2013 has been a successful year for me in that it marked the first time I was able to introduce speed work into my marathon schedule and not get injured or suffer burnout.
By incorporating a speed run or two into my schedule each week I’ve managed to improve my half marathon time from 2:07 to 2:02 and my full marathon time from 4:52 to 4:37 in just a few months.
Whilst these results are modest, up until winter 2012 my times were actually getting worse.
Here are 13 thoughts to consider to try to inspire you as a new runner into performing speed work more often.
- Every so often test your true speed limits - You don’t know what you’re capable of until you give yourself a chance to blossom. We impose limits upon ourselves that are based not on our true potential but often on the fear of failure. It pays sometimes switch off your inner critic and fucking go for it. Our inner critic is really just a mirror image of the criticism we’ve taken to heart from others. If you’ve moved on as a person since then, then your inner critic is dead. Discover the joy of proving yourself wrong over and over again.
- Every little bit of work helps your speed - When it comes to speed running as a beginner, doing a little of it is better than doing none at all. Ikick-started my speed training initially with 200m sprints towards the end of the run. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but eventually these bursts increased in volume and I started throwing in random shifts in pace across roads to keep running interesting. Eventually I was running faster out of habit rather than necessity.
- Don’t give up on speed work if you’ve just started - It’s too easy to surrender after one painful speed session and to return to plodding away. With each speed run you complete, it will get easier for you to manage. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing at the beginning. As I said above, every little helps. If you can get 3 seconds per mile quicker each month for the next 12 then you’ll be 36 seconds a mile faster come this time next year. That’s 8 minutes off your best half marathon with *only* 3 seconds progress on average per month.
- Remember speed work has practical uses - There are real life benefits to being able to run fast. I’ve been attacked before on nights out in town and if I had been doing my speed work (or even running at all at the time!) then I might have been able to make a getaway from the thugs/hoodlums/twats. A more positive example is being able to run for a train and catch it.
- Set a race time target to work towards with your speed training - A good example is setting yourself the goal of achieving a sub 2 hour marathon and then running at 9:09 min/mile or better as often as possible. Having a set time to aim for will give your speed work importance and will be the glue that holds the rest of your training together.
- Stop associating certain paces with pain - Before I started on speed running at the start of 2013 I thought that running a 9 minute mile would always be painful. It needn’t be. You can make a 9 minute mile less uncomfortable by bridging the gap between it and your current pace. If you run a 10 minute mile comfortably now, try running at 9:40 or 9:30 or 9:20 more often. Once that becomes your new comfortable pace then moving down to 9:00 will be easier. Running at faster paces becomes easier with practice.
- Break down each speedy mile into sections - If you don’t think you’re capable of “holding” a 9 minute mile (or whatever you target pace is), focus instead on running faster in bursts when your body is ready for it and then naturally slowing down as you tire. You don’t have to run at a steady pace. You’ll find that your energy will naturally ebb and flow as you run.
- Try not to think of “speed work” as “work” - I hate the phrase “speed work” for this reason. It makes it seem like something you have to do, rather than something you can enjoy doing. If like me you run for the fun of it, you don’t want to be encumbered by something you hate doing. I’d rather think of it as ‘speed play’ or fartlek as it reminds me of running for fun as a kid.
- Be consistent with increasing your speed - I made the mistake of trying to increase my pace too quickly when I was first starting out and this led to several cases of shin splints and runner’s knee. After recovering from these complaints lost any of the fitness I gained. I’ve only been able to improve my speed by closely monitoring my pace and resolving to increase it by a few seconds a week. Since then I’ve got faster and ran further without suffering any setbacks.
- Stop identifying yourself by your pace - I spent 2012 thinking I was a “5 hour marathoner” and that running fast was something that I just didn’t do. The more you think you are something, the deeper it becomes embedded in your mind. It starts effecting your habits, lifestyle and your beliefs. You are what you set out to be from today. If you want to be a faster runner, then try running faster just a little more often. That’s all there is to it.
- Keep track of your fastest average pace runs and then try to beat them - Before I set out on any speed session I open up my Garmin Connect account and check my previous bests for both the month and the year. I then negotiate a target average pace from this where I’ll focus on starting slow and build towards the average as the run progresses. At the minute on my speed runs I try to aim for around a 9:00 min/mile pace. Here are my fastest ever runs! (note : I am a big slow coach!).
- Accept that you can’t get faster on each run - If you push yourself to the point where you’re trying to set new personal records for yourself every time, then you’ll quickly face burn out. I had to find this out the hard way in March where I had a string of bad runs after a week of setting personal best after personal best. The truth is that those runs were only difficult because I didn’t listen to my body and run easier. That’s the thing though with running, the more you do it, the more you learn about yourself.
- Hills will help you out with speed - By running hills more often I found that sustaining my pace of 9:40 min/mile was much easier in the following weeks. When I am a comfortable at a certain pace then I’m more likely to push at a faster speed as I’ll be feeling great. Hill running makes running on the flat seem so much easier that the initial pain is worth it!
by Matt the Angry Jogger
Angry Jogger loves running to lose and maintain his weight. He started running as an obese man and is now only overweight at 200lbs. He started off at 280lbs.