My friend Greta, from the blog Middle Aged Jock has for some insane reason been seeking and valuing my advice about how to become a faster runner. I’ve been trying to help her, but unfortunately I’ve been trying to guide her through Twitter and 140 characters sure isn’t enough space to write about all of the things involved in becoming faster, so I thought I would answer her here. Perhaps you want to learn how to run faster too?
In essence Greta wants to learn how to get her current 5K race time down from 36 min to under 30 min – no easy feat because that means she wants to go from running a 5k race at an over 7 min/km pace to a 6 min/km pace -she wants to shave over a minute per kilometer! However – with lots of training I’m confident she can do it.
What is Speed?
Speed is combo of strength and endurance. In order to run faster you need to teach your legs to turn over faster, exert more power and do this for a long period of time. While doing this, your body needs to be able to supply your legs with the oxygen and glycogen fuel they need to maintain this speed over your chosen race distance. Also, while your legs are going faster, you’ll also want to maintain proper form so that your body will work as efficiently as possible, sending all of that precious oxygen and glycogen to your legs – not to other muscles. So how do we do this?
Greta needs to think of her training as a long term plan (macro cycle) with 4 shorter plans (micro cycles) within it:
- Endurance cycle – 8 weeks
- Strength cycle – 4 weeks
- Speed cycle – 4 weeks
- Taper – 2 weeks
I’m not saying it will take her 18 weeks to be able to run a 5k faster than she is now, as I’m sure after each training micro cycle her 5k time will be faster. What I’m suggesting is that to reach her full speed potential she should focus on one component of speed for a few weeks in order to elicit adaptation, then move onto the next component. Typically you need endurance to build strength, and strength to build speed – this is why I’ve scheduled her training in this manner. To guage her progress I would recommend that she run a 5k at the end of each cycle – doing that will alow her to see progress, learn how to pace, gain race experience and to stay motivated – racing is fun!
1. Endurance Cycle:
Greta’s first micro cycle goal is to increase her endurance – In order to run 5k fast, she needs to teach her body to maintain proper form over 10k. I didn’t become a fast ½ marathon runner until I had run a marathon. For the life of me I couldn’t break the 2 hour mark in a 1/2 , but after completing a marathon, I was able to easily complete a ½ marathon in 1:51 two months later. I would recommend that Greta follow a program, such as Hal Higdon’s Novice 10k program http://www.halhigdon.com/10ktraining/10knovice.htm that will help her build from a 5k to 10k. By increasing her endurance Greta will also learn how to run outside of her comfort zone which is a very big component of learning to run faster.
2. Strength Cycle:
In the second micro cycle, Greta’s goal is to increase running specific strength. During this cycle, Greta will maintain her endurance (ie: weekend long runs of 8k) and will do hill repeats once a week (I prefer Wednesdays). For her hill repeats she should start with 5 min warm up run, find a good sized hill and run up it fast as many times as she can in 15 min, then conclude with a 10 min cool down run. On active rest days, she should focus on upper body and core strength training as those also contribute to proper form and running strength. Perhaps a pilates class on Tuesday and high repetition, low weight, strength training on Thursdays.
3. Speed Cycle:
This is where the truly fun working beyond her comfort zone training comes in. Tempo runs at race pace and speed repeats! At this point in Greta’s training, I would suggest she run 3 times/week. Tuesdays do a 6k tempo run 15 sec/km slower than race pace (ie: 6:15/km). Her first few weeks this will be hard, but the last two it should be easier. On Thursdays she can either head to a track and do 400m sprint, followed by a 400m slow jog (repeat 5 times) OR if she’s like to keep running fun, sprint between lamp posts, then jog to the next lamp post. Her Saturday long run should still be up in the 8k – 10k distances.
After 16 weeks of some pretty challenging training, Greta gets to take a break and run for the sheer enjoyment of running. Shorter distances, no strength workouts, no speed workouts. This will allow her body to recover and be rested for race day. This is also carbo-loading time. Because she’s not depleting her muscle glycogen stores with each training run, her body will be able to build up a storage of the fuel she needs to run well on race day. Carbo loading does not mean eating as much pasta, rice and potato as she can for a few days before the race – carbo-loading means active resting. Resting will build up that glycogen storage far more efficiently than eating ridiculous amounts of food ever will and will also prevent weight gain and that bloated icky feeling.
The most important things for Greta to remember while she trains is that in order to become a faster runner she needs to run outside of her comfort zone. Running easy and slow will never make you a faster runner. To run fast, you must train fast and hard.
Good luck Greta! I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT!!