Athletes often ask what it takes to get faster for running. If you’re wondering what it takes to be a faster runner head to the local track. Not to blow out 400’s and 200’s but to watch the faster runners to see what it takes. The other night I was at the track and had the privilege of watching a group of 6 young men do their set. After a few laps, I noticed key similarities in their running that likely contribute to the fact that they were, after all, quite fast. Here is what I noticed as well as what I’ve learned after running for over 17 years.
Watching the guys go around the track I was impressed by their lean physiques rippling with six-pack abs and noticeable quadriceps. It’s no secret that a leaner body lends to faster running. Running is the sport in triathlon where your body has to carry itself. The less weight you have, the less weight you’ll have to bear over the miles. This translates to less energy spent and faster running overall. Rather than fancy shoes, crazy track workouts or learning a new run form, drop 5 to 10 pounds and you’ll see the run splits come down. Research has shown that for every pound you lose, you take off about 2 seconds per mile. Do the math; 10 pounds leads to 20 seconds per mile. Over the course of a half marathon, that’s nearly 5 minutes of free time.
Stop Checking Your Splits
Not once did any of these guys check their splits or heart rate when running their set. Sure, they had watches on but during the set they were 100 percent absorbed in the task at hand. I’m guessing that each lap they were focusing on a series of cues, a process that leads to a certain pace rather than the pace itself. Thinking about cues such as your form and your self-talk can set you up for running that target pace. You might check in at your splits at the half way point just to be sure you are on track but in general let go of the constraint to always check your pace. Think about it – if you find out you are behind pace, negative thoughts might start. If you find out you are ahead of pace, would you be inclined to hold back rather than just run at the faster pace? Becoming a slave to your watch or heart rate monitor is not how you become a faster runner. Instead, focus on proper running form and encouraging self-talk. Become more involved in the process of faster running rather than worrying about pace.
Form Is Everything
Watch a fast runner and you will notice several key features of their form. There are many different approaches to run form out there that are being sold. However, you don’t need to learn a new method or pay big money to learn to run. Take a lesson from faster runners by observing several key features that lend to faster running overall. Shoulders are relaxed. Arms are moving in a forward motion with elbows slightly out. Turnover is around 180 steps per minute. Feet hit the ground directly under the body to begin the push off phase. Power comes from that push off. Eyes are focused ahead. Facial expression is calm and confident. Torso has a slight lean forward to drive itself. Movement is horizontal, not vertical. All body positioning and movement is directed at propelling the body forward as quickly and powerfully as possible, an economy of motion that is fluid and smooth. Including drills in your run warm up or one session a week will improve your ability to hold proper run form.
Keep It Simple
Repeat after me: there are no magical shoes. Watch fast runners and you’ll notice they keep it simple with the basics. A sturdy running shoe designed for how they run – not designed to change how they run. To find a shoe that works for you, find a reputable running store and have them assess how you run on a treadmill. From there they will recommend a suitable shoe. It might take several different shoes to find one that feels just right.
Run Slow To Run Fast
We all know someone like this – they have to hit a certain mileage or number in their run to feel good about their self. Sometimes this means overworking the warm up and cool down just to hit 6 miles in their easy run. Put the work where it counts. Warm ups and cool downs are just that. Let go of evaluating and recording your pace during this part of your run. Somewhere I read that the Kenyans warm up at a pace nearly 4 minutes slower than their top end mile. If you have a tempo, strength or speed section to your run be sure to warm up slowly and cool down slowly. This is important to not only prepare your body for the run ahead but to recover for the next workout or run. Not only that, but once properly warmed up you will be able to put more energy where it counts – in the meat of the workout where it counts to run fast.
Practice With A Purpose
Just because these guys can run sub 5-minute miles doesn’t mean they are doing it every time they run. Each run is with a purpose. Some workouts are designed for breakthrough performances – ie., track. Other runs are designed for aerobic capacity; ie., an easy run. Be sure to keep the purpose in mind. That said, don’t measure your run performance day to day. Rather, look for patterns over time. Worrying that you ran 10 minute miles on your easy run is not how you get faster. Let that go and instead focus your energy on being sure you are physically prepared, fueled and mentally charged to nail your breakthrough run. Keep the purpose in your run to get more out of your run. Make sure easier runs stay easy, hard runs hard.
Watch top runners and you’ll find the secrets to faster running are really no secret at all. Leaner, lighter physiques, efficient form, reliable equipment, proper pacing and purpose will help you to find faster splits. Take the time to sit at a college track – watch the distance runners and see what you can observe. Learn from the best to become better and faster overall.