If you haven’t seen them out there, you really should make a point to watch the elites run by at your next local marathon. They will blow your mind with their incredible speed and amazing form. We had the pleasure of watching the men’s Olympic Trials in Central Park years ago and saw the great Ryan Hall cruise up Cat Hill like it was nothing. I’ve seen Meb Keflezighi run any number of times and, while he kicks serious butt and would pass me on my fastest day as though I was standing still, his stride isn’t nearly as impressive (he’s not also as tall) as Ryan’s Hall’s is. It is a thing of beauty.
But these guys didn’t get fast by going out and doing the same run every single day at the same pace. Their workouts are carefully crafted so as to constantly improve upon some seemingly minute detail regarding their VO2 Max, stride, arms, foot strike, target heart rate, lactic threshold, and many other bodily functions that we human runners do not typically have to worry ourselves about. One thing we can take away from their training strategy is this: If you want to run fast, you have to train fast.
Now, I’m not talking 5-minute miles, but I am going to be encouraging you to get out of your comfort zone and push harder than you think is possible. And then push a little further. As I’m hearing and saying all the time these days, if you’re not failing every now and again, you’re not trying. Here are five ways you can get faster, if you work harder than you’ve ever worked before:
1. Negative splits
Take any of your regular weekly runs and map it out on http://www.mapmyrun.com so you can find the mile markers, grab your watch and head outside. Start out at a warm-up pace and go 15-30 seconds faster each mile. I recommend doing 4-5 miles this way. Make sure you start out slow enough to build on each mile. You should be finishing your last mile running as fast as you can.
2. Yasso 800s
Bart Yasso is the genius behind these half-mile repeats. You run each 800 meters (half-mile) at the exact same pace every time. You also run it according to what would be your goal marathon time. For example, if you are training for a 3:30 marathon, you run your 800s in 3 minutes, 30 seconds every single time. Or, at least, that is the goal. Jog in between sets to recover and let your heart rate come down. Try 4 in a row (with a 1 mile warm-up) for your first time and add one more on each week.
Oh, I love me some Cat Hill repeats. Find a hill you
hate love that is .15-.25 miles long. Start with a light warm-up of at least a mile, then hit your hills. Run as fast as you can up the hill and jog back down to recover. Rinse. Repeat. I suggest doing 4-6 repeats and building from there.
4. Tempo Run
Go out for a typical weekly run, whatever that may be for you. The key here is to keep your pace above a conversational pace. That means, you should not be able to hold a conversation with someone at this pace. You don’t necessarily need a watch for this one (if you’re an honest runner) because your perceived rate of exertion (PRE) is a good enough scale to use. That is, you ask yourself: On a scale of 1-10, how hard am I working? For a Tempo Run, the answer should be a 7-8, but not above an 8 because that’s getting into sprinting speed and it’s not a sprint, it’s a consistently difficult pace.
This workout is best done on a track, but you can use Map My Run, too. Do a warm-up mile and hit this workout hard; everything is all-out. 100 meter dash, recover completely. 200 meter dash, recover completely. 400 meter dash, recover completely. 800 meter run, recover completely. 1 mile run, recover completely. That is one ladder. Do 2-4 sets. Each pace will be slightly different, but keep track of them and try to match or beat the same distance in the next set.
Give these a shot and see if they don’t help you to become a faster (or, at least, a more comfortable) runner. Remember, no one got faster or better by doing the same thing over and over and over again. Switch it up and work hard. If you’re having a tough day, forget the watch and go with your PRE–if you know you’re working hard (be honest), then ignore the clock and continue to work hard. Every day is different and you might feel like you’re running like the wind one day and that you have an elephant on your back another. Just do your best and work hard.
Now go out and run!