I Wanna Go Fast!

The other day, I got an email from a reader:

I’ve been reading your blog for about ayear, and to me, you’ve always been someone who I consider “impossibly fast.” That is, you run at a speed that I could never realistically hope to achieve. You recently linked to the post about your first half-marathon. I did my own first half-marathon last weekend, and I was really surprised to learn that my time was only about 8 minutes slower than your first. I was expecting the difference to be much bigger. Reading that gave me hope that maybe I’m *not* destined to always be this slow.

So– the question: How did you improve your speed? If you could give advice to someone who just ran a first half and would like to improve her speed, what would it be?

I ran a few races while I was still overweight and living in D.C. I ran my first race because my boss was chairing the 5K committee at the National Press Club, and she talked me into running it. After that, I liked the idea of running and signed up to run the Army Ten-Miler that year.

My first 5K time was 38:22–a 12:20 pace; I ran that Army Ten-Miler in 2:19:20–a 13:56 pace.

But I really consider the beginning of my running story a little over two years ago, when I ran the Sloan-Kettering Rock ‘N’ Run 5K in 35:39, an 11:30 pace. It was less than a 12-minute mile, and I was thrilled! I was also hooked, and I wanted to run more races and get faster.

2009 Army Ten-Miler, 1:58:55, 11:53 pace.

Six months later, by the time I ran my second 5K, I ran it in 27:48, an 8:56 pace. This year, I’m hoping to take a half-hour off of my marathon time. How did I shave so much time off of my 5K so quickly, and how do I continue to get faster?

First of all, I think that being new to running gave me a lot of room to improve as I learned more about running smart and as I ran more. As my body got used to running, it adapted and I began running faster. But there a few other things that I think helped.

Intervals. Joel, the trainer I was working out with, had me doing lots of intervals on the treadmill. Now, I refer to this as speedwork, but that wasn’t its purpose back then. Back then, its purpose was high-intensity interval training that would torch those extra pounds and fat off of me. I actually started running by doing intervals on the treadmill–running 45 seconds as fast as I could and then recovering for a minute and repeating until I got to 20 minutes–and then realizing if I could do these intervals, I could also just yog for an extended period of time.

Consistency. Since I began taking running seriously about two and a half years ago, I’ve never taken off more than a week or so from running. The more you run, the easier it will get. (Duh.) I’ve never run more than 4 days a week, though. I started having some knee issues around the time of my first half-marathon last year, and I realized that more than 3-4 days of running a week was too much for me.


Increasing distance. This doesn’t work for everyone, but increasing distance has seemed to help me get faster. Once I started running long distances, when I was running short distances, I’d think “well, if I can run 18 miles and run for hours and hours, clearly I can push myself a little harder through these three miles.” Somehow it’s worked.

Speedwork. Once I started really getting into running, I took a break from the intervals that Joel had recommended for me. This year, when I started training for those three half-marathons, Lizzy had me doing speedwork. I sort of hated her, but it really helped. I shaved 8 minutes off of my half-marathon time!

I wrote back to that reader, that if I had to give her specific advice (and I am not an expert, just someone who’s gotten faster), that I’d say running 3-4 days a week of: one long run, one shorter recovery run, 1 day of speedwork (Runner’s World has great suggestions) and one other day of running.

Speaking of fast people, and people who went far, there are some very inspiring race recaps you need to read:

ALI RAN A MARATHON. You will cry.

Meghann did a half-Ironman! (So did her sister, Kelly, but her recap isn’t up yet. No matter how much I keep checking.)

So, tell me either about how you got faster, or about a race you ran this weekend!

21 comments on “I Wanna Go Fast!

  1. janetha

    banana lady! haha. i love it. you should just post yourself holding a banana in every post from now on. 🙂 i don’t like running so i don’t really focus on improving my running abilities.. but i can crank it up to 10 mph for a couple minutes on the ol’ treadmill!

  2. sarahsaysrun

    This question gets asked all the time! “How do I get faster?” I was with a trainer once who simply said, “To run faster, you have to run faster”
    In as much as I wanted to say, “Well you’re just being sutbborn and ridiculous” it makes total sense. If you want to get faster, you have to get those legs moving a little bit faster, even if just for a minute, just run faster.

