When Anna asked me if I would be willing to contribute some thoughts to Operation Get Fast, I was initially reticent. My main concern was that it could be perceived as somewhat arrogant, particularly to those faster than me, if I were to preach about what you should do to run fast.
I mulled over the prospect of contributing for well over a week (if there’s something I’m definitely not fast at, it’s making decisions) before a piece I had written when I first joined Tumblr made my mind up for me.
The Buzzkill was a post I made in July 2011 after I had completed a local 10km race, setting a new PR in the process. I was in the midst of my post-race, post-PR high when I overheard another runner complaining about his time - a time that just so happened to be 2 minutes faster than my own. You only have to read the post to realise how much it bothered me; I allowed his own, outspoken disappointment to take the shine off what had been a fantastic race. More fool me.
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ is one of the few idioms frequently applied to running that I can’t pick apart with a facetious comment. Well, I probably could, but I choose not to as I know how true it can be. Comparison is a damn kleptomaniac, and the only way to ensure it keeps its dirty, thieving hands of your joy is to disregard it completely. Focus on your own achievements, not the achievements of others.
Think of it this way - if every person who completed the London marathon last year dwelled on the performance of the person who finished one place in front of them, you’d have 36,748 (thanks Wikipedia) depressed individuals on your hands. That would be one hell of a group counselling session.
Speed is relative. Mo Farah would consider me slow, but I know that XpltvDeleted (Chris, for short) from 2011 would be envious of my current PRs - and that is what really matters.
Just over a year after I wrote The Buzzkill, I ran the Chicago marathon. I PR’d, and in the post-race queue for my bag, I got chatting to a guy who was disappointed with his time; a time five minutes faster than my own. It was all remarkably familiar, but instead of seeing it as disheartening, I was encouraged. That was going to be my next goal, and then some. I can assure you, it’s a far better place to be in: seeing others as inspiration, rather than competition.
So, now we’ve established that you should focus on your own speed and not the speed of others, what can I add to Operation Get Fast?
Well, whether or not I can add any value is debatable, but rather than suggesting a fixed training plan (you’ve heard of Google, right?), I thought I’d offer a few ideas that may help improve your speed, as they did mine. These are essentially my three rules of thumb that I have chosen to live (or should that be run?) by.
Keep on keeping on
Consistency is key and practice makes perfect. However you want to put it, if you can’t commit to running regularly, the likelihood is that you’re probably not going to get faster. It’s not a magic fix, though. When you are running regularly, there is every chance you’ll plateau, but I promise you that persistence will eventually pay off. Consistency also gives you a greater understanding of your optimum pace across specific distances. While it’s not always achievable, I always strive for negative splits; whereby each consecutive mile is slightly faster than the previous. Running consistently and understanding your optimum pace for each mile will prevent peaking too soon and help you tactically approach specific distances and maximise your efficiency.
One thing that I’ve always done, regardless the speed of the overall run, is to aim to make the last mile the fastest, before finishing with a sprint. I’ll check my watch and set myself a goal time with half a mile to go; something that feels a little out of reach to ensure I’m pushing myself. Sprinting the finish is something I’ve always done. When I first started running, I decided that as finishing with a sprint is something I’m going to do in every race, I may as well get into the habit during training. I also find that it gives me a greater understanding of how long my body can run at 100% at the end of specific distance.
You Be Hillin’
Embracing hills is another aspect of training that I believe has increased my overall speed. Whenever I reach the foot of a hill, I make a point of attacking it. Hill running is as much mentally demanding as it is physically demanding, so treating it as an aggressor makes the easier to overcome. The last thing you want to do is allow yourself to be beaten by a hill before you’ve even set foot on it.
If you feel like you’ve maintained your pace while running up a hill, the likelihood is that you’ve actually slowed down. That’s certainly what happens with me, so I push myself harder for the duration of the hill - if I feel like I’m running faster, it’s more than likely I’m simply maintaining my pre-hill pace. I also find few things more exhilarating than facing a hill so steep it looks like the North face of the Eiger, extending my stride, pumping my arms, head down, eyes locked on the apex; then hitting the top knowing I gave everything I had. I *definitely* do the Rocky victory dance in my mind.
These are just some methods that have played a part in my overall progression both with regards to my overall speed and from the perspective of gaining a greater understanding of my body’s capabilities.
Ultimately, I don’t know how fast I am capable of running; the one thing I do know is that I’m sure as hell going to give it my all to get there - and I’m going to enjoy finding out.
If I had to summarise, I would simply say: take inspiration from others and always push yourself; don’t concern yourself with whether you are or aren’t ‘fast’; concern yourself with what you’re going to do to get faster.
Written by: Xpltvdeleted.