The question that drives almost every runner to continue on with their personal quests, from 3 a day pampered elites to recreational back of the packers, differs little. Whether one comes across the final timing mat in 4:05 or 2:05, the question that instantly follows is the same, “How do I get faster?”
I am certainly no different. From the first race I ran up to this last marathon, I’ve always spoken to myself, “Ok, now what? What else do we do to get faster?”
The formulas are nothing secret. Every running magazine every month, no matter how many different ways they may say it, all say the same thing over and over again. More mileage, more speed workouts, recovery days, long runs. Eat well, sleep enough. Etc. Etc. And for most of us, that’s all we really need to know. Sure, some coaches and sports scientists have studied the hell out of human physiology and continuously search for those tiny, overlooked areas that may give us an edge, have written numerous books on the subjects, and have the evidence to back up all their theories. Considering some of this knowledge is an individual’s life work, I put my trust in them, but I don’t nitpick or pour over statistics, figures, charts, etc., like my running career depends on securing the degree they have. Like I said, I trust them. The funny thing is, all their hard work gets condensed and filtered into a relatively compact chart that consists of varied stressor runs 2 times a week, a few recovery runs and a long run. That’s it. All those late nights. All those tests. And this is what we have. And this works.
But obviously it’s not that simple. It’s not just a matter of following this pretty simplistic training schedule and letting our genes and dedication sort us out. No, there are advantages, of which vary from runner to runner. We experiment, try new methods and discard others, always trying to answer that question, “How do I get faster?”
The good thing is, for most of us, the plans are laid out and all we have to do is continuously build and build and build. Each effort, each milestone can be capitalized on by simply adding more mileage, another speed workout or a longer long run. As running is an accumulative effect and most runners have a wide open window of progression to play with, meaning they aren’t maxing out their biological limits by running 100 – 150 miles a week, following all the prescribed training stressors and so on, it’s then just a matter of adding what you can add or what your lifestyle allows. Short of the limitations of aging, this is what makes running so exciting. It seems like “getting faster” is always one race away with the proper training additions.
This has been the way I’ve looked at it for the past few years I’ve been running. Each milestone race always has me thinking, “Ok, what do I do now?” I started out just running, putting in an old high school speed workout once a week, because it was all I knew. Then I added more mileage. Then I added another speed workout (6 x 1 mile repeats). Then I added more mileage. Then I added hills. Then I added more mileage. Then I added fartleks. Then I added more mileage.
Soon though, I found I was following the prescribed training routines of so many years of study and refinement. 2 speed workouts a week, 4 recovery runs of various pacing, and a long run, and doing all this at around 70 – 75 miles a week….basically going on instinct and the accumulative knowledge of so many running magazines and websites. It seemed I was doing what I needed to get faster.
Then I stumbled on the marathon after a solid 1/2 marathon performance of 1:10:28 generated under my own direction. I started running with the club I’m in now and absorbed so much more knowledge, so many more small refinements that would really enhance my running. Some of it were the types of workouts I was doing, some of it had to do with mileage building routines (stepping up and backing off), some of it had to do with peaking, some of it had to do with fueling and so on. What I learned overall is that there is ALWAYS more to add to help answer the question, “How do I get faster?”
Where I thought I was following the routine properly and there was not much more I could do to get faster, I started to learn there was actually a lot more, but it was going to necessitate a little more expert knowledge…a coach. I, not reluctantly, gave over all training considerations to Coach Matt and let him dictate my running days for the following year and so on. I simply didn’t trust myself to understand the effort and training methods necessary for hitting the Trials Qualifying time and the more I work with him the more I know I’m right in making that decision to relinquish that control. This is serious business.
We had our first post-Chicago meeting Monday and discussed our upcoming plans for our next qualifying attempt. With his knowledge of so many viable races that combine a fast course, proper competition and GOOD WEATHER, we settled on the Houston Marathon on January 30th. With that out of the way, we started addressing the question, “How do I get faster?”
We touched on the default consideration…more mileage. Since I was consistently doing 90 – 100 miles a week this last go around, we both knew it was time to step up to 110 – 120 miles a week, but this isn’t so flippantly done. It’s not just a matter of adding miles to the run, but actually doing multiple runs a day. This allows one to get in the necessary mileage, but avoids the injuries that often come with doing long runs day after day all in one pop, not allowing the necessary recovery that comes with breaks between efforts. So that means my first change is to start running twice a day (not every day mind you), once before work and once after. This ought to be interesting as not only do I go into work at 7 am, but we’re also entering winter time in the midwest, which will mean getting up extra early, somehow putting on tights and all the winter accoutrements, and heading out into the pitch dark and bitingly cold air for 4 – 5 easy miles before work. I’m tempted to paint, “How do I get faster?” on the wall outside my room as my reminder to suck it up and get out the door on those mornings I can’t imagine lifting one foot in front of the other in those conditions.
Beyond mileage, we also touched on strength. My teammate Jesse, who is a shoe-in for qualifying, is adding strength training to his routine to give him that extra security late in the race in case he has a bad day on his next go. I’m adding strength training, legs and core, to make sure I have no excuses or weak points the next time I go. We want to leave no stone left unturned.
As Coach mentioned…we don’t want to go into the next attempt needing an “A” day to qualify, but rather we’d prefer the ability to qualify even if I only have a “B+” day. To that end I’ve also added a couple more small changes to my routine in order to gain that advantage.
I’ve switched up my normal route from my comfortable, but incredibly flat stretch of rail-trail to one that is a lot of asphalt, but more importantly comprised of hills. I am going to pay attention to how my legs feel so they can get the proper recovery they need, but since I’ll be racing on roads, I want to train my legs to take the abuse of roads. And since hills are good for you in so many ways, even if I’m not doing a specific hill workout, I’m going to make sure they are consistent part of my running in order to build confidence and strength.
Then finally, I’m working on form. Seeing the plethora of photos after this years Chicago race and looking at my form from the beginning of the race to the end was a real eye-opener. I saw how my feet fall when I get tired. I saw how my arms become useless. I saw how I just revert into this comfortable fetal position that may conserve energy, but does nothing for speed. Plus, it’s just ugly. These past runs I’ve concentrated on lifting my knees up and out, utilizing my arms more, swinging them in straight lines instead of across the front of my body and hanging them lower instead of tucking them up near my torso. I can’t say the changes have increased my speed by X amount, but I certainly feel faster and have been running faster, but I know the more this becomes routine, the better it will help me in the marathon.
That question always hangs, “How do I get faster?” and this time I’m trying to answer it with changes both big and small. We’re going to add mileage, get in a solid block of training coming off chicago, steel my legs, reintroduce strength training, add hills and work on form. We will leave no stone left unturned, no advantage unconsidered.
Soon, we should start answering that question in practice and see where it takes us. To Houston for starters, and onwards.