Tag Archives: speed

Pick Up Your Pace to Gradually Improve

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.

Need to Build Speed? Try Running Hills

Great article from Running Times Magazine on building speed by training on hills. From experience, it gets the leg turnover going while going down hill…getting your legs used to moving faster. Try it out – and even if it doesn’t help your speed immediately…it is tons of fun! (Remember to allow your arms to go and spin like windmills…this will keep you running fast and balanced so that you don’t fall.)

For those Floridians wondering where to find hills? Options include bridge runs (Linton Blvd in Delray Beach) and/or parks and former landfills-turned-parks (Okeeheelee Park in West Palm Beach, and Dyer Park in Palm Beach Gardens west).

It’s the worst-kept secret in running: If you want to improve strength and speed, run hills.

Recently, I did a trail run in Seattle with Tony Young, the world record-holder in the mile for men age 45–49 (4:16.09). Tony stopped at a point where the trail split, and he pointed up one fork, a 300m woodchip incline.

“See this hill?” said Tony. “If I beat you for the masters cross country title in December, this hill will be the reason why.”

Tony’s faith in the power of hills has precedent. In the 1960s, New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard used hill training to propel his country’s distance runners to international acclaim. Sebastian Coe relied on hills for the strength that netted him 11 indoor and outdoor world records in the late ’70s and early ’80s. And the slopes of the Great Rift Valley have lifted Kenyans to domination of the world distance scene for decades.

So why don’t more runners make hills a centerpiece of their training?

Simply put, most runners don’t understand how to train on hills. We pick hills that are too long or too steep. We run them too fast. We allow too little time afterward to recover. The result is a poor training effect at best, injury and burnout at worst.

Before we charge willy-nilly up the nearest mountain trail, we need to understand the training adaptations we’re after and the best way to achieve them.

WHY DOES HILL TRAINING WORK?

A weight lifter looking to improve his maximum bench press doesn’t add lighter-weight reps to his workout. He doesn’t do his reps more quickly. Instead, he increases the weight on the bar, thereby increasing the force required to complete his reps.

It’s the same with running. If we want to get stronger and faster, we must increase the force requirements of our workout. Tempo runs, time trials and fast reps on the track are good, but they don’t generate maximum force. Hills do.

“Running up hills forces the knees to lift higher, one of the most desirable developments for any runner, because this governs stride speed and length,” wrote Lydiard (with Garth Gilmour) in his book Running With Lydiard. “It also develops the muscle fibers, increasing power.”

In fact, we can target all three types of muscle fiber (a “fiber” is what we call a muscle cell) with hill training: slow-twitch (Type I), intermediate fast-twitch (Type IIa) and fast-twitch (Type IIx). Slow-twitch produces the least force of the fiber types, but it works aerobically and takes a long time to fatigue, making it perfect for endurance activities. Intermediate fibers produce more force than slow-twitch, creating the long, powerful strides associated with middle-distance running. Fast-twitch fibers produce the most force of all, but they function anaerobically and are useful only for short bursts.

HOW DO WE TRAIN ON HILLS?

When I attended La Canada High School in the 1970s, we had one of the best middle-distance programs in Southern California. One year, our school of 1,500 students boasted nine runners who could break 2:00 for the 880. Our secret? Coach Pat Logan employed a regimen of long hill runs for endurance, long hill reps for strength and short hill reps for speed.

When we run, we recruit our muscle fibers in a “ladder.” We use slow-twitch fiber first, add intermediate fiber as the required force increases, and recruit fast-twitch fiber when our force requirement is greatest (e.g., sprinting up a steep hill).

Once we know how the ladder works, we can design hill workouts that target each type of muscle fiber and train those fiber types to work together more effectively.

Full article here.