The 3 Biggest Reasons You're Not Running as Fast as You Could beOct 13, 2021
You’re 3 weeks out from your next race. You’ve put your nose to the grindstone getting ready for this next half. Running each and every day. Knees pounding. Heels bleeding. Toenails blackened. Ready to take what’s yours. This is going to be your race. The universe would have to move heaven and earth to keep you from PR’ing this time around.
Race day comes. You cross the finish line, but all you can feel is...disappointment. All that hard work. All the sleepless nights, stress and anxiety over running your best. You missed the mark by just a few minutes. But what went wrong? You stretched. You ate well. You hydrated. You ran every single day.
We see it time and time again. Runners that end up stagnant and burnt out after piling on the miles. They're putting in the work but not making the progress they need. But why?
Don’t blame yourself. So many runners are following the plans they find online to a tee. Unfortunately, those plans lack the key ingredients that make that perfect PR recipe. The fault isn’t yours. You don’t know what you don’t know. It’s the program-monger “coaches” that are hocking their cookie cutter programs. (that’s a blog for another time)
Getting faster isn’t easy. It takes more hard work and dedication than most are willing to give. But the steps to get there are simple. Here are the 3 biggest reasons you’re not running as fast as you could be.
If you want to become the strongest runner you can be, download the Top 5 Strength Moves for Runners here
1. You’re Not Doing Enough Intervals (or the right intervals)
Ask yourself this question. “How often am I sprinting?” Not just going out and running a little faster than your competition pace, but a true full on Usain Bolt sprint.
The fact of the matter is that most of us just aren’t building the mechanics to run faster, because we’re not running faster! This is a very use it or lose it system. If you’re not out there showing your muscles and nervous system what it’s like to move at a high velocity, then they’re not going to be there for you on race day.
So you need to be doing more sprinting. But what kind? There’s no wrong answer here. We see a lot of runners using distance based intervals. X meter sprints times Y number of sets. This is fine, but we could also implement some time based intervals. X second sprints with Y amount of rest. Each has their own place in a runners regiment, and one might seem easier to you than the other. Keep in mind that you should be doing short bursts of speed. Intervals shouldn’t be reserved for 800m or 2 minute sprints. Throw some 10 second sprints in there. 100m sprints. Things that will help you really work on those speed mechanics. Intensity matters.
Now, how often should you be doing intervals? 2 or 3 times per week is fine, but may be difficult to fit in with your other training. As long as you’re doing at least 1 interval day per week you’re in the clear. We’ll say it again; If you’re not showing your body what it’s like to run fast, you won’t run fast. Period.
Pro Tip: Start sprinting now and stick to it. Humans are made to move, but how many people do you know that would probably pull a hamstring if they tried to sprint right now? The answer is too many. Practice those sprints and years down the road you can be a super badass older runner that’s still smoking all the kids. You’ll also have stronger muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments and be more resilient overall!
2. You’re Running Too Fast for Too Long
Wait, isn't the goal to run faster? And didn’t you just tell me I need to sprint more to be fast? Why am I still listening to you hypocritical weirdos? Yes and yes and that last one’s on you.
The point here is that runners are running too fast on their recovery runs. You don’t need to make every run a lactic threshold effort workout. In fact, you’re better off if you don’t. One distinguishing factor that can make a good runner great is proper recovery, and going all out all the time is a good way to hinder that recovery.
So run slower on those recovery runs. If you’re not with it already, start implementing more Zone 2 Heart Rate work. These are VERY slow runs. For some, you’ll be bordering on walking pace. If you’re unfamiliar with heart rate zones, these are percentages of your max heart rate. Training in different ranges can yield different results.
You can obtain most of the health benefits of running at a very slow pace (60-70% of max HR) - you should be able to say a complete sentence without breathing in between. Zone 2 work is fantastic at doing all of those neat, sciency things like increasing your body's ability to use fat as fuel (which is very hard to do with training in higher HR zones). This is the secret to high-level endurance athletes everywhere.
Without getting into too much heart rate talk, running at conversational pace allows us to build up the floor of our cardiovascular fitness, rather than just the ceiling. The top end of your fitness is relatively fixed and based upon your maximum heart rate. Training at a lower level teaches your body to perform exercise without causing as much stress, allowing you to perform at higher levels with less fatigue.
Also, a slower pace will decrease the impact per step, which will allow for a smoother transition to adapting to impact. As you progress over 12 weeks, slowly pick up speed. But start off SLOW!
Build the foundation to become the best. Get your free download of The Top 5 Strength Moves for Runners here
3. You Don’t Strength Train
There is often a big collective eye roll when runners hear that they should be in the weight room, but it is true. Increasing tissue capacity is likely to be the largest benefit of resistance training to both increase performance and reduce injury risk. In addition, other tissues in the body, such as tendons and bones, respond positively to the same stimuli.
Our goal should be global strength for our entire body. It unlocks more potential for speed and makes us more resilient to injury. In fact, a recent study concluded that just 13 minutes of strength training three times per week for 8 weeks was enough to stimulate the strength gains needed for runners. That's less than 5.5 hours over 8 whole weeks!
Resistance training will improve muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone strength, which will improve your tolerance to the impact of running and overall capacity to do work. More resilient tissues = greater ability to increase intensity. It will also increase force production. If you get those glutes, hamstring and calves stronger, you’ll be able to propel yourself faster and farther.
But how do you implement strength days into your routine? This can be a tricky one if you let it, as there is a lot of nuance involved. In general, focus on training each muscle group in the lower body (low back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, shin muscles, and feet) two to three times a week. Moves like squats, deadlifts and lunges should be staples in the runner's strength arsenal.
Shoot for at least one set close to fatigue with relatively heavy weight (sometimes relatively heavy is bodyweight!) for each body part per week, but 2-3+ sets per body part per week will likely give you faster results.
Single leg strength exercises are typically better for runners than using both legs, because running is a single leg activity. Things like pistol squats, single leg RDLs and split squats all mimic running more closely than the two leg versions. Specificity matters!
If you take nothing else away from this reading, it should be this: Take a day off of your running schedule and get into some resistance stuff. It could be at a gym, or at home with some basic equipment you’ve already got sitting around. The entry barrier is fairly low, but the gains to be had are great. Don’t let all of that performance sit there for someone else to take advantage of.
Don’t walk away from race day with your head down, content with sticking to the same ole plan hoping that something changes the next time. Have some confidence knowing that you’re in control. Don’t just throw these training ideas into your routine and hope they stick. Be consistent. Make a plan. Strategize. Make them work for you and reap the rewards.