I started running in the spring of 2014. Unlike most runners that start with a 5K, I started with a marathon. I have run 4 marathons, two half marathons and the 18.12 challenge. I have spent the last year training in hopes of getting faster but I haven't. Do you have any tips to help me run faster in 2017?
Tired of being half-fast
That is a distinguished running resume for someone who started running in 2014. Most marathon training is focused on endurance-which it should be, given the task at hand. It is worth your time to look over your race splits for those marathons, if you have them, to determine where your needs are. Are you going out too fast or are you running even splits? What is your normal pace? When you think of a goal pace or time for the marathon what is it based on?
That last question is a key one. Most aspiring marathoners pick a time they would like to run rather than what they are capable of running. This relates to our fascination with round numbers and benchmarks. Ask a 5 hour marathoner how fast they want to go in their next race and chances are they will say no less than 4:45, and most will say 4 hours. (The only time someone says they want to run something like "7 minutes" faster is if their personal best is 6 minutes over an hour mark.)
It sounds simple, but the way to run faster is to run faster. The question is how fast? There are a variety of ways to get faster, but you need a strategy that actually benefits you in the marathon. I am basing the following recommendations on your relatively short history with running.
If you have no experience at all with speed work, then start short. These workouts will help you develop speed without a lot of strain on the body, and prep you for longer efforts:
Strides: At the end of your regular workout run 50-100 yards at 85-95% effort. Do not strain-keep relaxed. Start with 2-3, and add one each week up to 5-6. After each, walk back to the start for the next one.
Short hills: After a 15 minute warm-up, run uphill at about 85% effort for 45 seconds, with easy jog recoveries back downhill that are at least 90 seconds long. Afterwards run for another 20 minutes easy. You can do this workout once a week.
After a few months of this work, you are ready to do longer interval work. There are many different theories, and workouts that can help you achieve faster times. I am going to give you my personal favorite. First of all, run a 5K, (and run it honestly-meaning work hard!)
Now, take your finishing time and look at a pace chart which will tell you your pace per mile. Take that pace and add 20-24 seconds a mile. Now you have your tempo pace. So if you ran 9:00 minute miles during your 5K, your tempo pace per mile would be 9:20- 9:24.
The ideal workout would be to run about 25 minutes straight at this pace, but that is difficult to do. It is easier if you break down that time into smaller chunks-usually mile repeats. The key is that you only get a one minute recovery in between the miles and you have to slow jog it, before starting the next mile repeat. In the example above the athlete would end up with close to 28.5 minutes total work if he did 3 mile repeats- which is in the ballpark of 25 minutes.
You need to run each mile as close to your tempo pace as possible. Going faster the first one, then slowing on each successive mile defeats the purpose. You can make this an even better workout by running at least 20 minutes for warm-up, and, more importantly, adding slow distance running (20-30 minutes) after the mile repeats. This will help develop additional mental toughness.
You could do these workouts 2x a week, with 2-3 days in between. You can also vary the distances depending on the conditions and how you feel. On hot days I might do 1000 meter repeats. On a cool day, I might try to run the whole 25 minutes in one shot. No matter the distance in each interval, stick to one minute of jogging in between.
On those weeks where you are doing a very long run (16-20) miles I would cut back to one tempo workout that week. You can also occasionally incorporate some speed into a long run; such as having a plan to consciously pick up the pace the last 3 miles of the run.
Two more things: Work on your form. Fleet Feet hosts Good Form Running Clinics which can help you run more efficiently, or you can find the basics on YouTube. We also have excellent Marathon Training Programs, where Coach Mandy Howard will provide effective speed training, and where you are supported and encouraged by teammates who are seeking the same performance goals as you.
Best of luck to you, and may all your future sign-offs read "Now I am (at least) 3/4 fast."