Coach Mike Mead

Speed Play – Shift Them Gears! - May 2005

So you want to get faster! I am regularly asked, “How can I get faster?” The simple reply is, “Run faster,” but it’s more complicated than that. Most of us were not blessed with having speed genes and we go through our running life plodding along. But there are some things you can do to gain some speed and become a faster runner.

Get out of Granny Gear

First off, many runners know only one speed, which I call “granny gear.” How many of you drive your car in first gear? How many of you ride your 10-speed bike in low gear? I thought so. We drive and ride according to the conditions and terrain. If you expect to run faster, you need to get out of your “granny gear” on some of your weekly training runs and try some of your other “gears” to improve your racing speed.

Speed Can Kill

But when introducing speed to your training regiment, remember that speed can kill. Actually, you’re going to hurt, but if you train smart and introduce speed gradually you’ll have some new “gears” in about six to eight weeks. Start out by going to a flat, grassy area (like a football or soccer field) after your typical run and do four to six “sprints” that cover about 120 yards. You’ll “sprint” down the field for the approximate 120 yards, rest about a minute and repeat. I emphasize “sprints” to mean run fast like a sprinter – that is, running controlled using good form (arm action and knee lift) and posture. Do these “sprints” twice a week after your regular run to incorporate a little speed intensity and work up to doing 10-12 per session. This is a safe way of introducing you to another gear while not taxing your system. Running these “sprints” after a run will force you to focus on your form (stay relaxed!) while doing speed while you’re tired.

There’s Speed in Them Hills!

Running some hill repeats once a week will help in your speed training by developing leg strength and power. It will also help your form work (see last month’s column on form work details). Find a hill that you can run up that takes between 30-60 seconds. Be sure the hill is either dirt or grass – no pavement! Start out by running up the hill, then walk down for recovery and repeat four to six times. Run up the hill at a steady, but fast pace. As you do this hill workout each week, work up to 8-10 hill repeats over a period of six to eight weeks. You should notice a difference when you run on the flats.

Faster, faster, faster!

To get out of the rut of plodding along on your routine runs, put in a little more effort! Most of us have a couple of running loops or courses that we regularly traverse on our training runs. Pick out one of these loops and time yourself on it. How long does it take to run it? Say you have a regular 3-mile loop that takes you 25 minutes to run. The next time you run it, challenge yourself and try to break 25 minutes. Let’s say you run it in 24:50. A week from now, run it again and see if you can beat 24:50. This will force you out of a running rut and get you to running more of a tempo-style. Only do this once a week. Some weeks you may not beat your “course record” but at some point you’ll surprise yourself with a big drop in time!

Less is More

Some runners are addicted to running and racing. They do not know how and when to back off. Usually it takes a significant injury to get them the necessary rest and recovery. This is even tougher for aging runners. When you introduce speed in your weekly training, you need more rest. You also need to race less, too! Many of you out there race EVERY weekend! That’s too much! If you are serious about improving your racing speed, do more speed training, get more rest and do less racing and in a few months you will be racing faster