So you want to run faster? Here are some top tips from John Wood who coaches for Tri-Coaching, a Bristol-based coaching company that specialises in technique and training plans for athletes of all abilities from beginner to international – and all levels in between!
When you first start out, just doing more running makes the biggest difference – longer runs, more consistent training, and higher totals per week. You get fitter; you get stronger…then what? No matter how hard you run, no matter how many sessions that you put in, how many weeks and months you’ve worked, you just can’t get faster.
There are 3 big factors as far as I’m concerned: Interval running, strength work and technique/efficiency. All three are pretty simple to incorporate into your workouts, but here’s a little bit about interval running.
To run fast over race distances, you have to teach your body to run faster and harder than it can currently. The major goal for here is to go sub 50 for 10km – so I’ll use that as a baseline. To go sub 50 minutes, that entails going under 5 minutes/1km, 10 times, i.e. under 25 minutes for 5km. Sounds silly, maybe basic, but have you ever tried running at that pace, do you know what it feels like? Ultimately, the first thing we need to do is train the body to work faster and get used to running at higher pace. If you are used to running at one pace, this can be difficult to do, to switch your muscles on and wake them up! This is where doing intervals comes in. Intervals allow you to run at a faster pace than normal, rest, recover and go again. Too many people spend all their runs one pace; a pace that is too hard to recover from (remember running is a high impact sport, even if you can’t feel it), but not hard enough to make physiological changes and improvements. Intervals can vary in length depending on what you are trying to do. If you have never really done them before, my suggestion would be to keep them short to start with to understand what they feel like. You can do them anywhere – though if you can use a local athletics track, or school athletics track where the distances are exact and measured out, it does make life a little easier! Alternatively, if you have a GPS watch, obviously you will know how far you’re going. You could mark out a distance on Googlemaps/mapmyrun etc. Knowing how fast you’re going is relatively useful in terms of quantifying improvement – or working out if you’re going hard enough/too hard. Rest intervals should be around the same length of time as you run for – and could be stood still, or walking around to keep blood moving. Try not to just collapse, it’s not good on the body, even if it feels like the right thing to do! The final thing to be aware of is your rest intervals. Equal work and rest is fairly common – but the harder you are working, the more rest you will require.
Don’t go overboard with the recovery though, you don’t want your heart rate to drop too far… so, as a new runner to intervals, I’d suggest doing 8-10 400s to start with, trying to hold between 1.50 and 2 minutes, with between 1.30 and 2 mins rest: 2mins=5mins/k = 50min goal 10k pace. BINGO! This is something that you can build up as you get stronger to make it a longer session. You can do sets of 800s, trying to target 3.45-4 minutes with 3.30-4mins recovery – getting used to holding the pace for longer, or even work up to 1k repetitions. Remember, the point of running intervals is that you are running FAST. That doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself or wreck your body every time, but you want the idea that you are on target for something and you have the motivation. Of course just running repetitions of the same distance (or number of laps) can be boring, so you can mix up the distances – maybe run pyramids e.g. 200, 400, 800, 1200, 800, 400, 200, but whatever you do, remember why you are doing the set to keep the focus. I would incorporate this sort of session once a week into your training. Keep your long run – but make sure that it’s steady so you can easily go and do something in the following days. Then you could have a short, economy, recovery run as well.
For someone who is new/cramped for time, they would be my 3 important runs. If you can do a 4th, look at doing what is called a “TEMPO” run or “FARTLEK”. These are hard work sessions (harder than your long run) aimed to improve your strength.
Big thanks to John for his great advice. I plan on trying out the 400m repeat session on the treadmill next week.