By Christopher Cudworth
That means you’re not doing something right. Here’s how to fix it.
1. You’re not running fast enough often enough
Speed work once a week does not cut it folks. Long slow distance and even race paced training will not make you faster. You need to set up workouts that put you in a zone where you’re running as much as 20% faster than your race pace. Only then will you push your muscles into a response rate that makes race pace feel slower than it actually is.
2. Training in your racing shoes
If you don’t put on your racing flats except for race day, you’re blowing the opportunity to teach your body, especially your feet and legs, how to act during race conditions. Buy some racing flats and train in them once a week.
3. Shorten your stride and increase your leg turnover
Most runners have a really slow cadence in their footstrikes. Overstriding is the fastest way to slow yourself down. Cut down your stride and increase the cadence and practice that on the track at known, empiric paces. You will see improvement.
4. Run more hills, more often.
If you can’t find a hill on which to train, run stairs. Going up puts pressure on your feet, ankles and knees, forcing you to use your quadriceps to drive your stride and your hamstrings to pull the leg through. It’s strength work.
5. Speaking of strength work…
Do it all year round. Go to the gym if you can and do hamstring curls, weighted knee bends (holding 10-25 lbs in each hand) and work on your core with planks and pushups. That’s all it takes. Stop making excuses and get stronger.
Cycling is a great compliment to running. So is swimming. You need these activities to still train when running fatigue makes your muscles or joints sore. But here’s another hint: play some hoops or tennis to build tensile strength in your joints.
7. Train with people better than you
If you don’t get into a group that pushes you, the training you are doing will never hold up against the competition you want to beat. Being pushed is vital to getting faster.
8. Stop making excuses after races
There is no such thing as “I could have had a better race.” You didn’t. That’s because you’ve trained your brain to prepare for giving in, then justify it later. Woulda-coulda-shoulda is no way to behave. It’s okay to say “I didn’t do as well as I’d like” but to say you COULD have done better is not the path to salvation. Use your shortfalls to find ways to get better. Using your excuses to take the pressure of yourself does not help you improve.
It’s easy to find races close to home that hardly matter. It’s another thing to do somewhere and invest in the process to put some happy pressure on yourself. Then get rest, dedicate yourself to the cause and don’t fritter away your preparations by staying up late drinking and eating the night before. Sanctify your efforts and you can challenge your perceptions. If you’re used to doing long races like marathons, jump in a 5K again. If you’re looking to go up in distance, use the simple rule of only doubling your racing distance at first. This is a process, not an insane path to hurting yourself.
10. Keep your most precious goals to yourself
Talking your life away is not the way of a champion or even a good weekend warrior. There are some things best kept to yourself, and your deepest goals are something you should share only with those absolutely closest to you. That counts your coach or other confidants.
There you have it. 10 practical ways to get better at running. Don’t say you weren’t told.