Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SHAKE IT UP, BABY! 5 Tips for Increasing Speed

When you're a new runner, each race is so exciting. Because you're new to the game, your learning curve and you body's adaptability curve is huge. So, you see progress with each run. And with each race your finish time decreases. That's an awesome feeling. All that hard work you've put in is really paying off.

Skip to a few years (and miles) down the road and you're not seeing as much progress and your times seem to have stagnated. What's the deal? I hear it and read about it all the time...."I run and run, but I just can't seem to get any faster."

The good news is that you havent' become weaker and no it's not that you're declining as a runner, it's just that your body has now adapted to the stress of your normal weekly routine and because of this acclamation, your body doesn't see the need to adapt any more. So what do you?

You SHAKE IT UP, BABY! What you're body needs is a jolt...a wake-up call. Listed below are 5 Shake-It-Up-Strategies one or more of which you can add to your weekly routine to help get you over that "stagnation wall" and on your way to setting a new PR.

1. Intervals:
One of the best ways to improve your race time is to add a weekly interval workout to the mix. This workout will be short mileage-wise, but it may be your hardest workout intensity-wise for the week. Typically the total mileage in an interval workout is about 3 miles (maybe 4 counting the rest intervals). Find a track (or a flat empty parking lot) where you can easily keep track of 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1000m, etc., intervals. The parking lot at a local park near my house is a half-mile loop so it's great for doing 800s. Typically the longest interval is a 1600m (1 mile). Shorter intervals are usually run at your 5K pace and longer intervals are typically run at your 10K pace. The McMillan Running Calculator is a great tool to help you determine the speed at which you should do various interval distances. Just plug in the race distance you're training for and hit "calculate" and it will break down the training times for a zillion different distances. For me the times are a little fast, so remember that you may need to work up to the times they recommend. Any variety of interval distances in a workout will do. I like to mix it up.

Yasso 800s—Created by Bart Yasso, the race services manger at Runner's World—are great for marathon training and are directly tied to your marathon goal time. If you want to do a 3:30 marathon, then you run a series of 800m intervals in 3mins:30seconds. Your recovery intervals in between each 800 is the same amount of time as you did your 800. So basically a 3hr:30min marathoner wannabe will run an 800 interval in 3mins:30secs then do a recovery jog at a much slower pace for 3mins:30secs and then repeat with the another 3:30 800. Note: These are tough!

I like variety, so when I'm training, each week I'll mix it up a little. Here's a typical interval workout schedule I like to use. It covers six weeks, and then I just start over with Workout #1 again. Give it a Try! Workout #6 is a killer!

Workout #1—5x1000m @5K race pace with 2-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout #2—6x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between Workout #3—Three sets: 1x1200m @ 10K race pace with 1-minute recovery, 1x400m @5K race pace with a 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between each set
Workout#4—4x1600m @10K race pace with 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout#5—8x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout#6—400m @ 5K race pace (30sec recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 1600m @10K race pace (3-min recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 400m @ 5K race pace

2. Hill Work
Uphill running helps you learn to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers which will help you run at maximum intensity. Learning to recruit these fast-twitch muscles will help you during an endurance run when you need to ramp it up or when you need to pull yourself out of fatigue.
Downhill running is also great. Thanks to gravity, you naturally run faster going downhill. This is a great way to see what it's like to run at a faster pace and with a faster turn-over. This is hard to experience on flat ground. Just like adding extra miles, your body has to adapt to running faster. Ever blow it out at the end of a race and you feel like you have absolutely no control of your limbs? They're just flying everywhere? That's because you're asking your body to do something it really doesn't know how to do yet. Be careful, though. The decline doesn't have to be steep. A 5-7% decline is more than enough. You don't want to lose your balance and get an injury from rolling down the hill.

3. Faster Turnover
More and more research is showing that a shorter stride with a faster turnover rate is a more efficient way to run. It's less taxing on the body and helps to prevent heel striking which can cause a breaking effect that can actually slow you down (as well as not being very good on your feet, knees or back). So, don't worry so much about your stride length. Instead focus on improving your stride rate. Most elite runners have about 180 strides per minute. Check out your stride rate by going for a run and counting each stride for a minute. (Note: an easy way to do this is to count each time your right foot hits the ground for a minute and then multiple that number by 2.) Don't be shocked if you're nowhere near 180. But, just by focusing on cadence you'll be pleasantly surprised when you recheck your stride rate. I bet you'll see an increase. Don't be surprised if your legs are a little sore after working on a shorter stride. You'll actually kick in some muscles that may not have been recruited as much in your longer stride. Keep at it though. That soreness should subside after a few runs.

