One of the things that is coming out of my PT sessions is that the old adage about having to choose speed or distance and that it’s really hard to work on both is really true. I tried doing both and screwed up my ankle.
For right now, it is looking like I am going to have to choose speed, since my ankle can’t handle the stress of doing a lot of long runs right now. So my plan is to focus on speed at the shorter distances.
But, how does one get faster, anyway? Obviously, running lots of miles doesn’t make you fast, so what does?
In a nutshell, her advice is to:
1) Do speedwork. Duh. A lot of people try to get faster by just running more miles. This was basically my plan in 2013. It works a little bit just through an increase in fitness, but you will reach a point of diminishing returns pretty quickly. And then you injure yourself…
There are a lot of different kinds of speedwork. Some people do 800s, 400s, tempo runs, sprints, strides. I couldn’t tell you pros and cons of any of them, but the point is you need to do some kind of speedwork in order to actually get faster. (I.e., go faster to get faster).
Since I am going to focus on shorter distances, and I lost a lot of fitness with surgery and injury, I am starting out with 400 repeats. When my endurance improves I’ll probably go to 800s. But for now 400s is good. On Thursday, I did 5×400 repeats for a total workout of about 2.5 miles. It was actually supposed to be 6×400, but I was so tired after 4 that I backed way off on the 5th repeat and gave up entirely on the 6th. Gotta start somewhere though.
The repeats were run at 9:15, 8:45, 8:15, 7:45, and 8:45. Next time I probably won’t make that jump to 7:45 until the last repeat, but I just wanted to see if I could do it. Since the answer is just barely, I will have to save it for the end next time.
2) Speed up your cadence – Again, go faster to get faster. This is actually a form issue that I’ve been working on for a while. The ideal running cadence is supposed to be somewhere around 180 steps per minute. Mine tends to be slower, so I downloaded an app for my phone called Metronome Beats to use when I run. There is a little ball that bounces back and forth and I try to match up my footfalls.
3) Run with someone faster – this is one I probably won’t be doing very often since most of the runners I know who are faster are running the longer distances.
4) Maintain an optimal running weight – better known to most people as losing some weight. I suspect this is an item I need to consider. I am not overweight in a general sense, but what is optimal for running faster is not necessarily the same as your weight that would otherwise be considered normal or ideal. Gravity sucks for runners, even more than for the average person. I know this because I ran on an “antigravity treadmill” this week and noticed that with 25% of my weight removed I was suddenly considerably faster and had a lot less ankle pain than I normally do. So I think it is something I need to look at.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be ridiculous about this. It’s important to maintain perspective, after all. Also, running is not an excuse to be anorexic – So how do you figure out what is a healthy, optimal running weight? I’m not sure, so I’ll have to look into it and write a post just on this topic. I think 10% of my body weight would probably be a doable number, though, and a healthy one that at one point I have weighed and maintained during my adult life.
5) Form – this is one I’ve been working on for a long time. Unfortunately, there are a lot of things going on, so I just pick one thing at a time to focus on. A big one has been pushing off vs. reaching forward, not crossing the midline and staying quiet in the upper body. I’ve been able to improve some areas of my form but it is an area I really need to work on. Again, probably worthy of a separate post just on this topic.
In addition to these areas, there are a couple of other things I can do to get faster.
1) Strength train – I have a home exercise program from my PT sessions that I am doing, which is working on some of the weak areas in my “drive train.” My ankle injury occurred due to weakness in the hips and possibly lack of mobility in the big toe, which the exercises are supposed to address. An added benefit of improving strength and mobility in those areas should be an increase in speed.
2) Cross training – running is the best exercise for runners, but it is very hard to improve quickly when you’re coming back from an injury or a surgery by just running more miles. The body can’t take it. To improve cardio fitness without injuring myself, I need to do some other type of low impact cardio activity. So for now, I’m going to be running 2 – 3 times a week as long as my ankle doesn’t hurt, doing spin class a couple of times a week and using the elliptical and the Adaptive Motion Trainer the rest of the time. Plus strength training / rehab exercises pretty much every day.
That’s how I plan to get faster. Is getting faster something you’re working on? Tell me your plan in the comments!