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Getting Faster ~ 5 tips to improve your speed

Over the past year, I’ve really started to focus on my speed and getting faster. It was some time during Track at an early spring meet that I realized I wanted to try to qualify for Boston and it was a scary goal for me. I remember when I first ran a marathon and ran 3:55 and thought about how far away I was from qualifying. I thought with hard work, dedicated training and a great race, it could possibly happen in October of this year. Last fall, I was hoping to break the 4 hour mark once again at Santa Clarita in November, which didn’t happen, and then I had an epic blow up at the Tucson Marathon. I trained well for both races, but I had no speed training and was running around 9:30 pace consistently. I really started training differently when I started coaching cross country and track in September of 2013. I’m a fairly competitive person, and I gradually started running with the team and kept improving. I have put in hard work and I can definitely see a difference in my running, training and racing. The results are pretty undeniable and I can’t believe it when you compare my average pace now (7:45-8:15) to my average pace a year ago (9:30s). Here are a few things that I’ve implemented that I think have really made a huge change in my running and training.

Getting faster! 5 tips to help you improve your speed while running. 1. I have been running less but with more quality miles.

When I was training for Santa Clarita and Tucson, I was running 50-60 mile weeks and did multiple 20 milers. When I was training for Mountains to Beach, I ran 40 miles a week and my longest run was 18 miles. For all three races, I had a base of a 10-13 miles. For Mountains 2 Beach, I was following a plan that I made up myself where I ran 3-5 days a week and on my rest days, I didn’t run recovery miles, I didn’t work out, I rested. I also only ran during my training for M2B. I didn’t go to the gym, I didn’t do any type of spin class or yoga. It helped me feel better, more rested and I put in more quality work when I ran. I don’t like the feeling that I’m out running just to put in miles to reach a certain mileage for the week. I was making every workout count and my legs felt fresh when I did each workout. When I’m running for quality, I want to make each workout count toward a goal. Whether that goal is running faster, running longer, or running harder, each workout is designed to meet a specific purpose. I felt like on well recovered legs, I didn’t dread the workouts like I was when I was running a lot of mileage to reach a certain weekly mileage number. I have realized that I cannot run too much because I get so burnt out and then don’t enjoy running. Why run when you don’t love it?

2. Running with a group.

5 tips to help you increase your speed - Try running with a group!This is shocking one to me, because I have run alone since the time I was on a team in high school and never realized the benefit of running in a group until recently. This is something that I think has pushed me to start running faster. I  am lucky and have a ‘built in’ running group, the kids I coach. Because they practice daily, it was fairly easy for me find a group to run with. When I started coaching, I started in the mid to back of the pack of the team and kept working my way up throughout the season. When they would do a hard workout, I’d work my hardest to hang tough, and it was definitely a struggle to do some of the workouts with them. They were some of my hardest runs that I’ve done during training for anything. When they sprinted, I would sprint with them {it wasn’t pretty, I’m definitely not a sprinter}. Where it helped me the most was on our ‘long runs’ (5-7 miles) and ‘tempo runs’ (4-6 miles) because I’d actually have others to run with and push myself to keep up with. I’m a competitive person, so that helped because I always had girls in front of me to ‘catch.’ I love starting in the back and focusing on catching people. I keep my eyes on the lower part of their back and just work my hardest to ‘reel’ them in. That’s something that my cross country coach taught me to do when I was running in high school.

I hadn’t been in a group running setting in a while, so finding my way back into the pack was difficult and scary! But being a part of a ‘team’ has helped me push myself and helped me increase my speed on shorter runs. I would really recommend trying to find a running partner or group that you can run with that will make you push yourself. I’m worked my way up throughout the entire cross country and track season and now the girls say, “If you were young, you’d make Varsity!”

3. Running a Warm Up and Cool Down.

Before really starting to train differently, I would always go out and run hard (9:00-9:30 pace) or run recovery pace (9:30-10:00 pace), but either way, I’d just go out and start right into the run. I would never ‘warm up’ or ease into my faster paced runs and I rarely ran faster paced runs. I’ve found that doing a 2-3 mile ‘warm up’ before a harder paced run really allows your body and mind to wake up and focus on your upcoming hard paced run. It gives you more miles for the day, which is another plus if you’re training for longer distances and gets you into a rhythm before you really start to push yourself. Usually, I start off too fast, so during the warm up I would tell myself to relax and that I needed to warm up first. Once I hit 2-3 miles in my warm up, I’d run hard for 4-8 miles and then do my cool down. If you are training for a full marathon, the way I’d set it up is run a 2 mile warm up, 4-8 miles at a hard pace, and then a 2 mile cool down, depending on how many miles you wanted to run that day. If you are training for a half, I’d do a 1.5 mile warm up, 2-5 miles at a hard pace and then a 1.5 cool down, depending on your daily mileage.

For a cool down, I’d normally run 1-3 miles, depending on the workout I did. It helped my muscles unwind and I wouldn’t need to run a recovery run the following day, I could rest. When I was doing a tempo run, I was really pushing myself, so the cool down was something I was looking forward to the entire time I was running hard. I kept counting down the miles to ‘slow down time.’ ‘Just keep running, then you can run slow,’ is what I’d repeat over and over to myself throughout the run.

