Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 11 Apr 2000 23:08:54 -0400

The Need for Speed

Relief came at last from the steady drip-drip-drip of marathon questions that monopolize my mail. Richard Moyle strayed from the norm in his e-letter from Australia.

"I am a 44 year-old and run a comfortable 7-K most mornings," he wrote. "One day of the week I run a slow 15- to 20-K.

"I want to do more speedwork to improve my times. I want to take my running to a new level."

Moyle didn't say at which distances he wanted to improve. But he surely wasn't talking about the marathon, or he would have said so. Runners rarely leave that magic M-word unstated.

He added specific questions: "Is racing more often the best way to improve speed? Is it helpful to vary the pace within my daily runs? Is hill running valuable? Is bike riding or weight training beneficial?"

The advice to Richard Moyle began on this encouraging note: "A small amount of speed will take you a long way toward your goal of faster racing." Then came a series of answers to his questions, and a set of tips for him to try.

1. The single way to improve racing speed is by racing. In no workout by yourself can you so push so much and match the stresses so precisely.

I recommend that most of the races be short, not more than 10-K and usually around 5-K. They're the fastest, and you recover them the quickest -- letting you tap into their benefits most often.

2. Another excellent way to build speed without turning over your life to the project is this: Add a single mile or kilometer to one or two of your otherwise easy runs each week.

Run this mile/K at the pace of your shortest race (that is, fastest one, which probably is a 5-K), warming up before and cooling down afterward with slower running.

3. You can maintain your hard-won speed with a small and simple addition to your everyday runs: Speed up for the final minute.

Again, run this minute at 5-K race pace. This regularly reminds your legs and lungs how faster running feels, while not overwhelming them.

4. Hills are a disguised form of speedwork. They work the legs and lungs in much the same way.

Make the ups and downs part of your regular routine. Incorporate them into your everyday running routes.

5. Biking and weight training are excellent supplements to a running program. They give balance to otherwise one-dimensional fitness.

Biking in particular builds the "speed" muscles of the upper legs. But you're still wise to view this activity only as supplemental training, not as substitutes for faster running.

Answering the question of what to do to become faster as a runner is simple and the same as it has always been: Run faster. But the questions of how much speedwork, how fast and how often have dozens of possible answers.

Those above are only mine. The old tricks worked better for me better than any of the fancier formulas for speedwork that were heavily tested and found wanting.

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