Are you looking to boost your overall speed? Hoping to better your 5k, 10k or even your marathon time? Let's look at some methods and training techniques you can utilize to improve your speed.
Run Slow to Run Fast
Believe it or not, learning to run fast starts with learning to run slowly! Building a strong framework is key to your future speed. Particularly if you are new to running or if you have never run a marathon or have been prone to injury in the past, running slow and easy will get your muscles, tendons and ligaments primed and ready for the tougher sessions to come.
Regular easy 3-8 mile runs at conversational pace are just as important in the grand scheme of things as the hard, fast efforts.
Working on your core is also important. Away from running and particularly for age group runners, maintaining a strong and stable core is vital to preventing injury by improving running form and efficiency. So get to the gym, lift some weights, and do some squats, sit-ups, and leg raises!
You have built that strong core and worked the muscles with easy runs so you are ready for harder effort. Now we add in some solid cardiovascular workouts with threshold running.
Easy runs are carried out in and around zone 3 of our heart rate. In Zwift this is colored yellow. Remember these are at a conversational pace. For our threshold runs we are going to venture into zone 4. colored orange in Zwift. At this pace, you should find it difficult to catch your breath.
There are a variety of different sessions to try at this pace. You could run a solid 5 miles trying to ensure you maintain an uncomfortable pace the whole time. Or you could break it down by running 2 miles at threshold, then running easy pace for half a mile before running another 2 miles at that uncomfortable pace again. As your fitness increases, you can either increase the number of repetitions or reduce the recovery time, or both!
Fast Interval Training
Now we get to the good stuff! Once you have built a strong foundation to reduce the chance of injury and you have strengthened the heart muscle with regular threshold efforts, you are ready to add some hard efforts into the mix.
The most common way to improve your overall speed is to do interval training. That is running fast for a given time or distance and then recovering before repeating the process.
There are a plethora of different sessions to sink your teeth into. Classic track sessions include 8x600m, 6x800m and 10x400 with 200-meter recoveries. Another interesting track session is Yasso 800s. If you are hoping to do a marathon in under 4 hours, for example, a Yasso 800 session requires you to run the 800 rep in 4 minutes. The theory goes that if you can run 10 4-minute 800m repetitions, you stand a good chance of achieving a 4-hour marathon. For a 3-hour marathon, you do 800 meters in 3 minutes 10 times.
If you are out on the road you could try Fartleks. This is a Swedish word meaning "speed play". Choose a set of lampposts and run fast between them and recover between the next set, and so on. Or run hard for 1 minute and then easy for 1 minute. These are known as ‘Minute on Minute off’ sessions.
On Zwift, Wednesday Workout is a superb interval session which will most definitely get you working hard and should see you hit speeds you may never have attempted before. It will almost certainly get you into Zone 5 of your heart rate!
Hill repeats are a great way to do interval training. Not only will this improve your speed on the flat but will also strengthen leg muscles you didn’t know existed!
Choose a hill on a road or trail with a gradual incline (not so steep that you have to walk or clamber up). Run hard up for 400 meters or 1 minute then recover on the down. Repeat this 8 times for a great cardio, strength and speed workout.
This works on your treadmill, too. Make your way to the Epic Kom or the volcano in Watopia and use the arrow on your keyboard to turn around and come down at the top of your set.
It is also interesting to note that longer runs tend to improve your short distance speed. Earlier we discussed easy running to build a strong muscular foundation for harder efforts. Running distances of 10 to 20 miles at this very easy slow pace does help you run faster over the shorter distances.
If you are training for a marathon, long runs will be part of your regular training block. If you are not you should still try to fit in a long run in if you can. Perhaps alternate each week. Do a 10 mile run one week and a half marathon distance the next. Then drop back down and run 10 miles the following week. You can always add distance as your fitness improves.
When running fast it is perhaps more important than ever to concentrate on maintaining good form. You are far more likely to suffer injury running at faster paces. Of course, form is important at whatever pace you run, but good body alignment, even cadence, efficient breathing, full leg extension, and forward arm swing are particularly critical in faster running.
Whether you are trying to break your 5k or your marathon personal best time, you need all the fuel available to go where it is most needed. This requires a honed technique to achieve optimum efficiency.
Erroneous body twisting, head bobbing, arm crossing and stride length changes waste energy and slow you down! Furthermore, they will likely lead to injury in the short or long term.
Entering regular short distance races is a super way to improve your speed and gauge your progress against others. Use these races as another training session in which you attempt to succeed at a particular goal.
Perhaps try to concentrate on even splits in one race regardless of pace. In another race you target a particular time slightly slower than your PB/PR and see if you can run it comfortably. And another week you target the runner ahead and catch them, again not thinking particularly about your time or pace.
These are all exercises that make your training fun and interesting but still valuable and constructive.
The Comfort Zone
Running fast is not easy and requires you to dedicate yourself specifically to that task. You will improve only by taking yourself out of your comfort zone. This is the hard part. We can become very comfortable in our weekly running routines. But if you do what you have always done, you will get what you’ve always got.
Go that extra mile, push your treadmill up that extra couple of notches, run a couple of minutes more than you normally would. Suffer that little bit more than you have in the past and you will achieve more than ever before.
- Run slow to run fast: Plenty of ‘easy’ runs
- Aerobic base: Threshold runs to strengthen the heart muscle
- Interval training: Hard effort then recovery, then repeat
- Hill training: A different kind of interval session
- Long Runs: Run slow to run fast again
- Form: Energy efficiency with discipline and concentration
- Races: Test yourself against yourself and others
- The Comfort Zone: Get out of it!!
The take away from this is that running fast is not just a matter of... well, running fast. You must take the right approach! Blasting out those hard efforts is of little use in isolation without that base fitness, strong core, cardiovascular health, strength, efficient form, and perhaps above all the desire to achieve by climbing out of your comfort zone. See you on the track.