You know the old saying: if you want to run faster, run faster. Well, that holds true to an extent – but what if you’ve been diligently following your training plan, completing all the prescribed sessions, and your race pace has reached a plateau? Perhaps you need to spring clean your running week to make sure you’re getting the very best benefits from every run you do. That doesn’t just mean killing yourself with endless speed intervals. Every run you do over a training period has something to add to your racing speed. Whether it’s mixing things up so that your body faces new challenges or just re-calibrating your speed sessions after a long period of doing the same distances and times every week, here’s some simple changes to five classic running sessions that will see you running faster.
The change: run with someone faster
Intervals sessions are the standard way to get faster and that’s because they’re really effective. Whatever race distance you’re training for – or even if you’re just trying to get a bit fitter – you can tailor an intervals session to your needs, running anything from 20-second sprints up to 1K reps. Even if you still find your intervals session challenging, if you haven’t changed it for a few weeks and you’re completing all the intervals with relative ease, then you will benefit from changing it up.
The simplest way to do to this is to give yourself a ‘hare’ to chase: do your intervals session with someone faster – ideally with an entire group as part of a club track session. Either find someone naturally slightly faster than you and try to chase them down, or team up with a much more experienced runner who’s willing to pace you for a session every other week. If you can’t find a running partner, or just prefer to train alone, you can also make use of technology to the same effect: using ‘virtual partner’ functions on some GPS watches, for example.
The change: sprinkle in faster bursts
When you’re training to run long distances faster, the threshold session is a vital ingredient in your weekly mix. Training at or just below your lactate threshold helps you maintain that ‘comfortably hard’ pace you need to run a good 10K or half, and raises your threshold to make marathon running less painful (because you can maintain a higher speed for longer before lactate starts building up in your muscles).
Precisely because it helps get you used to running at this level, this training won’t stay that hard forever, so you might want to shake it up. The first thing you can do is re-measure where your threshold is, whether you’re using pace or heart rate to determine it. Secondly, you can make your threshold sessions more challenging by throwing in a few very quick bursts of speed – a threshold fartlek session. Say you were running two 10-minute intervals at threshold with five minutes in between: at the end of each interval, do two minutes of 10-second sprints, with 20 seconds easy recovery; or just gradually accelerate off the end of your threshold interval and run for 30-second at your top speed before recovering. The good thing about this session is that it also replicates the unpredictable bursts of speed you might have to put in during a race –especially when you’re nearing the finish and realise that PB is just within reach!
The change: mix up your hills
Strength is essential for any kind of running and you probably know that including a few tough gradients in your sessions is a great, sport-specific way to improve that strength. You’ll work your glutes, hamstrings and core as you power up to the top – as well as raising your heart rate!
Usually, hill sessions are done as regular intervals over one or two hills, with jogging recoveries down the slope. If you want to make the sessions more difficult, the best way to do this is to mix up your hills. Ideally you’d find a new location to run, with plenty of off-road slopes (running on uneven and soft grounds adds to the challenge even more), but if that’s not possible then you can do a session on the treadmill instead – most have a pre-programmed hills session so that you still get that unpredictable challenge. Try to maintain the same hard effort over all the hills, no matter how steep the slope –each will bring its own challenges.
The change: make it a race sandwich
Running far improves your overall cardiovascular fitness. There’s just one problem: over time, as you become fitter, your long runs can become a boring slog and you don’t feel you’re gaining much from them. This is especially true if you’re not training for a half or marathon, so there’s no benefit to making the session longer and longer every week.
One way to make it tougher is to break your long run up with a cheeky race in the middle. A simple way to do this is using your local parkrun: run to the event, aiming to arrive so you don’t have too long to wait around before the start; then do the parkrun as fast as you choose (you might find it’s hard to ‘take it easy’ once you’re in the crowd!) You can then either run home steadily or just have a 10-minute cool down.
The change: run it easier
Every runner should have one session in their week with no particular aim other than to get out, enjoy the scenery and let their legs recover from the rest of the sessions. We’re not going to suggest you make this session harder – that would be counterproductive. In fact, the one tweak you could make to your easy run that would actually make you faster is to run this session even easier. Let your body really recover from the hard work you’ve put in on your other runs and use it as a mental break to remind yourself why you love running. If you do more than one easy run a week, you could even swap one of them for a low intensity, low-impact cross-training session such as swimming or easy cycling.