How To Be A Faster Runner Without Speed Work

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Most of us runners want to be faster. We want at least one fancy ribbon to display – something truly earned.

How does a runner get faster? Speed workouts: intervals, fartleks, and tempo runs. YUCK! I would obsess over my mile times.  Agonize over trying to hit those negative splits. Until eventually I gave up. I believed I would never run under a 10-minute mile. There were a lot of negative thoughts –I am too tall to get faster. I am too old. The drive just isn’t there – I’m a big wimp.

It’s not that the speed workouts weren’t going to help me. The problem was I never stuck with them long enough to find out.  I hated every second of pushing myself to run so fast. To be so structured and meticulous about my running was taking all of the fun out of it for me. I dreaded speed days and would usually swap them for a normal run. None of this was helping me get faster.

Then something beautiful happened when I started training for a half marathon. I was running a lot, and I was running longer and longer distances. I could feel myself getting stronger, but I never realized that I was getting faster. My times stayed the same as my mileage increased each week. I was continuously discouraged to see the 10:30 per mile times. I didn’t take into account that that was an average of eight to ten miles at a time.

It wasn’t until late in my training that I figured out what was happening to my times. It was February and I was running my favorite 5k – The Warrior Love at Nehalem Park. It’s a flat course and has a great atmosphere.

I lined up at the start line and took off at a comfortable clip. The entire race was comfortable. I didn’t pay much attention to my Garmin – I was just having a good time. I was so shocked when I saw 27:25 displayed on the clock as I passed through the finish line.

I was so excited. Who was this person who could run a sub 9 minute per mile 5k? I nearly asked someone if there was a problem with the clock, or maybe I had skipped some of the course on accident. But no, my Garmin said 3.2 miles. Huh… look at me!

It was a chilly rainy day and we had our littles with us, so we left shortly after I finished the race. I had never won a ribbon during a race, so I didn’t feel compelled to stay for the awards ceremony. Imagine my glee when my friend texted me later that day to tell me she had my first-place ribbon (in my age group). I was happy for weeks.  And you better believe that little blue ribbon is on display.

The point of this story is to illustrate that by running long distances, you can holistically become a faster runner. Your body is conditioned to expend your energy over a longer time period, so short races feel like a true walk in the park.

This method is perfect for a runner like me. If you hate speedwork, and you love running miles and miles at one time – give it a try. You will not regret it.

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Liz Ward

Liz Ward is a running fanatic, avid reader, and amateur farmer. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband, three kids, and a small herd of animals.

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