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Ultimately you can run faster, by training faster, further and more often. That may sound a little pedantic and ridiculously simplified but, along with a few other things, it’s the answer.
Here are 10 ways that will help you gain that personal best:
Your first job is to select a distance in which you want to improve your time. Parkrun? 10k? A marathon? Chose and then focus on that distance until you reach your target time.
If you’re only just starting out running then you’re just condemning yourself to failure by aiming to emulate Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres! That said, it should be challenging and if you are just starting out, you’ll find the minutes will drop off a lot quicker than a more experienced runner. The unfortunate paradox of running is that the fitter you get, the harder it becomes to get faster with each improvement becoming incrementally smaller. For example my targets are; a 17:30 5k, 37:00 10k, 61:00 10m, 1:20 half marathon and a 2:50 marathon. I have no interest in ultras! It wasn’t too long ago that my half marathon time was 1:45 and less than 5 years since I finished a 10 mile race so slowly that they’d stopped the timer by the time I walked across the finish line!
Many runners don’t like racing. You may not like the competitive element, or the pressure, or maybe you’re scared of failing? But to get faster, I’ve found that to enter a race is almost non-negotiable, as it gives you a deadline – a date to focus on and aim towards. It might be a marathon in 1 year’s time, or could be a 5k fun run in a couple of months. Either way, setting a date gives you more focus. Visualise yourself crossing the finish line in your target time! Doesn’t that feel amazing?!
Some people are more naturally predisposed to shorter, faster running and others may find that they can run longer and slower. Many will be somewhere in the middle but might have very high levels of willpower. Others might have more time to commit to training. Adapt your schedule to suit your body. For example, when I was training for my first marathon in April 2016 I knew that my strength was my natural speed (and stubbornness to hit my target) and that my major weakness was my aerobic base – may ability to run at a certain speed for longer periods of time. I knew this because my 5k time was much better than my half marathon time, relatively speaking. So, when following my marathon plan I swapped out much of the speed stuff for aerobic mileage, that is, running at a comfortable pace.
I know a lot of people who run and they’re all lovely people. Very welcoming and there are nearly always different groups within the club to cater for everything from beginners to those on their 50th marathon! You can find your nearest club here.
Running is the best metaphor for life in that, the more you put in to it, the more you get out of it. If you shirk training, don’t push yourself as hard as you can or start making excuses then it’s already over.
Want a fast track ticket to the physio or worse, A&E/ER? Then go from doing one easy run a week to 40 miles with speed sessions! The general rule of thumb is not to increase your mileage by anything greater than 10% per week. Take it easy and gradually build up the miles. The world’s top marathon runners do 140 mile weeks. This is because our bodies are very, very good at adapting to training stimuli (some better than others). As soon as you start using specific muscle group and your cardio vascular system for a repeated task, the body thinks ‘eh up, looks like we’re going to be doing more of this, better make things a bit more efficient/stronger’.
This is best done in a group, whether at a running club or with friends as even the most noncompetitive runner can’t help but be pulled along with the crowd! You can do it by yourself but it requires willpower and a stop watch. In the simplest terms, a speed session asks you to run at a target pace that is faster than you would usually comfortably do, for a certain period of time. They can be as rigid or relaxed as you like but all should get your heart rate up a bit.
Fartleks (speed play in Swedish) are the relaxed type where, whilst jogging you identify a landmark – e.g. letterbox, tree or building and speed up between two points. Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down etc etc.
At the other end of the scale you can visit an athletics track and do sets of circuits for example, 400, 400, 800, 800, 400, 400, 800, 800. You run each repeat at a consistent pace (the target pace that you’ll need to do to hit your target 5k time), with a decreasing break in between each repeat (3min, 2:50, 2:40…). So the total distance run is nearly 5k, but you’ve got your body used to running at the faster pace.
You can make the sets longer, the longer the distance is you’re training for. When training for 10m/HM/marathon you can extend it to something like, 3 mile warm up, 6x 1 mile @ target pace or a bit faster, 2 mile warm down.
Everyone has their own running style and that’s fine, but sometimes a few tweaks can go a long way. Some people scuff as they plant their foot, braking slightly with each step. Others slouch, leading to a shuffle rather than a stride. Your running form could be hampering your times so when you are running, do this mental checklist:
– Back and hips straight and aligned. Imagine you are trying to rub your head on an imaginary ceiling as you run – stand tall!
– Arms at right angles but relaxed, driving through each stride
– Shoulders back but relaxed
– Eyes looking about 20 metres ahead
– Hips centered. Imagine you are being pulled by a rope tied at the hips, rather than pulling something.
– Smile and tell your self how well you’re doing : )
There are endless brands and types of running shoe out there and it takes a lot of testing to find the one that is right for you. There are shoes for specific distances though. Racing flats are extremely light and tests have shown that they can reduce your time by 1%. These are good for shorter distances however you may need more structure and support for anything over 10k. Go to your nearest running shop and ask for a gait analysis. They will film you on a running machine and determine what you best shoe is for you.