How do I run faster?
April 26, 2006 9:27 AM   Subscribe

How do I train to run faster, over distance?

During the warmer months, I jog recreationally and do occasional 5ks. Over time each season, the distance I can run increases, and I get a little faster, but I'm still pretty slow. Never better than an 8.5 min/mile average. I can sprint faster, like at the end of a race, but I can't keep at it for for any length of time. I'm not aiming for winning the race here, but a minute or so off my pace would be nice.

Also, do you think losing some extra pounds would help my speed at all?
posted by smackfu to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Track work. Do you have access to a 1/4 mile oval track? There are millions of variations on sprint distances and intervals that different people employ; one of my favorite workouts is the "Powerman 5000," wherein you run a continuous 5000 yards, sprinting the straightaways and jogging the turns.
posted by saladin at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2006

do a track workout every week. you don't have to do anything too complicated - just ratchet up the speed, and drop the distance.

there might be a recreational running group in your town? join that, with the objective to increase your 5k speed (yes I read your question, hold on...). The weekly short-speed workouts train your legs to turn over faster.

Example workouts:

10 x 400m (one track length) with 400m recoveries at heart rate. For this workout you keep your speed constant through the 10 reps (for example, 1:40 for all 10 - I don't know your pace, so I'm picking a number here). This means that the first 2 will be easy for you, whereas the last 2 will be a test of mettle.

Or you could do 5 x 200m with 200m recoveries. A recovery is a slow jog that keeps your heart rate up, but also allows your body to recover a little before the next rep

Or you could do a one-mile at 5k racing speed. Or a 1.5. Or even a 2 mile.

This once-a-week exercise will help you become faster. But it alone is not enough. This is why you also need to structure the rest of your week for strategic running.

Say your speed workout (above) is on Wednesday nights. Then you could take Thursday off. Friday would be a tempo run (say, 4 or 5 miles). Saturday you could cross-train, then Sunday do your long run (say 8 miles, 10 miles or more). Monday, rest, Tuesday have a 3 mile easy run.

The key is to build variety and train your legs for different speeds, and build up your endurance too. It's no fun to be in a plateau.

Also, make sure you warm up, and warm down before each workout - in particular, doing the Wednesday track workouts on cold legs could prove injurious. Best of luck.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:38 AM on April 26, 2006

When I was doing long distances in college, I was in the same boat. No matter how much I ran, I couldn't break 8 min per mile.

Then some friends showed me how to do track work and I couldn't believe how much improvement I found just doing it once a week.

The most basic track work is to simply run a lap as fast as you can, then jog or walk a lap, then sprint another lap, then walk/jog. You do this for as long as you can stand it. I used to continue doing it until my laps were over a certain threshold (like say, 2 minutes). If you can do a couple miles in fast laps in a day, you will see improvement in your time.

In just a few months I got my 10k time down to 42 min (I never could quite crack 40min) and I once did a half marathon in 1:31. I think track work helped because I was in great shape. I wouldn't suggest doing any speed work until you have a long steady base of distance workouts under your belt.
posted by mathowie at 10:19 AM on April 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Similar to previous responses, but if you don't have access to a track -- run hard for x minutes, then slow for x minutes. Keep repeating.
posted by inigo2 at 10:28 AM on April 26, 2006

seawallrunner has a lot of good suggestions. I'll add to them:

To answer your second question first: yes. There's a pretty direct correlation between weighing less and running faster. But then, adding speed work is a going to help you burn calories and lose the weight.

Track work is going to help you to run faster, but in order to run faster over distance you need to train your anaerobic threshold. This is the heartrate at which you start to really gasp for air. Above it you're sprinting, but you have a limited amount of time before you run out of air. Below it you're running aerobically, and you can keep going and going. The good news is that it's very easy to train yourself to run faster but still run aerobically. You do this using tempo runs, which are ~20-30 minute runs 25-35 seconds slower than your 5k pace. Here's a good article about them at Running Times.

