough but not devastating. Afterward, I will cool down for 10 minutes with a slow run. The tempo work in the middle forces me to work at a prolonged time period, which enhances my anaerobic threshold.
4. Your core: While your core gets exercise when you run, paying attention to it otherwise is critical. I like to do core sessions, which are about 15 minutes each, three times per week. The core muscles balance and drive the body, and getting them fit is a prerequisite for speed.
5. Lean forward: Sounds a bit elementary, but I sometimes find myself sitting back too much, which slows me down. Getting my body’s posture headed downwind so to speak makes me stay forward and ultimately more progressive. I always remind myself to chase my nose.
6. Be linear: Like leaning forward, I have to continually check myself to make sure I am in line, which means my body’s momentum is going north to south, not east to west. I have a tendency when I get tired to let my arms swing too much to the left and right. This shifts my body in directions that do not help me remain efficient and moving ahead.
7. Turnover: The frequency of your stride is critical to making you go faster. I used to have a long stride that covered some ground but was just too slow. So, to quicken my pace, I started to focus on shortening the stride and picking up my feet quicker. A coach told me to count the number of times my right foot hit the ground for a 30-second period of time. After a minute recovery, I was to do it again, this time trying to increase that number while remaining balanced and in charge of my pace. Simple but great drill.
8. Loosen up: It is natural to get tense when you want to try harder, to do something better, with more strength. However, you need to do the opposite. To move quickly, your body must be relaxed and flexible. This way the muscles can respond the way you wish and not hinder one another. Being tense is the fastest way to destroy your speed.
9. Know pace: Have a plan and stick to it. Going out incredibly hard, completely prepared to be faster, will just set you up for a tough middle and end to the workout or race. Have an idea before you run so that you can pace yourself to be fast. Don’t spend it all at the start. Likewise, you don’t want to have too much gas left in the tank at the end either, which means you didn’t go hard enough during the run.
10. Rest: Surprisingly enough, people forget this. Rest is so important to adequate recovery. You will not get any faster if you go hard each and every day. You’ll burn out, like I did on several occasions until I learned my lesson. Schedule in a day of rest or easy cross-training each week, and try to have each fourth week be a recovery phase.
*I have spent years using running to train for other sports (soccer and baseball), yet have, in recent years, used it as a primary fitness tool, particularly in combination with triathlon preparation.
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