4. Doing Tempo Runs/Speed work. How doing track workouts helps with speedwork and getting faster while running.

This is something that really pushed me to feel more confident in my speed while running. It’s awkward, it hurts, and it’s not fun to do, but it pays off BIG. After high school, I never saw much of a need for speed work because I wasn’t running competitively, and I’m still not but I had the goal of qualifying for Boston. Before changing things up, I would push myself on a few runs every now and then, or run stairs, or rarely run a track workout, but I never was consistent on any speed work. Now that I’ve added it into my schedule, 1-2 days a week I do some kind of speed work, I have seen a big difference in my average pace and also my endurance. Mostly, I would do a tempo run like I mentioned above, with a warm up and cool down, but I do enjoy doing a track workout every other week. Usually when I do a track workout, I’ll do a 3 mile warm up and then hit the track for a ladder of a 400, 400 recovery pace, 600, 600 recovery pace, 400, 400 recovery pace, 2 200s with a 200 recovery pace between each one, with a 2 lap cool down. The 200s were always gnarly. I just can’t run that fast and it’s pretty hilarious. Another great track workout I love doing is 15 seconds on, 30 seconds recovery, 30 seconds on, 60 seconds recovery, 45 seconds on, 2 minute recovery. I usually do that 4 times through with a 3 mile warm up and a mile cool down.

When I do these workouts, they are always hard but looking back I can tell they are really what pushed me out of my normal comfort zone. They HURT. They are not easy. They make you really question how far you can go, how fast you can run and if you can hang on until you hear the whistle blow or the mileage is over. During the faster paces, I’d focus on my breathing, relaxing my shoulders and how much I had done already, not what I had left to run. I’d break down all my longer fast paced runs mile by mile and focused on hearing my app announce that I’d made it another mile. I sometimes would find myself getting in my head and thinking I couldn’t do things because I was scared of ‘dying out’ or it hurting. If I wasn’t focusing on my breathing, I’d almost hyperventilate and tell myself I couldn’t run this fast because I wasn’t sure if I could keep this pace. It’s easy to get into a negative mindset and let it take over your workout. To stay positive, I repeated a lot of motivational sayings in my head. I always listen to music and tried not worry about my time or pace but running as hard as I could.

5. Not giving up & pushing myself during every workout. Dreams Don't Work Unless You Do - 5 tips for running faster

It seems pretty obvious, but it’s something that I wasn’t doing before I started coaching the team. I would go out and run. I liked to run, but I rarely actually pushed myself when I was running. I would go, put in some miles and call it a day, which I think is totally fine. But if you want to get faster, or have different goals, it’s not going to magically happen. You have to put in hard work. I realized I wanted to get faster so I really pushed myself out of my comfort zone to get there. I made sure that every workout and run I was doing was quality and I gave it 100% each time. It was a lot of hard work but seeing my times drop gave me the motivation that what I was doing was working.

You really, truly can do anything you set your mind to, it’s all about being positive, setting realistic goals and working really hard to achieve them. Right now, I’m setting new goals for myself with running to really see how far I can push myself and what distances I really like to run.


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  • Reply Shaina

    I love reading all your posts and you inspire
    me to run and love every minute of it. I do
    have a question for you as I struggle
    With tempo runs and intervals. What app do you use?
    Thank you :)

    June 19, 2014 at 11:09 am
    • Reply chicrunner

      Hi Shaina – I use Run Keeper!

      June 19, 2014 at 11:24 am
  • Reply The Silent Assassin

    Here’s to no more junk miles! Thanks for sharing D. You make me wanna be a better runner. I added track and speedwork back into my training. Thanks for the inspiration! Stay fierce stay blessed. Hope to meet you in the LB.

    June 19, 2014 at 11:14 am
  • Reply Sarah @RunFarGirl

    These are such good tips and I followed them this past training cycle as I was trying to reach my BQ goal too. I think the big thing for me too was realizing that I needed more miles. Previously I’d never run more than 40 miles in a week and this cycle I capped at 70. It seems my body really responded well to it. But I do agree that each run has to have a purpose and if you’re just running to reach a weekly mileage mark then they are probably “junk” miles. I think key for me was being OK with running 9:30+ pace on my recovery days/easy days and going really hard on my hard days. Great post!

    June 19, 2014 at 11:49 am
  • Reply Laura

    These were great tips! You really have shaved quite a lot of time off of your average pace which is SO inspiring to me as a slower running!

    June 19, 2014 at 12:07 pm
  • Reply Natalie @ Never Serious Blog

    I love these tips! I feel like the bottom line to all of it is, run hard to get better! It’s hard for me to be comfortable with being UNcomfortable, but I’m getting better! I started weekly track work six weeks ago and I’m already noticing a difference!

    I also TOTALLY agree with actually resting on rest days. I need my rest or I start to resent running!

    June 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm
  • Reply Michelle

    My promise to myself for the marathon I’m training for is quality over quantity so I was happy to stumble upon this! Thanks for the tips :)

    June 19, 2014 at 1:13 pm
  • Reply Britt

    Great post! I’d love it if you could recap some of the mantras you repeat to yourself and how you think they help you. I have never tried doing that but I know you’ve mentioned it a lot in the past. I am planning to try using a few different ones and see if they help me stay motivated.

    June 19, 2014 at 2:54 pm
  • Reply Elise

    Great post! I agree with eliminating the crap miles and focusing more on speed work. You worked hard for your BQ and I’m so proud!

    June 19, 2014 at 5:06 pm
  • Reply meghan

    this is so helpful! i just signed up for my second marathon in february of next year, and would love to get faster. thanks for posting such a detailed description… excited to dig into some speed work this time around!! maybe i can break that 4 hour mark…

    June 20, 2014 at 4:04 am
  • Reply Christine

    Thanks for sharing your secret! ! You are so inspiring, it makes me believe I can qualify one day as well.

    June 21, 2014 at 6:40 pm
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