I just returned from a late night track meet in Coral Springs. While there I had a lengthy conversation with a parent about his daughter and how to get her moving faster. As he said, she’s been putting in the time and effort and running the distance asked of her. How do we get her faster? Not faster in terms of sprinting, but faster in her mile, two-mile and 5K races. And this I believe is a pretty common question for runners of all ages and levels. “How do you improve your pace in races? How do you drop from a 28 minute 5K runner to a 25 minute 5K runner? And/or a 22 minute 5K runner to a 19 minute 5K racer? The answer is pretty simple. Pick up your training pace!
It seems pretty simple and it in fact is. Pick up your training pace and your race pace will in turn follow. Get your body used to running 8 minute miles for distance runs and racing at a 7 or 7:30 pace will be a breeze! Now is it that simple to pick up your training pace? Of course not or everyone would do it. It takes discipline, want and some pain in the beginning. You are going to need to go beyond the comfort zone. Find a running partner, teammate, whomever, that is faster than you during training runs and stay with them. Don’t let them leave you, don’t fall behind, because by you sticking with them, you are in essence training your body to handle faster paces – during training and most importantly racing.
When I started running in high school, I was very lucky. I joined a team where there were five older girls who ran together as a pack for every single distance run. And they didn’t run as a slow pack; they were moving! I, the new freshman, wanted to stay up with them. Call it embarrassment, a need to prove myself, whatever…but I stayed up with them. At first it was impossible…but I gradually stayed on their shoulders, tucked behind their pack for longer and longer distances, until I stayed with them for entire runs day after day. And that is what allowed me to improve my times so rapidly. Would it have been easier to watch them run off together and leave me behind jogging at my own pace? Sure, but then I would have been stuck in that comfort zone forever.
I advise runners all the time to put in the effort to stay with the “faster” pack – whether it be a training run or race. Because eventually, if you try it enough, you’ll soon be a part of that pack. A more recent example is my training this past year. In the fall, I primarily ran with the girls team at an okay pace. The guys team always seemed way ahead. After the girls did not qualify to states in cross country, I was forced to run with the guys. And I struggled for the first few days. It was a whole new (and much faster) pace. But after about a week, it got easier and eventually became my new pace. A month or so later – during a weekend training run – staying up with the boys for an 8-miler felt like nothing! It was also during this time that I dropped both my half marathon time and my 5K race time (finally breaking 20 minutes after being stuck in the 20s and 21s for much of the fall road racing season)!
The aim of the game: Train your body to withstand a faster pace. And training, racing, everything will get easier!
More information on picking up your pace while running available here.