Many runners who contact me are always saying they want to get faster (for information on coaching, click here). They want to set a new personal record (PR) in the half marathon, the 5k, or qualify for the Boston Marathon. All of these goals are admirable and interesting. But how do you get faster?
First all of the above goals have to do with endurance running. Endurance running focuses on mostly aerobic running, with the marathon being powering by the aerobic system for a staggering 98% of the distance. You might go anaerobic at the start and during that final kick of a PR race, but overall you are hanging out in the land or aerobic power for all but about half a mile. Aerobic capacity can be increased in a myriad of ways ranging from workouts to recovery runs to the week’s most important session: the long run. As aerobic capacity increases, you can and will get faster. Miles increase aerobic capacity, variations off of your miles (running them faster) can make you faster. Common, understood, expected.
But the error arrives right here: do you need to run fast, to work on your speed? I’ve heard it many times, I am an endurance runner, so I’m slow. I don’t want to sprint, I will get hurt if I sprint, etc. That said, to get faster, one must spend a certain amount of time running fast. Not just at tempo, not at race pace, but at a sprint. Jack Daniels, the famous author and running coach, notes the need to run 5% of your weekly mileage at or around repetition pace, or close to 100% effort for a specified distance. Look around, and any coach who is thorough with his research and keeps up with the science will validate these claims. Could this be 200m, 400m, 60m, 100m, 30m? Yes. All of these distances work when used correctly with ample and proper recovery. Why?
Reason one comes in the form of neuromuscular fibers. They need to be engaged and put to work. The more muscles you use, the more often you practice at top speed, the easier it is for your brain to use them, to fire the neurons and put them to practice. Late in a race, when your standard form starts to falter because of muscle taxation, say the last 800m of a 5000 or the last 6.2 miles of a marathon, your body will look to recruit other fibers, the ones not as commonly used, and put them to work. By working on speed, you have a larger, more complete account to draw upon. More fibers to work with, better economy of running, better energy overall, and thus better results.
Reason two extends from working on leg turnover. Speed develops in multiple ways, but mostly through the ability to improve one’s maximal rate of motion while working on your body’s ability to hold said work rate for a longer duration. Go hard, really hard, more often and you turnover picks up, as does the length of time you can hold said maximal rate of motion. Now you can blast a quarter mile at the end of a 5000m race instead of just two hundred meters, now you can hold your goal pace more often, because your leg turnover will apply to all pace ranges.
High speed efforts, these 5% of your weekly mileage efforts, are not going to add up to all that much. A runner running thirty miles a week, runs around one to two total miles a week at max effort. Nor should one sprint every day or at the end of every run. Each run has a purpose, live by it, understand it, and in doing so work within each segment of your training cycle to achieve your goals. Want to know more? Drop me an email through the contact form on the right side of the page or tweet me at @stamgator.