4. Tempo Runs
A tempo run is simply a run (usually 4-8 miles) that's run at a faster pace (typically a little slower than your 10K pace). Warm up for a mile, then do 2-6 miles at tempo pace and then do a cool-down mile. For example for a 4-mile run, run 1 easy warm-up mile, 2 miles at tempo pace, and 1 easy cool-down mile. Be sure to start with a shorter distance for your first tempo runs before working your way up to the longer tempo-run distances. Tempo runs are the bridge between those weekly slow runs and your fast-paced race. They help prepare your body physically for the demands of running at race pace as well as help prepare you mentally for the demands of running at a faster pace.

5. Drop 5-10 lbs.
Easier said than done, but dropping 5-10lbs will help increase your speed. Some research shows that it can decrease your race time by 1-2 minutes.


Molly said...

Thanks for a great post, I'm starting to incorporate speed work into my runs, but haven't been sure of the best way to do it.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Molly! I've found that a little goes a long way. I think one interval workout and one tempo run a week (not on consecutive days) is a good plan. Keep me posted on your progress!!!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been doing a lot of hills since I moved back to the mountains and don't have access to a track, so I'm very interested in seeing how it pays off for the flat Shamrock Half next week!

RunnerDude said...

Hey runningbecauseican! I bet you'll be surprised how you'll blast through the Shamrock. Just remember at the beginning not to go out too fast. You might feel really good because it's so flat, but remember to stick to your training plan for the start of thr race. Good Luck!!

Kay said...

Hey there...Great post....I find (at least for me) my interval work is more successful on a tradmill. That stupid "dreadmill" wont let me get lazy and slow down. I usually warm up for about a 4-6 800's with a 400 in between and then cool down for a mile or so. I'm still slow but faster than I was this time last year!

Unknown said...

I like running hills. Uphill I feel like my form is just right. Downhill is kinda scary but fun!
Thanks for the breakdown on the speed work. I just needed a place to start.

It will be interesting to see how speedwork will go while running barefoot. My cadence has to stay up or it will give me blisters from pushing off too much. Its an art really :)

RunnerDude said...

Hi Kay! Intervals is the only way I can run on a treadmill. Regualr paced runs seem like an enternity, but doing intervals actually makes it fun!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Barefoot AngieB! I bet it is different barefoot. My friend Barefoot Josh has really improved his speed since going barefoot. Yo may have already seen this, but if not, I made a video of Josh explaining is foot plan technique. Here's the link if you'd like to check it out.

Robyn said...

Thanks for the tips, super helpful!

The Laminator said...

Nice tips. Definitely helpful. Thanks.

Tall Girl Running said...

For the Yasso 800's, does it matter if the recovery period is done walking instead of jogging? These are really tough workouts for me and by the time I hit the 800 meters, I just gotta walk to sufficiently catch my breath! That's not compromising anything I'm trying to achieve, is it?

RunnerDude said...

Hey Tall Girl Running!I think walking is okay. Make it a steady walk though. You don't want to stiffen up. Gradually as you become more accustomed to the 800s you may be able to speed up your walk eventually to a slow jog.

Regina said...

Want to hear something strange? I have been doing three run workouts a week: 1 tempo, 1 track, 1 long easy. I have gotten slower. How is that?

I did a 10K in December and my pace per mile was between 8:27-9:04. I did a 4 mile race a couple of weeks ago and only managed a 9:00 avg. pace. My timed tempo runs are slower than they were a couple of months ago too.

I even cleaned up my diet and lost a few pounds...

I'm trying to trust the process and hope to see a sudden shift if I keep this up.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Regina! Slowing down, could be a sign of overtraining. You may want to drop one of the speed workouts for a few weeks and build back up your endurance. When you're doing everything right but seem to not be progressing, overtraining can often be the culpret. Cleaning up your diet is awesome, but still make sure you're giving your body enough calories to sustain all the training you're doing. When you ramp up the training you also have to ramp-up the calorie intake. You may already be doing that, but just trying to point out some areas to investigate. Keep me posted.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Regina! I forgot to mention that if you know what your morning resting heart rate is and it's slightly faster by a few beats in the morning, that's typically a sign of overtraining.

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Anonymous said...

Great post! I've been incorporating some of these into my weekly workouts - gonna work slowly into the hill workouts due to previous IT issues and well, losing the weight, true, is easier said than done. Ha.