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Tips to help you run faster and farther

We suggest you have at least a two month base of running before you move into any of the more advanced training tips.  Speed and distance work can cause injuries more easily than plain old fashioned runs and doing these without a base can be a recipe for disaster. 

There are really three basic ingredients to your running speed.  The first is the length of your stride - this distance you cover in each stride.  The second is your turnover rate - how quickly you complete a stride.  The third is your body's ability to keep your legs moving over a period of time - fitness.   

While this may seem counter intuitive, increasing your stride distance is not the best way to increase your speed.  Increasing the length of your stride takes more energy and is not efficient.  Most trainers agree that increasing your turnover rate is a better alternative to increasing stride length as a way to increase speed.  But stride length and turnover rate pale in comparison to fitness in determining how fast you run.  Fitness is what allows you to keep your speed over a distance.

We feel there are four basic types of runs you need to do if you want to get faster - base runs, speed work, hill work and long runs.  Speed work, hills and long runs are considered 'hard runs'.  Don't do hard runs on back to back days. 

If you just enjoy running and don't want to deal with speed, great.  Just keep running.  There is nothing that says you have to get faster.  If you do want to get faster though, the following information will help you do it.

Warming Up

A warm up becomes much more important as you move forward into speed work.  We recommend starting with an easy run before you do any speed work and maybe then some light stretching.  If at any point during any speed work, pay close attention to any part of your body that starts to hurt.  If you feel a twinge, we recommend stopping.  Twinges turn into injuries way too often. 

Base Runs

Base runs are your standard, every day run that keep you in shape.  They are your bread and butter runs that build up your base. 

Long Runs

Longs runs are just that - longer distances than your base runs.  As you progress, your long runs give will help you run your first 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon.  We recommend one long run per week.  Start with a distance that is a little farther than your current comfort level.  If you have to walk on your long runs, walk.  Don't increase the distance of your long run by more than 10%, although for 'short' long runs (say 1 - 3 miles, more than a 10% increase may work for you).  For two weeks, increase the distance of your long run.  On the third week, decrease the distance of your long run to let your body recover.  Follow this two week increase, one week step back process until you are at the distance you want to maintain as your long run distance.  You may find that 3 miles is where you want to be for a long run, or it may be 10.  Your ability, desire and time you have available all come into play.

Speed Work

Speed work provides something physiologically that long runs don't.  We have read some research stating that speed work does more to lower cholesterol than running slowly does, but research seems to indicate something different every day, so take that with a grain of salt - no, wait, salt raises blood pressure so take that with a stalk of celery which lowers blood pressure.  WOW, ARE WE LOSING IT OR WHAT?  Back to the physiology of speed work.  When you run fast, your body learns to use oxygen more efficiently for the new work load.  So if you want to run faster, you just have to incorporate some training runs with a faster pace.  

Here is a very important note about speed work - take it slow.  Increase your speed but don't do all out sprints.  And don't go crazy with the amount of your speed work, either.  Start with a few short bursts and progress from there.  

Fartleks 

There we said it.  Go ahead and post "I'm going for a fartlek" on your Facebook page and see what kind of responses you get.  Fartlek's are our favorite type of speed work, and not just because we like saying it.  They fit right into the "I Used To Hate Running" plan.  With a fartlek, you go for a run and then when you feel like it, you increase your pace.  You may run fast until you get to the next mail box, or the tree way up ahead.  Then you recover (walk or run) until you feel like running fast again.  You can run a little faster to the mailbox, recover than run faster yet to the tree, recover than just a little faster for 2 minutes, etc.  You are in control. 

Tempo Runs

With a tempo run, you start slow and gradually increase your speed through the middle of the run and then slow down at the end of the run.  If you are running three miles comfortably, start out with a mile or two tempo run.  Adjust the distance of your tempo runs according to your fitness.  The idea with a tempo run is to get used to running faster at longer distances.  We find that Tempo runs and Intervals work well on treadmills.  

Intervals

Intervals running can meaning running specific distances in specific times with specific recovery times.  For example, run 400 yards in two minutes, recover one minute (walk) then repeat.  Or run 3 minutes at a fast(er) pace, then slow down for 3 minutes, than fast for 3 minutes, etc.  The possibilities are endless.  Again, a great way to run intervals in on a treadmill.  The speed and time are right there in front of you. 


Hills

We have heard hills called speed work in disguise.  You can either pick a hilly course to run or find one hill and repeat running up that hill.  We suggest walking down the hill and up it.  Walking down the hill gives you time to recover and helps you increase your speed up the hill - which is where the biggest benefits come from.  A big advantage of hill work is that it is easier on your joints.  The angle of the hill reduces the distance that your front foot drops.

Remember:
  • Don't do hard work outs on back to back days. 
  • Progress slowly in your speed work. You don't have to run all out to see gains.
  • Warm up before you do speed work / and be sure to stretch afterwords.
  • A small increase in speed during your training can yield big results.
  • Don't increase the distance of your long run by more than 10% from previous long run
  • Vary your speed work - hills one week, fartleks the next and intervals the next work well.