How to get faster without hurting your performance, and all of your other deep-burning training qualms, solved by experts.
Yes, it’s a basic question, but every runner has it: “How can I get faster?”
Between all of the training distractions – like your watch, your training partner, or other outdoor surroundings – it seems like some type of factor is always getting in the way of your peak potential. To uncomplicate it a little bit, we did a deep dive into the Runner’s World archives to find some of the most common training-related questions from our readers – from queries about running buddies to still running your best while ageing.
On my easy days, I end up running too fast. How do I stop overdoing it?
For training, easy runs should make up the majority of the workouts. Many runners think that if they go faster, they’ll get faster times, but that’s not the case. Easy days prep the body to endure longer distances, like a half or full marathon, and increase cellular efficiency that’s needed to metabolise fat for fuel. These happens as a result of time spent running, not speed. To pull back, set a total time target and don’t obsess over distance or splits.
– Gary Berard, running coach at the Run Smart Project
Can a running buddy hurt my performance?
Sadly, yes. If it’s important to you to improve your performance, then choose your partners with that in mind. Be wary of anyone who skips rest, pushes the pace on easy days, or regularly exceeds training targets – those are pitfalls that can hinder progress. Instead, find a partner with comparable goals and a similar pace. This way you both can make the most of workouts, and without accidentally sabotaging each other’s.
– Gary Berard, running coach at the Run SMART Project
I’m slowing as I age (like everyone else). Is that because my stride is getting shorter or because my turnover is getting slower?
Your stride is likely shortening as your muscles lose strength and power – but that’s not the only factor behind the slowdown. Cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and range of motion also naturally decline with age. (Sorry!) To cut your losses, consider focusing more on intensity than mileage: workouts that alternate between short, hard-effort bursts and recovery periods help build power in the calves, which seem to lose function sooner with age than other muscles and are crucial to maintaining speed. Try twice-weekly short-interval or hill sessions at higher speeds – if you’re able to do them without aggravating any injuries.
– Dr Paul DeVita, kinesiology professor at East Carolina University
I’m addicted to my running watch. Could it be hurting my performance?
If you’re using your watch to analyse data during training, then go right ahead. But when it comes to racing, leave it at home. For one, despite how accurate GPS watches are today, it still won’t match up with the kilometre markers during your race, because of the way courses are measured, which will mess with you mentally. Second, runners often focus on the pace their watch is projecting instead of running at a speed where their body feels comfortable, which can prove for a fatal finish if they push themselves too hard, too fast. But watches are still great for training, and the data they store is useful if analysed with the help of a professional or coach. However, if you’re constantly checking your wrist, it’s time to ditch the watch.
Why does it feel so hard running with a slower buddy?
Your body self-selects your most efficient gait. When you run more slowly than your natural easy pace, your gait has to change, which creates different stresses on the muscles you use to run. It’s also tougher to hold proper posture – upright with a slight forward lean from the ankles – as you decrease our stride length or stride rate. Meeting a slightly slower buddy might help you avoid the common mistake of going too fast on a recovery run, but the key word is “slightly”. If you find yourself sore from accommodating a friend’s slower pace, consider running separately and meeting up for coffee or brunch afterward.
– Nikki Reiter, Run SMART Project coach and biomechanist for Run Right Gait Analysis
I want to run with my much faster spouse. How can I catch up?
There are a few ways to go about this. First, get (a bit) faster on your own with more speed workouts. Impatient? Use their run as your “hard” session. It’ll force you to keep up – just remember to say something if you need to pull back. On the flip side, remind your spouse of the importance of slower recovery runs and ask to drop down to your pace. If all else fails, run a loop that forces you to pass one another regardless of speed.
– Joe Holder, Nike trainer/run coach
I need a marathon workout I can do before a long commute. Any ideas?
You’ll get the most bang for your buck – improved aerobic capacity, speed and efficiency – with a workout that includes a variety of faster-than-easy paces. Here’s the one you can do in 50 minutes: after a 10-minute warm up, run 10 minutes at tempo pace (about, or a little faster than, half-marathon pace – the effort should feel hard but controlled). Then do 3 x 1:00 at 5K pace with a minute of jogging recovery between each rep. Finish with another 10 minutes at tempo pace, plus 10 minutes of jogging to cool down.
– Mario Fraioli, coach who has worked with Boston Marathon and Olympic Trials qualifiers
Why should I vary the steepness of hill repeats?
Your quads, glutes, and calves all engage while running uphill, but the steepness of the hill is what determines how much – and steeper doesn’t always mean every muscle group is working harder. Also, your cadence increase and stride length decreases on steeper inclines. To build strength and power, try short, steep hill sprints at 90 to 95 per cent max effort with full recovery in between. For more of a cardiovascular workout, try longer, more gradual hill repeats at 70 to 80 per cent of max effort.
– Ryan Knapp, running coach