There are many different opinions about how to improve your speed.
In my opinion the best way to pick up the pace at any distance is to first get the pace right. If you aren’t able to hold a consistent pace then this is the first step to improving your times. When your body gets comfortable at a pace, it’s easier to maintain it for longer distances.
On shorter distances you can get away with a haphazard approach to improving speed. On a 5k, 10k and even a half marathon, if you have been training well and you dig deep and go for it, there is a good chance you will improve your time. When looking at a marathon (or longer) then this is very unlikely to work.
I’ve found over the years that the key to running faster over longer distances is to first slow down. Consistency is essential. If you are running too fast at the start you are likely to hit that dreaded wall. If you set off too slow, then you aren’t going to meet your full potential. So how do you get the pace right?
“I’ve found over the years that the key to running faster over longer distances is to first slow down.”
First of all have an ambition. Pick your desired goal over a distance, than ask yourself whether it is realistic. Now the hard part comes in: working at it. Some people advocate lots of long runs to improve speed and endurance. This has never been my style. The long run is very important, because if your body is not used to the distance the likelihood is you will slow and struggle at the end.
This does not mean you have to run at your desired pace; at least not all the time. The long run is about time on your feet, not setting the pace. I would recommend picking some long runs, or better still, part of a long run, to practice your race pace. But this should not be a hard pace during training. The long run is about distance and you should be increasing this gradually. If you increase the speed at the same time you are on a highway to injury!
Instead, practise your speed in the week. Mix it up and have fun. Run with others if you can, set yourself mini goals; having fun makes running easier.
Take a steady shorter run at marathon pace; do intervals or run a set distance much quicker. By running faster than marathon pace during training, the reality is that on race day the marathon pace will feel easy. This is good. Don’t fall into the trap, however, that means you set off faster. If you are comfortable in a race then consider upping the pace towards the end. Stick to what you have trained for.
Goals do change, and as you improve in training then so will your pace. Often people find their original goals being superseded during training, especially when you are newer to running. Through speed work and getting in your long runs, you will improve your overall pace.
Finally, don’t rush it. Don’t worry if you aren’t improving as quickly as you would like… have fun running, enjoy it and the rest will follow. See you on my next funbus!