One of the biggest “newbie” questions (other than “When Will I Feel Like a Runner?“) is probably “How Do I Get Faster?”
It sounds a little asinine, but the honest answer is you only get faster by running faster. There’s, of course, a long, complicated journey that most runners must endure in order to get faster, and it often includes slowing down and running longer before attempting to run faster, but ultimately it comes down to one thing – you have to practice running faster in order to run faster.
Probably one of the biggest hurdles to most runners’ speed is the mind. We as Americans (and residents of many other developed countries) tend to prefer feeling comfortable. Running fast is inherently uncomfortable. Even when your’e awesome at it, it’s uncomfortable. Sure, some of the Olympians probably fall over at the end of their race for dramatic flair, but I’m sure it’s because most of them are truly pushing themselves to their limits and making themselves truly uncomfortable.
I know this first-hand because it took me many years to realize that I could run faster – if only I embraced the suck. My body was never the limiting factor, but my brain convinced me that I couldn’t go further – until I learned to silence that inner critic.
This was brought to my attention again last night. It was a nice cool evening (although it was super muggy), so I decided to go out for a 5 mile tempo(ish) run. I started off at my LSD pace, around 10:45-11:00, for the first mile. My legs ached and my body just didn’t feel in to it. That little voice started to gain traction, but with the mileage I have ahead of me I couldn’t afford to let it take over.
For the next three miles, I basically ran 800s – with one half mile at a fast-but-not-sprinting pace, and the other half mile at around my half marathon pace. Once I got through the first fast segment, my body just woke up. Everything felt so much easier, so much more comfortable. Even my last mile, which I did at an easy-by-feel pace was faster. Surprisingly, the fast segments felt easier than the easy segments.
I can only assume that’s because the body is more efficient at speed (?) than at a slower, plodding pace. The difference in form was noticeable – I definitely feel more comfortable with the mid-foot quickstep cadence of a faster run.
Over the last few weeks my long runs have been around an 11:00/mile pace and they’ve felt harder than the long runs I was doing last year, closer to a 10:00/mile pace. With the long distances ahead, I’m not sure I’m ready to up my speed just yet for long run days, but it’s something I might start playing around with more often, looking for that sweet spot between fast enough to keep the body efficient but not so fast that I can’t sustain it for the duration.