I am always getting asked the question "How can I get faster". It's usually asked from the context of a runner looking to improve their 5k times. When asked, my first response is to geek out with training theory and other scientific sounding stuff about mitochondrial development, lactate threshold, blah, blah, blah. But runners are usually looking for a just a few quick tips that they can remember with having to read a book!
So, sparing you the scientific mumbo-jumbo, here a few simple adjustments to your weekly routine that can make you a faster runner.
Try to incorporate one of these concepts into your training each week. First get used to slowing down, then get used to running more, then everyday, etc......... Be patient, don't overhaul your training all at once. Do this and in 2-3 months you will see significant long lasting improvements in your running.
We've discussed the importance of "Base Training", logging many miles to build up our aerobic system. Logging a lot of miles in the off-season is the surest way to get fast during the xc season!
BUT it's one thing to write down 50 miles a week or 200 miles a month, and an entirely different thing to actually "Git'er Done"!
Putting in the miles is a challenge. It is physically demanding as well as mentally challenging, but the rewards are great if you can accomplish it. But be aware, lots of running will make you tired, and make you more susceptible to injury, so we have to be smart about putting in the miles.
Here are some tips to help you through the drudgery of weeks of mileage training.
A coaching friend used to say “Heat is our Friend” It didn’t seem that way today as I slogged along miserably, forced to take several walk and shade breaks to cool off during my long run!
The summer temperatures and brutal humidity of Eastern North Carolina make for a nasty combination. Running in July can be akin to training on a treadmill in a steam room, you go nowhere while drowning in sweat! You can’t run fast enough to improve speed or run long enough to improve endurance before core temperature and dehydration become a limiting factors. Throw in pancake flat terrain and minimal shade, Eastern NC in July becomes what one of my runners once described as training in “Satan’s Anus"!
I once thought it impossible for a distance runner to train successfully in these conditions. But my coach (Bill Carson) pointed out Florida Track Club (with Olympians Frank Shorter, Jack Bachelor and Jeff Galloway) successfully trained in Gainesville Fl back in the 60’s and 70’s. Carson had been an assistant at Florida in the 60's so he saw firsthand the results of training in the heat. So how did they achieve such success in the heat?
It turns out that training in hot and humid conditions can produce effects sim
ilar to altitude training. The basic premise is hot and humidity forces the body to utilize H20 to aid in the cooling process, thus reducing blood volume. The result is a higher ratio of plasma to red blood cells (which carry hemoglobin), causing the body to overcompensate by producing more hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is where the blood carries oxygen, which distance runners need for to fuel their activity. You gain positive training effects training at higher volume with lower intensities. The body also becomes more efficient at cooling. With altitude training you see the results you see the results when you return to sea level, with heat training you see the results when the weather cools off.
For a more scientific explanation (in common terms) read: https://www.outsideonline.com/2415257/heat-training-benefits-2020-study
Now, running in the heat can be miserable, and even dangerous! As you sweat more your hydration level drops. Dehydration diminishes your body’s ability to cool itself so your core temperature rises to unsafe levels!
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of summer training while staying safe:
Finally, realize that running in the heat will sap you, make you feel out of shape and that can demoralize a runner! Keep your focus on the long term benefits and know that you will reap the benefits if you are consistent (and safe) in your summer training.
"What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
― John L. Parker Jr., Once a Runner
Elite runner's approach training in "phases", emphasizing different types of training at different times during the year. In the most simple format they break it down into five phases: off-season, preseason, in-season, peaking and post-season. Each phase emphasizes different types of training designed to produce slightly different results
Their secret to success is to have a great off-season phase, this is where where you build your "base", also known as your aerobic system. This is critical for a distance runner. The aerobic system fuels your muscles with the oxygen needed to run fast for a long time. It includes your heart, lungs, blood vessels and at the cellular level the mitochondria that power your muscles. Your bones, joints and connective tissue gain strength to become resistant to injury.
Base building is best accomplished by logging miles and miles, most at an very easy pace! Why? Scientific research shows us that lots of time spent running causes your muscles to develop more mitochondria and blood capillaries. It also conditions your heart and lungs to work efficiently with out tiring. So, how much running is needed? Here are a few stats for you:
Two other interesting developments come from logging lots of miles. One is mechanical, with miles comes increased efficiency. Your body finds the optimal stride length and foot placement that produces the most efficient stride for you. This is called "running economy" and is one of the greatest determinants of a runners performance! The better your running economy the less wasted energy and the easier running is.
The other fascinating aspect of logging miles is increased resistance to fatigue! This means your body does not get as tired from running. Why? The more you run, the more routine the movements of running become. As this happens, your brain does not have to work as hard to make the body run, which reduces mental fatigue. The result is a lower level of perceived effort for whatever pace you are running.
Off-season training generates the greatest gains in performance, so why don't we do this type training year round? Because this type training takes weeks to produce results, and during the process your body does not show the results! You will be tired, beat up and slow. You are more susceptible to injury during this phase, which is another reason to keep faster running to a lower intensity and to a minimum. Your results show up when you back off the training and allow the body to recover.
One final comment on base training. you will reach a point where you feel "fried" from all the running. It is perfectly acceptable to take a few days or even a week of reduced mileage and intensity just to get your legs back underneath you!
So, in summary, if you want to be a great runner, you have to log the miles, and you have to be patient enough to resist too much fast running during this phase! We will tackle the faster running when we get closer to the start of the XC season!
In the immortal words of Quentin Cassidy
“You don't become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many day, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”