Get Faster by Running Less

Yesterday was the official opening day for the 2013 New York Marathon and that means we’ll soon have to back off on Throwback-style training and start running a lot more.  Or will we??

Adam Driver Stretching.jpg

There’s a common misconception that to get faster, all you should do is run longer and more often.  We used to prepare for road races this traditional way – several days a week of 6+ mile jogs and little to no strength conditioning.  We’ve always found that type of training monotonous, but have recently come to realize that it was unproductive and made us more susceptible to injury.  Nowadays, when training for a race, whether it’s a 5K or marathon, we do few runs over 4 miles.    Instead we attribute improvements in our race times to interval workouts and short, intense metabolic conditioning ('metcon') sessions.

One reason we prefer interval training and metcons is because it is known to enhance an athlete's lactate threshold.  This has been shown to be a significant factor determining performance for long distance running events.  The burn and pain you feel when performing an anaerobic activity (ie sprinting) at a high intensity is lactic acid accumulating in your bloodstream.  This buildup impairs muscle contractions and forces you to slow down.  When performing these exercises repeatedly, you can improve your body’s ability to process oxygen and notice you can run faster for a longer period of time.  In fact, a recent study has shown that elite soccer players have similar endurance capabilities of a 2:36 marathoner!

We also recommend more of these Throwback-style workouts because this type of anaerobic activity strengthens muscles whereas prolonged aerobic activity can weaken them (compare the body of a sprinter to that of a marathoner). 

Sprinter v Marathoner small.jpg

Also, many physiologists agree that metabolic conditioning can put the body in an elevated fat burning state for hours after the workout – more on this later.

Some workout ideas…

These are best on a track but can also be done on a treadmill.  You can always substitute a rowing machine for running to vary up your workouts.  It’ll produce a similar effect in improving your VO2 Max.

Distance intervals

Pick any distance between 100 meters and 800 meters.  Run that distance as fast as you can while keeping time.  Allow yourself to rest the same amount of time it took you to run that distance and then repeat.  Shoot to run a total distance of 2.5 miles (10 400m intervals or 5 800m intervals).  There should be little variation in time for each interval. Record all of your times, monitor improvement with each workout and experiment with different distances.

Time intervals

  • 4 rounds of:
  • Running all out for 5 minutes followed by 3 minutes of rest
  • Try to increase the distance ran with each interval.  You can also experiment with shorter run/rest periods.

Sprint Ladder

  • Sprint 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds
  • Sprint 1 minute, rest 1 minute
  • Sprint 1:30, rest 1:30
  • Sprint 2 minutes, rest 2 minutes
  • Sprint 2:30, rest 2:30
  • Sprint 3 minutes, rest 3 minutes
  • Sprint 2:30, rest 2:30
  • Sprint 2 minutes, rest 2 minutes
  • Sprint 1:30, rest 1:30
  • Sprint 1 minute, rest 1 minute
  • Sprint 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds

Fartlek

There are various ways to do this but a general example is 10-15 minute warm up, 2 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 3 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 4 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 4 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 3 minutes hard, 2:30 easy, 2 minutes hard, 10-15 minutes cool down

Don't ditch your long runs entirely.  They are good way to gauge yourself and build confidence.  But if you're running 6 miles, 5x a week, you probably aren't going to achieve the speed you are capable of.