Note that what's being trained here is your ability to run cmofortably under stress, rather than your speed per se. To oversimplify, everyone has a fixed maximum heart rate (MHR) (pulse rate) which does not change with training and is a function of age. Everyone also has an anaerobic threshold (AT) which does change with training and describes the point at which your running goes from doable to too hard to sustain. The goal of tempo runs is to push the AT closer to the MHR so that you are using more of your heart capacity, and hence more speed, while running over distance.

Good luck.
posted by OmieWise at 10:30 AM on April 26, 2006

I guess part of my answer would depend on how much extra weight we are talking about. If you are just overweight by Body Mass Index, I don't think that's likely to hurt your times too much in a 5k. In a longer race extra weight would make more difference. If your weight is above the overweight range, it's more likely that this is affecting your times. In either case, interval training or track workouts should help you out considerably.

If you have access to a track, you can test yourself by running a quarter mile (440 yards or 400 meters, on any outdoor track this will be one time around in the inner lane) as fast as you can. If it takes you more then about 90 seconds to do one lap as fast as you can, you definitely need to do some speed work. A 90 second quarter is a 6 minute mile pace, and if you can come close to 8 minute pace over a 5k you should be able to run at least a 90 second quarter. If you can run much faster than a 90 second quarter mile, then you probably aren't doing enough distance training.
posted by jefeweiss at 11:01 AM on April 26, 2006

If you are overweight losing the extra pounds is your fastest way to gain speed. Once you are at a a good weight you have to stress your cardiovascular system to get faster, it is the only way, and interval training as described above is how you stress it in a controlled and repeatable fashion.
posted by caddis at 11:12 AM on April 26, 2006

Response by poster: I'm just barely overweight according to BMI. Not that losing weight is easier than running on a track, but I thought a two-prong attack might be worth it.
posted by smackfu at 12:01 PM on April 26, 2006

I think you will find interval workouts to be quite taxing and that they consume huge amounts of calories. Fartlek training is a variation on this theme. Since you set your own pace, rather than letting the clock control it entirely, you may find it easier to implement.
posted by caddis at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2006

I find it harder to push myself and discipline myself to keep sprinting with Fartlek - my ability to keep up a sprint for more than just a few seconds was much improved when I moved to a treadmill (in the absence of a track) once a week and ran intervals with strict distance goals. I soon found I could run a mile at a faster speed than I ever though possible, and greatly increased my mental endurance too.
posted by penguin pie at 12:54 PM on April 26, 2006

A hear rate monitor in conjunction with tempo runs will improve your race times immeasurably.
posted by fshgrl at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2006

Wow mat! I didn't know you could run so well... 10km in 42 mins, or 1.30 for a half marathon is insane!!!
posted by arrowhead at 11:38 PM on April 26, 2006

Just a few of notes to add on to the existing good answers:

[1] Most programs will advise you to put in a period of time when you run hills in order to add muscular strength and general aerobic fitness before shifting to speedwork. This doesn't have to be a specific set of hill repetitions, but could instead just be a run over rolling hills. If you have access to them, trails are even better for this and more fun to boot. To quote Frank Shorter, "Hills are speedwork in disguise."
[2] My favorite non-track tempo-ish workout is 8 minutes "sustainably hard", 2 minutes easy running; repeat 3-5 times. I find this a lot easier to face than a single 20-30 minute tempo run.
[3] A good guideline when starting out is not to do more speedwork per week than 10% of your overall mileage.
[4] Most "serious" 5k/10k racers will run at least 35-40 miles per week. If you're running that much, running hills, and doing speedwork, you'll probably lose that weight unless you follow the Don Kardong diet plan ("Without ice cream, there would be chaos and darkness.")
[5] If you do take up speedwork on the track, look for a group to run with. In the US, the Road Runners Club of America maintains a list of many local clubs. Most areas that aren't completely rural will have some sort of training group; they make it a lot easier, at least mentally. Unless you happen to find a really hardcore group, your pace of 8.5min/mile means you won't be the last person.
[6] It's hard work, but rewarding. Being in race shape feels really good...
posted by mhespenheide at 10:50 PM on April 28, 2006

There's some good advice on here, but Nike thinks you need a PowerSong (TM).
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2006

« Older Japanese Blogs?   |   Seriously, who wants to shell out $350 for a new... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.