I’ve been running for a little over 3 years now and in many groups people think that I am fast. I guess for a recreational runner I would be considered fast. My fastest half marathon is 1:28:10 which comes out to a 6:43 per mile pace. On a global scale this isn’t fast at all but when I check my Garmin watch it says I am in the top 1% for my age range.
Now I am training to qualify for the Boston marathon which will require me to run under a 7:00 per mile pace for 26.2 miles. This means I must be fast for a long period. In this training cycle, I have been hitting the numbers to qualify for the Boston marathon. People in my running groups are impressed by my speed and ask me how do I get so fast. I tell them there are many factors that play a role in being fast for a long-distance race.
When I started running I wasn’t so fast. I just started to quit smoking and I was a bulky weight lifter. I only started running because one of my clients challenged me to a half marathon. While training, I met my wife Lauren and she was into running with two marathons already under her belt. She invited me to do a 5k race soon after we started dating and she kicked my butt. I was hacking up tar from my lungs during the race but ended up with a time of 25:15:00 which wasn’t bad for my first race ever.
After Lauren kicked my butt my ego kicked in and I started running more and running fast pushing myself harder than I should have. The result of pushing this hard caused me to suffer a knee injury because I was running too fast down a hill trying to best Lauren. The knee injury sidelined me from the race that my client challenged me to and had me hobbling around for a couple months.
After my knee healed up I was pumped to get back into running. Humbled from my injury I made sure to start slow and workout with a steady pace. I realized that you can’t go fast without building a solid foundation first. After reading a few books about running and found out that you should run in a low intensity heart rate most of the time. I followed this method for 2 years trying to keep my heart rate under 155 bpm during most if not all my training runs. This method helped keep me free of any major injuries and prevented burnout.
The low heart rate method worked great for the most part but I felt like something was missing. That something was speed training. I came across Matt Fitzgerald’s book 80/20 running and he explained that you should split your training program into 80% low intensity and 20% medium to high intensity to see the best results. The book explained at the start of each training cycle you need to build a base with 90% of your training at the low intensity and 10% at the high intensity. After reading this book I started adding some harder runs into the program and it helped a little but we’re creatures of habit and I would fall into the low intensity training pit doing it almost %100 percent of the time.
After doing my own version of the 80/20 program for a while I decided it was time to step things up and add some real speed work into my program. I started doing 400m, 800m and hill repeats every week with 2-10mile runs and one 20mile run at low intensity. This came out to 80% low intensity work and 20% high intensity. My speed increased like crazy and I shaved 6 minutes off my half marathon time in one month. I was so pumped about the program that I decided to hire Matt Fitzgerald to build me a custom running program. He explained that with my program I was doing too much and I might become burnt out on the program. After doing his program for 5 weeks I am much faster and running long distance at a 6:40 pace is no problem for me.
After posting my runs and doing some training runs with local groups I kept getting asked how am I running so fast. I responded with all the strategies that I will outline here.
Here are some of the best ways to get faster while running.
Weight is your biggest enemy when you’re trying to run fast because it weighs you down. If you’re carrying around extra body fat you will need to lose it if you want to go faster. Every 10 pounds of fat will cause you to run 20 seconds slower per mile and that adds up during a half or full marathon. The best way to lose extra weight is to eat high quality foods. A diet high in fruits, veggies, nuts, some lean meats, some dairy, some whole grains and a little junk food should do the trick. If you eat a quality diet paired with a running program you should see the weight come off quickly.
Don’t lose weight too fast because it may cause you to have low energy during your runs. 1-1.5 pounds a week is a good goal for weight loss during a running program.
Build a Foundation
Going fast without a building a foundation is an easy way to fall apart during a running program. Many people make the mistake of giving it their all on every run. This will leave you burnt out and injured. You wouldn’t go into the gym hammering the same muscle group 6 days a week and you shouldn’t do the same with running. If you build a proper foundation speed training will feel a lot easier and your body will thank you.
Do speed work
Repeats, intervals, fartlek’s and tempo runs. If you’re a runner you’ve heard these terms before. What do they all have in common? They make you fast. I’ve heard the saying if you want to go fast you must run fast and this type of training will get you there.
I like to think of repeats as reps for running. Just like you hit 3×10 reps on bench press you will do 6-12 repeats while running. Usually you will be doing 400m, 800m, 1200m or 1600m repeats depending on your fitness goal. After you finish a rep/repeat you will rest until you’re recovered and do it all over again.
You shouldn’t do repeats on back to back days because it will lead to injury or overtraining.
Fartlek’s or speed play is a great way to learn how to run fast for a long distance because you don’t get to rest fully between repeats. When you’re doing a fartlek, you will be doing them outside as part of one of your short or long runs. The goal is a pick up your speed for a time or distance then shift gears into a slower pace to recover then repeat the process all over again. This will teach your body to run faster without burning out. Short and medium bursts of speed during a long run causes your body to adapt to speed quickly.