  3. Ericka Andersene

    Dang, you are always pointing out things I know I should do but whine and don’t do them! (aka ice baths, speedwork, etc.) Well, I will have to get on it because I know it will be worth it!! Thanks for the tips 🙂

  4. Ashley @ Freckles & Spice

    Haha, I agree with what Janeetha said about bananas making an appearance in all your posts.
    My run coaches have me doing the same kind of routine “running 3-4 days a week of: one long run, one shorter recovery run, 1 day of speedwork and one other day of running.” At first it was hill work instead of speedwork and then half way through my program it transitioned. I actually really like speedwork. Kicks your butt and makes you feel good.

  5. Britney

    I also find your faster race times so encouraging. I ran my first half in 2:48 in May (a 12:50 pace), and I’m pretty sure I’ll take off 10 minutes when I run my next one in November. And I struggled with a 10k last fall, but based on training runs I should be able to knock 10 minutes off that pretty easily (it’s in 2 weeks!).

    I love that I am seeing so much improvement over time – I won’t be winning races anytime soon, but I love setting PRs.

  6. Rosalba

    Hi! First time commenting, but have been reading for a couple of weeks (found my way here via Tina’s CnC) 🙂
    So, I wouldn’t actually call myself a real runner yet (I guess I feel like I should run a proper race for that?), but I also started running when I was still very much overweight (obese, even!) as a way of cross-training and getting a high-impact workout to protect my bone density. I’ve been told I have the most boring reason for picking up running 🙂 oh, I remember those couch-to-5K days! Next thing I knew, I was past 3 miles, then up to 6, then past 8… So the more I ran, the harder and faster I wanted to run! 🙂 the big thing is that I haven’t had an injury yet, and I think that’s because I bike and was using the elliptical so much, that my leg muscles were up and ready for the challenge! So I think all the crosstraining and previous strengthening of my legs was a major factor in my body being able to take the increasing challenge of a faster pace. Just yesterday, I made it to 7.5 miles in 63 minutes, and am pretty proud of myself (it takes a lot to get me to run more than 1 hr!) 😀

  7. Geraldine

    I just ran my first half this past weekend at 2:36. This post definitely gives me hope that I’ll be able to increase my speed and hopefully one day even have a sub 2:00 half. Thanks so much for all of your tips!

  8. Cristina W

    Great post.! Thanks for sharing your tips. My last two races were the army ten miler in 10/04 and the capitol hill 10k in 5/05. I have not run since then. I was doing a 10 minute mile back then which i was happy with, but now (training for my first 1/2 marathon) I am running(more like jogging) around a 12 minute mile. I thought i was just getting old, but I think I’m going to put your advice into practice after I’m done with the 1/2 to see if I can improve my time. Never in a million years did I think it would be possible to run under 10 minute miles for me, but maybe it is…

  9. Jennifer

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and I’m really impressed with how much faster you’re getting. I reckon you’re in with a shot of beating Ali’s marathon time ;).

    Good luck with your marathon in November. I am also running one around the same time so am following your training with interest.

  10. Mariel @ Mariel Moves

    Love your blog, found you through CnC. Your times are so inspiring! I’m fairly new to running, well not really to running but to racing. And I’m totally hooked now! I’ve run a few 5ks, best time….29:34 and I just want to get better! I have 2 10ks coming up soon…so I’m def taking your tips and running w them (no pun intended! Ha!)

  11. Christine

    you are amazing. in awe of all of your accomplishments and improvements in such a short time period.

    i think consistency is the #1 for me. if you dedicate yourself to the workouts, there’s really no way you can’t get faster or run longer over time.

  12. Lauren

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few months and love it. I just went and checked your recaps for all the half marathons you’ve done. I know I’ve done this in the past but it’s been awhile. My half time hovered around 2:46 for about 2 years and then in May I dropped it to 2:20. I lost about 20 lbs and finally made myself do speedwork. Also, every distance I raced this year I’ve managed to PR – 5k, 8k, 10k, half. While thrilled with that 25 min half PR, I’m looking to go faster but am just not sure how much faster I can go. I think in 2012 I want to get down closer to 2:10 and then if that happens maybe I’ll think about that elusive (feels VERY elusive for me) sub 2.

    Good luck with the upcoming marathon! I’m running Chicago for the second time and I’d like to go just under 5 hours compared to my 2009 race of 6:09. 😉


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