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!