Resolutionary War: Speedy McSpeederson

Well, it's March.  How are those New Years Resolutions coming along?  Back in January, I posted a bunch about fitness resolutions: my favorite running gear, my favorite Winter running gear and tips, triathlon 101 and how to get and stay motivated.  Today is all about speed, baby.  

all photos from the Great Six Flags Triathlon 2012
One of my goals for 2013 was to get faster.  I think that is a natural goal for a runner.  Once you finish a 5k, then a 5 miler, then a 10k, then a half marathon, then a full marathon, all that's left is to challenge your prior times. Some people don't care about that at all and enjoy running for the sake of running and if they beat an old time, cool but if not, no big deal.  I, personally, love the challenge of a race, so I am always trying to beat my best time and hit a new PR.  

My average pace these days is 8:30/8:45 per mile.  This is a huge change from my former 10:00 per mile pace.  I'll share what worked for me to increase my pace.

1.  Race Races - Don't Run Them.

I think it's a great idea to set a time-goal before a race.  Obviously the time depends on conditions (you won't go so fast if it's freezing cold or snowy or rainy or ungodly hot), but having a time you are striving to hit is a great way to build speed.  Shorter distance races like 5Ks or 5 milers are perfect for this type of thing because if you go too fast and pay for it, the race is a short one and over faster.  Really push yourself and try to run faster.  It also helps if you can sign up for the same race each year so you can have a true comparison in terms of course.  

For example, last year I ran the Frostbite 5-miler in mid-February.  I wanted to run it in under 45 minutes (which would be under 9 minute mile pace).  I ended up running it in 42:28, which was a 8:30 pace and, at the time, the fastest race I'd ever run.  I was euphoric at the finish and were it socially acceptable, I would have high-fived and possibly even made little penguin babies with the huge penguin at the finish line.  This year, I wanted to beat my old time.  I pushed myself harder and ran that race in 40:50, which is 8:10 pace.  Next year, I want to break into the 7 minute mile pace.  

2.  Mix Up Training Runs.

If you're just running the same pace, the same course, the same kind of run day after day after day, you aren't going to get faster.  You have to vary up your running regimen.  Here are the types of runs I do on a regular basis:
  • Long run at normal pace:  for my long runs, I focus on distance over speed.  I also work a bit with pacing myself in the beginning.  I have a tendency to charge out of the starting gate like a race horse on speed and I need to work on reigning myself in a bit.
  • Tempo run:  a tempo run is basically a hard, fast run.  My tempo runs are between 2 and 4 miles, depending on how much time I have.  These runs aren't fun - they are work.  But they do work.
  • Sprints:  Oh yes.  Sprints.  Sprints are key and I hate them and I'm sorry.  But they are absolutely key in building speed.  I do my sprints outside or on a treadmill. If on a treadmill (which I avoid if I can), I just run a few minutes at my normal pace, then speed up the belt for a minute, then slow back to normal pace a few minutes, then sprint again, repeat.  If outside, I do a looser version of sprints and will run normally for a bit, then say "OK, I'm going to run as fast as I can from that street light to the tree way down there."
  • Normal runs:  I'm not sure if these have a more official name, but I mix in just regular fun runs where I run at my normal pace and don't push myself.  These are key to keeping running fun and enjoyable.  I can't look at every single run as a training run or it would suck the joy out of running for me.
  • And finally ...
3.  Hills.  Oh hills.

Yes. You need to run on hills.  They are a necessary evil and boy are they evil.  The thing is, if you only run on flat surfaces, you will probably have a really hard time with hills on race day.  Challenging yourself with hills is a great way to get faster and in better shape.  I'm lucky (?) in that I live in a very hilly area and have to run up a huge hill just to start my run.

Hills are tough, no doubt about it.  I work on shortening my stride and using my arms when I'm going up and then lengthening my stride and relaxing my arms when going down.  I don't need to seek out a special hilly area because pretty much every area around me is hilly.  I just attack those hills with everything I have.  

4.  Relax and breathe.

I think it's important when you're running normally (not going up a hill) to relax your shoulders, arms and hands.  When I start tensing up, I often just say to myself "rag doll", imagine I am a rag doll and let myself go a little limp, shake out my arms and shoulders.  Run in a form that feels comfortable to you, but try not to lock up and have your arms, shoulders and chest go rigid.

My breathing has changed a lot since I started running. I breathe a little harder these days and it's more "work" than it used to be.  It is hard to explain.  I played around with breathing and pace on my runs over the past year and figured out what works for me.

5.  Get a good watch.

I think if you want to increase speed you need a watch that will track your pace and your splits (splits are your per mile average pace).  My watch (Garmin Forerunner 910) tracks my instant pace and my splits. I can glance down and see what I am running at that moment, then with each mile, the watch beeps and vibrates and displays what my pace was for that mile. It's a great way to gauge how fast you are running.  I think there are Apps on phones that do the same thing. But if you're ready to take your running to the next level, it is a good idea to have some sort of marker of your pace.

And that does it!  I hope this is helpful.  I have the Washington DC Rock & Roll Half Marathon next Saturday.  I was so excited about that race last year, but ended up getting sick and dropping out after mile 4.  My current PR for a half marathon is 1:57:15 (though my half marathon time at the Philly full marathon was somewhere around 1:55).  So I'd like to beat my old PR.  I'm shooting for a somewhat aggressive 1:53, which works out to a 8:38 pace.  Here's hoping!  Either way, I'll celebrate the completion of my first half marathon for the year over a pint or two (mmm, ok maybe more) and some good friends. 

Meep meep!

See you swoon,

Disclaimer: None of the above companies or websites mentioned have paid or otherwise comped me for mentioning them here in this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.  Further,  I am not a professional and certainly not a doctor, so before you begin any running or other exercise program, please speak to a doctor first, listen to your body, know your limits.  I am not an expert:  this is just my compilation of tips for what works for me.

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