When I started trail racing, I had one goal: to finish. I remember running my first race with Aravaipa. As I crossed the finish line, I noticed a table to the side with the COOLEST handmade awards for podium finishers. My first thought was, “I will never be able to win one of those,” followed immediately by, “why not, I WILL win one of those!” This was March 2019. By October that same year, I was standing on the podium as a first-place female!
My plan for getting speedier was ridiculous. I picked some harder segments in my neighborhood and made it my mission to earn and maintain the coveted STRAVA crown. This made me speedier but also made me get off STRAVA- a story for another time!
I am not a naturally fast runner. The point of this story is that anyone can become faster, and there are much easier ways, and scientific-based ways, that do NOT involve chasing STRAVA crowns ( and many bloody knees). A running coach can come up with a plan for you based on your current speed and mileage per week.
There are several ways to do this:
1. The most obvious one is to run more often.
2. Incorporate Intervals- For example, after a five-minute warm-up, you would run a quarter mile at race pace followed by a quarter-mile jog. You might start off with two sets of this and work your way up to six or even more.
3. Incorporate hill work: Stand tall with a forward lean when running up a hill. Your cadence will increase if you are trying to maintain the same speed you were running on flat ground. This means your feet will hit the ground more often. I would say most people run at a slower pace when going uphill than they do on flat ground. Hill work increases your leg strength and running economy (how efficiently your body uses oxygen.) The better your body is at using oxygen, the faster it can go!
4. Pick up your cadence. To find your current cadence, count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in 30 seconds. Multiply this by two to get the number both feet are hitting. Multiply this by two to get the cadence per minute. Then you can try to make sure your right foot hits more times in order to increase cadence, OR you can pick a running list on Spotify by cadence!
5. Practice Fartleks- This is just adding in bouts of increased speed during runs. I do this sometimes in my neighborhood by running in the sun as fast as I can and jogging in the shadows. You could also use trees or light poles as your markers. In my experience, I focused on getting to the podium for a while but noticed it was taking some of my joy out of races. I think it is normal to flip-flop after you’ve been running for a good amount of years. Sometimes you might want to focus on speed and getting to that podium, and sometimes you might want to work for that dead-last award. Wherever it is that you’re sitting on this continuum, know that you are not stagnant. You can always make changes, and that is one of the greatest joys of running.