Often I’ll have discussions with runners who state that they just can’t run “fast”. Or, better yet, that the runners who are faster than him or her are “natural” runners. The problem is not that they are not fast or not “naturals”. The problem is in their training.
Though there is an upper limit to how fast someone can run (even for the world record holders) it is also true that we will never really know what that limit is. Therefore, if we do the right things we optimize the chances of getting faster. And, faster is a relative term. So it is not fair to compare your fast to others’ fast (even though we are all prone to do so). The key focus should be on your fast.
Reason #1: Your training is stagnant.
This is by far the leading reason for runners not improving. They run the same routes at the same paces day after day, week after week, month after month and even year after year. A key to improvement is adaptation. Once your body adapts to the training load (distance, surface, pace, effort, etc.) you are not going to improve. This is true for runners of all abilities, but especially true of the middle of the pack age group runner. The #1 problem is also the easiest to fix.
Solution: Get variety in your training. Stop running the same 3 or 4 mile route around your neighborhood at the same pace.
- Change your route. Up your distance one day (i.e. 5, 6 miles) and drop it another day (i.e. 2 miles).
- Change your paces. If your daily run is 8:45-9:00/mile then on that short day push it faster by 30 seconds per mile and that longer day back off by 30 seconds per mile.
- Change environments. Get on trails to build strength and a little foot agility. Become adept at changing paces with terrain changes. If you always run on trails then get off them and on roads and smooth out your stride and pace.
- Run some hills if you are always on the flats and if you are always running hills then get on some flat ground and stretch it out a bit.
- See Reason #2 for not getting faster.
Reason #2: You don’t do speed work.
There are simple well-known laws of training. The law of specificity of training is simple: you will race how you train. If you train slow you will race slow.
- To run faster you must run faster.
- Infuse your daily runs with harder paces for shorter distances. Even if it means you fatigue and have to stop and rest a bit before continuing on.
- Do varied pace workouts (Fartlek/Speedplay) instead of a steady single paced run.
- Do intervals at varying faster paces with breaks. These do not have to be all out sprints. They need to be faster than that daily hum-drum pace you run.
- *Don’t just start sprinting or doing 2-3 interval workouts each week. Ease into them. And expect some muscles to “talk” to you afterwards. You are exercising muscles and connective tissue in new ways. Allow for some adaptation to take place.
Reason #3: You don’t make running your priority.
This is not bad in itself. If you want general fitness then it is OK to do your spin class, aerobics class, Pilates, yoga, P90x and weight workouts. If you spend more time cross training than running then you’ll be good at your cross training and not your running. If your goal is to be a faster runner, it will not happen by doing everything but running. This does not mean you need to abandon what keeps you healthy or injury free but if you want to be a better runner cross training won’t do it.
Replace a couple of those cross training workouts with a running workout. However, see solutions above. Don’t just add more of the same. And make changes gradually.