Intervals are like repeats but have a higher intensity. Running up a hill or for a short burst teaches the body to be more athletic and causing a rise in metabolic rate after the workout is over. When doing intervals, I like to be completely out of breath when the interval is complete because this causes the biggest change in the body. Running at high intensity for short bursts teaches you to get out of your comfort zone and will come in handy during the race when your legs are on fire and you feel like you can’t take it anymore. My favorite way to do this is on the treadmill with a high incline.
Intervals are a high intensity workout that should be done after you’ve been running for a while. I wouldn’t recommend them for someone just starting a running program.
A tempo run is running faster for a period of a mile or two in the middle of your long run. This will get you prepared for race day pace where you will be running this way for the entire event. An example of this might be you warm up for 2 miles at a low intensity and you run one mile at your planned race place then rest for 2 miles. This will help you adapt to the feeling you will get during the race.
If you want to go fast you will need to rest after hard weeks. Going all out all the time isn’t good for the body because you’re not giving your body a chance recover. I tell my clients all the time you don’t build fitness while working out you build fitness when you’re at rest after working out. It’s important to have planned deload weeks in your program to let your body repair for the hard work ahead. Most of the time you will come back stronger. I like to reduce my workload by 30% during deload weeks.
Stress and sleep play a huge role when it comes to getting in shape. If you’re skipping sleep your workouts will suffer. Make sure that your making sleep a part of your running program because missed sleep usually converts into missed or lackluster workouts. I track my sleep and if I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep it shows in my workout. It’s simple to track workout performance and sleep habits with a wearable sleep tracker.
Many running watches have a sleep tracker and it will give you data on how you’re sleeping.
Set up an offseason
Setting up a time where you’re not focused on running is important. I do this every summer because I hate running in the heat. Pick two times a year where you can take one to two months off from running to let your body heal. Focus on strength training and a few low intensity runs here and there. During the off season, I build strength and will put on a few pounds of muscle. Focus on workouts that improve my mile time or sprints during the off season to improve my speed before building a base in the start of the running cycle. This style of training preps my body for the ware and tare during the running season.
Don’t be afraid to put on a few pounds during the offseason. Building muscle and putting on a little fat is good for the body and will make you feel fresh for the next training cycle. Every time you start a new cycle your base level of fitness will be higher than the training cycle before. This will make you peak higher for each event. If you fail to set up an offseason you will burnout and you will end up slower in the end.
Pick an event
I hear a lot about people running race after race without stopping. This is a mistake because you won’t be peaked for a certain event. It’s fun running races but they take a lot out of you. Because most of us go into the event planning to run faster than we should during a training run. If you do this week after week you will end up burnt out and you won’t hit your peak fitness for any event. The best thing you can do to go faster at events is to pick one and peak for that event. Plan your workouts so that the intensity increases the closer you get to the event. You will start hitting personal records at every race is you train this way.
Use heart rate training
Heart rate training is the best way to make sure you’re not overtraining or under training. If you’re always running in the high heart rate zone you will be over trained. You will be stuck in your current pace. When I started using heart rate training it showed me that I wasn’t running fast enough in my low intensity zones. I was not getting the most out of my workouts. With my Garmin 235 running watch I can program my workouts to tell me what zone I should be in at a certain time. Training this way helps me to build fitness in different energy systems causing me to be a better more efficient runner.
When exercising, the body uses two types of fuel carbs and fat. While you’re working at a high intensity your body uses mostly carbs and when you’re at a low intensity your body burns mostly fat. When you’re running, you burn a mix of carbs and fat but if you train at a high intensity all the time you’re teaching your body to be a carb burning runner. This is fine until you hit the wall during a race. Training with an 80/20 mix of low intensity and high intensity teaches the body to become better at burning fat at a higher heart rate.
High heart rate training may push up the threshold of where your body stops using fat as a fuel source. This allows you to run faster longer without getting tired. The low heart rate training promotes recovery and teaches your body to tap into fat as a fuel source as its main fuel while running. Therefore, heart rate training is so important.
Heart rate zones on watches are not always accurate. I used the Garmin presets for my age and the zones were way off. If you’re going to use heart rate training I would recommend getting an active metabolic assessment to find out what your heart rate zones are. The active metabolic assessment is done wearing an oxygen mask measuring oxygen consumption and metabolic rate while running. This will give you data that you can put in your watch to run at the proper intensity. I got mine at lifetime fitness and you don’t have to be a member to buy it.
Hire a Coach
One of the best things I did to improve my running way hiring a coach. This took all the guess work out of my training and all I must do is run. The plan is right there and I don’t have to think about what I must do. He makes sure that I am using all the tools to make me go faster not just the ones that I like. When I am training on my own I pick the things that I like doing instead of the things that I should be doing and this always slows down results. Having a coach helped me tone down my running program to build my fitness rather than burn me out. Because of the plan my coach built I am getting faster than ever and I should be running Boston next year thanks to him.
Check out our blog on Overcoming Barriers