How to Improve Your Speed

9 07 2012

You’ve been running for a while, and you want to kick it up a notch by increasing your speed. So, how do you get faster? The answer is simple: To get faster, you have to run faster.

The rule of thumb to getting faster is to apply the “overload” principle of training: If repetitive stress is applied to the body which is greater than what it is accustomed to, the body will adapt to that increased stress.

There are two ways to overload: Increase intensity (pace) or increase volume (frequency and duration). Most of the time, runners increase intensity rather than volume. Sometimes both can increase at the same time, but the risk of injury is greater if you increase your intensity and volume at the same time.  

Once a runner has established a mileage base, there are several ways to work on speed and intensity, or the “sharpening phase:”

Fartleks: Swedish for “speed play.” These are unstructured and fun; the intensity and speed can be varied whenever the runner wants.

Intervals, Repetitions, or “speed workouts:” These are highly flexible and should be broken up with rest (long or short according to the event). Many runners prefer to use a track for these workouts, and the workout depends on the event the runner is training for. For example, marathoners will be more likely to do mile repeats (i.e. run a mile at goal race pace, recover 1/4 mile, repeat 4 times). Those training for a 5k may be more likely to do 1/4 mile or 400 meter repeats (run 400 meters at race pace, recover 200 meters, repeat 8 times).

Tempo or Pace runs– These should be evenly paced at goal pace, usually incorporating a warm-up and cool-down, while running at the goal pace for the middle part of the run.

For any speed workout, refer to the McMillan calculator for your correct paces to run: http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/calculator

Although speed work is a great training tool, you don’t need to do all of your weekly runs faster or as a speed day. You want to do the minimum required to achieve your goals–a little bit of speed training goes a long way. Too much speed training, or speed training before building the appropriate amount of base mileage, can lead to injury. Also, for many runners, especially novice runners, simply increasing mileage will help improve your pace. 

Join Fleet Feet’s Thursday Night Workout Group to help increase your speed! Meet at the store at 6pm every Thursday for either hill or speed work.

You can also check out some tips for improving your speed in the July issue of Memphis Health + Fitness!


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