Good-Bye Turtle Power. I am done with you. I feel the need – the need for speed. After running the Little Rock Marathon I was Ok with my race performance, but overall I was also wondering what it would take to run faster. To qualify for Boston I would have to shave off almost 40 minutes from race time in Little Rock or almost 33 minutes from my personal PR. I started wondering how other people in my age group are able to run fast enough to BQ. It is not that my approach to training is bad, but apparently it is not good enough for to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
After coming back from Arkansas I did not really take a break as my next marathon (Fargo, ND) would be just about 9 weeks later. After the first week from being back I decided I need to push harder with my effort to become faster. I think I have been too easy on myself and I was ready to change it. I started reading up on how to improve my running and my speed and a few days later I had a pretty good impression of how to address the issue. I am not sure if I would see significant changes when running Fargo, but I decided to move forward with my plan. I can cover the distance, no doubt about it. In Little Rock I was able to run a negative split for the first time in a marathon and I was really happy with how I ran the last 8 miles of the race. I knew that I had lost critical time in the first half and when I closed in on the 4:10 pace group during the race I told myself that I did not want to finish at around 4:10, but rather closer to 4 hours. So, I think I am bringing a good foundation into the mix.
To become faster you have to run faster and that is what I did. In too many training runs for Little Rock I ran too slow even on the shorter runs. It is Ok to run a bit slower on the long runs, but ideally some of the shorter runs should be tempo runs and that’s where I started. I forced myself to run faster on my morning runs and overall that worked out good. I also started adding sprints and fartlek training to my runs. I knew I could run faster on a more permanent basis and I was probably just too easy on myself before. Now with giving a little more and having added some speed related exercises my average pace improved by 30-40 seconds per mile compared to my training runs for Little Rock. This worked well on runs up to 10 miles, but I have barely seen any improvements on my long runs yet. On the last 3 long runs I started out with a faster pace, but my performance started fading after about 14 miles and so I have not been able to sustain faster speeds on the long distance runs yet. After the 3rd long run since Little Rock this got me thinking and I know I still have to add something else to the mix. For one it takes a bit of time until the improvements become more permanent. As an example building up muscle is a time consuming process and exercises I would do today would not “show up” within a day or two. It usually takes 7-10 days for the ongoing muscle growth.
I decided to add additional strength training to the mix – specifically strength training that would help me to run faster. While I do have access to running tracks, I do not have the time to easily add track interval training to my marathon training. I usually run in the mornings before work near the office building where I work and there is no track close + it is 5.00 AM in the morning and dark which does not make it easier. But I read about stair climbing as part of marathon training and how others had seen great benefits from doing it and so I decided to do that instead. Stair climbing is a great workout. The plyometric motion of climbing stairs strengthens your muscles, heart, and lungs for better running. Climbing stairs forces you to work against gravity, and in return this helps build two essential needs for us runners: strength and power. Climbing stairs improves your VO2 max—the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during intense exercise.
A neighboring office building from where I work has a decent set of stairs outside and that is where I am doing my stair climbing sessions. I added two stair climbing sessions per week to my marathon training. On those training days I start with a 4 mile run and then add a 15-25 minute stair climbing session right after the run. This specific set of stairs has 32 steps and I now do about 5-10 sets with (currently) 7 repetitions each. So, each set has a minimum of at least 220 steps I need to take. I run up the stairs and then jog down the stairs again – doing between 5 to 10 repeats as mentioned. Then I usually have about one minute of walking rest before doing the next set. In addition the starting 4 mile run on those days I specifically use to do sprints and fartleks in-between.
Now a 4 mile run is not a 8 mile run or a 20 mile run, but since upgrading my training my usual morning runs are done at a pace at around 8.30 minutes per mile (compared to 9 / 9.10 minutes per mile before. The 4 mile runs are significantly faster and I am able to run those with an average pace between 8.10 and 7.45 minutes per mile. The other day I went for a 10 mile run in the morning and I was able to maintain a 8.27 minutes/mile average pace on a very hilly course. Yesterday I ran for almost 8 miles at an 8.11 minutes per mile pace. So, all signs are pointing to an increased level in strength and therefore better speeds, but I still would like to see confirmation in one of my longer training runs of course.
What are you doing to run faster?