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Finding Your Lost Running Speed

Updated: Jan 25


by Chris Palmquist

Have you lost your former running speed? Maybe you’ve never had running speed. Whatever the situation or reason, you might want to try some new training strategies to get your fast back.

Speedwork is for Every Runner Many runners neglect to include frequent speedwork in their training. The word “speedwork” can bring back nightmares of difficult school track sessions and discomfort. Many fear that running fast will increase their risk of injury. For others, it is just more fun to run at a conversational pace with their friends.

Running fast is not riskier than running slowly. At higher speeds, your running mechanics clean up; your foot strike might cause less impact. In my experience, more runners become injured from too much running volume rather than from adding careful speed sessions.

“Speedwork” does not require a track or a grueling session. Masters runners need speedwork as much as younger runners and may even see a greater benefit from speed sessions. Some simple but effective speedwork sessions (add warm up and cool down):

  • 6 X (0:30 – 2:00) at a strong effort with 1 or 2-minute easy runs after each

  • 10 X 1:00 quick cadence (95 or higher rpm) with 1:00 walking after each

  • 8 x 8-15 second hill sprints up a steeper hill

  • 5 x 3:00 at 5km goal pace with 3:00 easy run after each

  • 3 sets of 5 x (30 seconds strong then 30 seconds walk)

  • 8 x 1:00 up a moderate hill (walk/jog down for recovery)

  • 3-5 x 1 km to 1 mile at 10 km goal race pace with 1 or 2-minute recoveries

More Recovery, Fewer Miles

Look at your average weekly running volume in miles, minutes and number of days. Ask yourself to honestly answer the following question: “How often am I running while fatigued?” If your answer is, “often,” consider shortening some of your runs and/or cutting out a day of running each week. The goal is to be fresh enough to run at the paces that you will need to get faster. If you always run slowly with fatigued form, you will not get faster. For example, you might shorten a couple of your weekly one-hour runs to 40 minutes, then focus on speed during those short sessions.

Form and Cadence

I recommend that everyone get someone to take a video of him/her running. Until you see yourself, you won’t truly understand what you can improve for better speed and economy. Even better, hire a coach to analyze your running form and help you improve it. Typical form flaws include over-striding, tight shoulders, bending forward at the waist, head position, hand/arm movement and slow cadence. All these flaws are relatively easy to fix if you become aware of them and get frequent checks by video or coach.

Strength

Fast runners have the strength and coordination to hold good form even while fatigued. If you lack strength, (most of us do), here are some suggestions.

  • Running drills: skipping, high knees, butt-kicks, karaoke, strides, bounding, hopping and hill sprints. Find a soft, grassy field and include five minutes of these several times a week.

  • Strength: lunges, body weight squats, core work, planks, side planks, push-ups, chair dips, dumbbell work, kettlebell swings, etc. Emphasize perfect form and explosive movements rather that aiming for high weights.

  • Injury Prevention and Mobility: clams, leg swings, calf stretches, fire hydrants, monster walks w/bands, hurdler movements, donkey kicks, cat-cow, hip flexor stretches, yin yoga, foam rolling and massage. These all can increase stability and mobility in your legs and help prevent over-use injuries.

Cut back on your running volume, add in weekly speed sessions. Review your running form and tackle your strength and mobility. Most of all, believe. You can get faster.

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