For most runners "Faster" tends to be a top priority when it comes to measuring success and setting goals. It may be directly connected to a race distance and a desire to improve your time, or it may just be seeing your training paces get quicker.
One of the most powerful benefits of running is achieving milestones and proving to yourself what you're capable of when you put your mind and body to the test. It's no surprise that by nature most runners are driven and competitive, which makes speed a natural focal point when trying to see progress. Thats where a great plan and a professional running coach (shameless plug) comes in.
There are 3 Keys To Running Faster, and in this Blog post I will unpack them for you faster than you can run around the block.......at least for now.
You're probably thinking "Duh.....thanks for the hot tip, I know I need to be in shape". Yes......yes you do, but when it comes to connecting fitness and running faster, there are intentional training components that need to be considered when building your "Fitness".
The most important component of your running fitness is Aerobic Capacity, often referred to as your "cardio". There are really no shortcuts when it comes to building aerobic fitness. It takes miles and miles of easy paced running, at a low enough intensity (65-75% of max), to build this critical base. Typically this would translate into anywhere from 70 - 80% of your running being at an "easy" intensity level to get the required benefit.
A trap many new (an experienced) runners fall into is running what I would consider "junk miles". These would be runs where you're running faster that you should during an easy run. In doing so, you end up somewhere between training aerobically and anaerobically and ultimately reduce the amount of aerobic benefit from the workout. Do this over and over and you're leaving a ton of fitness on the table, not to mention risk overtraining and injury.
Building your Anaerobic Threshold - There is definitely a need to run at higher intensities in order to build fitness and run faster. In a video I've shared before, I explained Anaerobic Threshold and the impact it has on your running performance. By spending a portion of your running at this increased intensity, you enable your body to run faster, longer, as well as improve your ability to clear lactic acid from your body; something that will cause you to slow down or even stop running. I invite you to check that video out HERE.
Finally under the fitness category, Muscle Strength is a key enabler in running faster. For new runners it's critical to develop the muscle strength and the resiliency needed to deal with the physical demands that come with such a highly repetitive sport like running. You will almost always develop your aerobic fitness faster than your muscle adaptation, which for rookies can be a recipe for injury.
I often see people quickly scale up their volume, just starting out or coming off a break, because they feel really good after getting a couple weeks of running under their belts. The problem is that while their cardio is improving quickly, their muscles have not adapted at the same rate, and are not able to handle the additional stress. Queue injury, introduce setback, risk never running again because "I've tried running before and I can't" (Heard this one a hundred times)
For more experienced runners, maintaining muscle strength should an essential component of your training program, not only if you want to reduce injuries, but also if you want to run faster. A well laid out strength program should supplement your running schedule and should be designed to add strength and also address any weakness and muscle imbalances you have.
The second thing we need to build as runners if we want to get faster is efficiency. By this I'm talking about being as effective on your feet as possible, by spending the least amount of energy to move down the road as fast as you can.
What this comes down to is how good is your Running Stride? While running is a very natural human activity, it's actually something many of us are not naturally effective at doing. Years of sitting at a desk and not running with intention is often what contributes to a less than smooth stride. And really for most people we've never been shown how to run effectively. We've just figured it out as kids and and have never stopped to assess if we're even good at running.
As a running coach, my observation is that 8 out of 10 people have issues in their stride that limit their performance and ability to run faster. For some people this is a major issue and for others it's minor details that they can improve and work on.
To build efficiency and improve your stride, step one is to actually understand what is going on in yours. I encourage my runners to take videos of themselves running to see what they notice. Often what you think you look like and what is actually happening is not the same thing. So start by taking a look at your stride and figure out what you need to work on. If you want some help with this, check out our Video Stride Analysis service.
Other key steps include regular speed work, where you are running short intervals at high intensities. These speed workouts help to build strength, stride effectiveness and teach your body that it can actually run faster.
Lastly, spend some time doing drills such as Running ABC's (see video below) to help develop your stride.
3. Weight Control
You knew this was coming right!? Put down the chips and trust me on this one. Running is not a free pass to go on a feeding frenzy, despite what many of my fellow marathoners may think. That's why it's important to really take this to heart if you want to get faster.
One real easy way to run faster is to lose weight. Some of this will naturally occur, but for runners that have trained for a long time you may be carrying 5 -10 extra pounds around, which is slowing you down. In fact if you only could make one improvement in each of the three areas of this post, weight could potentially be the most impactful.
Using the Fellrnr running calculator tool, you can calculate and predict race performance based on current fitness levels and race results. I've used this over the years and find it to be highly accurate. For a runner that weighs 190 pounds and whose current fitness level enables them to run a 2:00:00 Half Marathon, this race time can be reduced (in theory) to 1:51:00 if that same runner weighed only 175 pounds. This assumes no additional fitness gains or improvement of running stride.
It makes sense when you consider that carrying less weight allows you to move quicker and ultimately run at higher speeds for longer. Of course, it should go without saying that you should always consult your doctor about your ideal weight, and appropriate diet strategy.
So which of these three steps resonates with you the most? Fitness, Efficiency or Weight Control? Ultimately it will be optimizing all three if you want to run faster.
Check out Coach Ian's Book - Soul Runner Now on Amazon