Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Embracing the Suck Part Two: How To Get Faster

I'm calling this Embracing the Suck Part Two because in part one, I talk about doing something that you hate.  Something that makes you uncomfortable.  For me that was running in the snow.  I hate it.  So you can imagine how much I'm loving this winter.  But anyway, that's where my mind was when I started this post.  I think the same thing can be said for speed work.  A lot of people hate it because it makes them uncomfortable.  It hurts.  Plain and simple.  It's not a necessary thing in every runners life, some people are content to just go out and run and that's awesome.  But there are those of us who are looking to improve our pace so speed work becomes a necessary evil.  I've also been asked by several folks how I managed to drop my times as much as I have in the past couple of years so I'm going to let you in my secrets.

If you had told me when I started running 15 years ago that I would be a whole lot faster at almost 43 than I was when I was in my 30's, well, I would have said you should go hang out with our crack smoking Mayor.  But here I am, pushing 43 and laying down times that I could have only dreamed of when I started running.  How is that even possible? you may wonder.  Aren't you supposed to slow down when you get older?  Oh I'm sure that's going to happen to me at some point, probably sooner than I would like.  For now I'll focus on the 4 key things I did to get me to where I am now but I will do so with a warning:


It is not easy.  It will hurt.  I'll let you in on a little secret:  It's all in your head.  Seriously.  Your brain will tell you to stop long before your body is ready to quit.   Once you learn to talk yourself back from that ledge and learn to work through that pain, you'll be able to gut out pretty much any work out.  This was my biggest obstacle for the longest time.  I was always afraid I was going to "blow up".  G always told me that sometimes that's going to happen but, you'll never know what you're truly capable of if you don't test your limits.  If you blow up, you blow up.  Chalk it up to a learning experience.   Learn to work outside your comfort zone and learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Key Point #1:  Train your brain to embrace the pain.

I'm not going lie, this is not an easy thing to do on your own.   It was all too easy for me to start out hard and then when the going got really tough, I'd ease off to my "safe place".  That's why I decided to join a run group.  I took the opportunity to run with faster runners and hang on for dear life for fear of being left behind.  There's something so primal about not wanting to be left behind, not wanting to be at the back of the pack.  Your survival instincts kick in and your sense of pain gets dulled.  Tunnel vision takes over.  At least that's what happens to me.  It's like all rational thought leaves and you go on autopilot.  That is actually something I strive for when I'm racing.  Rational thought will tell you to stop.  Instinct tells you to keep going.

Key Point #2:  Run with someone faster and learn to hang on. 

The other thing I did was race a LOT.  Maybe it's just my competitive nature but I have a very hard time entering a race and NOT racing it to a certain extent.  Unless of course I'm there to pace someone.  I find in a race situation you are less apt to throw in the virtual towel and call it quits.  I also find that you're able to dig a lot deeper and find that little bit extra that you might not be able to find in training.   The more you do it, the better you will get at learning how far you can push.  There is also a fine line with this too though.  You need to make sure you get adequate recovery (both physical and mental) between races or you will burn out. 

Key Point #3:  Get out and Race OFTEN

The really big thing that helped me get faster was losing weight.  I know many people struggle with this and there is a tipping point.  If you lose too much weight you'll lose power and strength which is no bueno.  And, you have to have the weight to lose in the first place.  I wasn't terribly overweight but I wasn't at my ideal racing weight either.  I figured I had between 5-10lbs to lose.  I ended up losing just over 20lbs and have since put back roughly 5-7lbs, and I'm going to guess that a fair bit of it is muscle.  At 5ft 5in and 125lbs, I think I'm pretty close to my ideal weight.  Amby Burfoot wrote an excellent article about weight loss and how it affects your running.  You can read the entire article here.  Basically, you can go 2 seconds per mile faster for every pound lost.  "Weight loss boosts maximal aerobic capacity.  The less weight you carry around, the more miles per gallon you get from your oxygen.  And because losing a few pounds makes running easier, you should be able to increase your workout distance and speed.  So losing weight helps you train harder." (Amby Burfoot, Runners World 2007) I can definitely attest to this.  Once I dropped the weight, my times started to drop and I was able to push myself that much harder in training.   How did I lose the weight?  Mainly by changing my diet.  I cut out the processed junk and focused on eating REAL food.  Not only did it help me lose the weight, it also helped me to recover better. 

Key Point #4:   Small changes in your diet can result in big changes in your waistline and your running.  

Well there you go folks.  4 things to consider if you're looking to P.R in your next race.

Is there anything else you'd add to this list?  What has worked for you?


Kathee said...

I started running in my 40's. I'm still slow and have had a few injuries but it's a great sport and I LOVE it! The only sport that just takes a good pair of shoes and the right mind set.
Pain is only temporary...right?
I have a good 20 lbs to loose. 20 lbs I've gained since my divorce a couple years ago. Why do food/feelings taste so good??

Pace of Balance said...

Couldn't agree more! I am faster at 37 than I have ever been. In my case, I went from running my neighborhood 4 mile loop at a 10 min pace to a 7:30 pace. It took a long time. But I'm a better overall runner because getting faster forced me to think of overall strength, thus making me less prone to injuries. Funny, my Friday five post will be about plyometrics - something that has helped my speed tremendously! Stay tuned!

Abby said...

I hate speed work and hills, but I know I need to do them in order to get better. I am bad about forcing myself to and those always become the runs a skip. Hopefully working with a coach will make me more accountable.

Wendy at Taking the Long Way Home said...

Adding crossfit to my regimen has improved my speed. I'm 51, so I don't want to add more miles to my weekly goal is to run smarter, not harder. My last half marathon was the best I've run in years. Let's see how the next one goes!

Taking the Long Way Home @

Unknown said...

It's like you're inside my head sometimes Phaedra, echoing my thoughts and/or experiences exactly - which seems super weird since for some reason those are often so different from those of others around me! :) Great post and great work, so happy for you and all your hard work coming to fruition! I hope it does the same for me, LOL; you're an inspiration, girl.

Krysten Siba Bishop said...

I am also trying to embrace the suck! Speed workouts...suck! haha but they are worth it. And I am also tracking my stats (weight and body fat) during my training - something I really dislike doing. But I am trying to find the right balance. I think for me it is building more muscle, but we shall see!

macnic said...

I need to get over that mental hump, but I'm trying. Also with the weight. But! I just found out my thyroid is the lazy kind that makes losing weight difficult! I'm hoping that the drugs will help correct it and the weight will fall off (that and eating less chips). What I love about you is that yes, you eat healthy and well, but you still enjoy indulgences, which prove that you can really do all things in moderation, especially craft beer. Mmm... beer...

Tracy@myfitfocusedlife said...

Great post! Getting faster really does come mostly from mental strength. Its something I have to keep working at. Hoping to be my fastest when I roll into my 40's!