Everyone around you starts moving their legs faster, one step at a time; the finish line is clearly in sight. The wind is blowing in your ears as you climb that last hill. The lactic acid in your muscles is burning and all you want to do is give up, but your competitive instinct pushes you to keep going. It’s that final stretch, and a full on sprint to the finish. As soon as you pass the line your body drops, but you feel accomplished.
As a senior in high school, I have been running for the past four years of my life through both Cross Country and Track. Although I was never the fastest I tend to think of myself as a pretty experienced runner. I had an 18:40 5k PR, and my current PR for the 800m is a 2:09 with an upcoming senior season left to go. I found that the best way to improve is through more mileage, implementing easy days, and a healthy diet.
As a simple rule of thumb, more mileage = more endurance. Your weekly mileage is how many miles you run in a week and this should steadily increase over time. For example, in my most recent Cross Country season, I started with 20 miles in the first week to about 50 miles during the peak of my training. Start with shorter long runs and workouts, then slowly increase it.
One of my older coaches advised that two-workouts a day is a great way to increase mileage. However, this is only recommended for more advanced runners with an exceptional diet. This is because not only do your muscles need to recover quickly, but you have to eat enough to have enough energy throughout the day. If you are going to implement two-a-days, then make sure you are starting small. As a high school athlete, I do not have time to run an easy 8 miler every morning and still get adequate sleep, as a result, just a simple two-mile with stretching will suffice (again, this can increase over time).
There are plenty of benefits regarding a higher weekly mileage. Most significantly, it will increase your aerobic fitness and VO2 maximum. You will be able to sustain a faster pace, for a longer amount of time. With a higher VO2 max, your body can take in more, and efficiently use more oxygen. Furthermore, a higher mileage will increase muscle memory. So even if these miles are not fast, you can still improve.
Take Your Easy Days Easy, and Your Hard Days Hard
It is super important to implement at least one rest day into your training plan. Only the most advanced runners should even consider running seven days a week. This is because your body and mind needs time to recover after a hard week.
Not only is a rest day important, but so are easier workouts. A majority of your workouts should be at a steady pace over a long period of time. Not only does this increase weekly mileage, but it prevents injury because it provides an adequate rest time. If you dedicate too many hard workouts in your routine, it will eventually hurt more than it can help.
This does not mean to forget about hard workouts. If you want to increase your VO2 max then you need to have at least two days a week dedicated to a hard workout. This is when you run your best and really try to focus on specific parts of your race. If training for a 5k kick with 800m repeats, then you have to run those 800s as fast as you can with a strong kick at the end. In essence, you need to take your easy days easy, but put in maximum effort on your hard days.
A Healthy Diet
I learned this one the hard way, near the beginning of my senior season I started slacking off with a horrendous diet. I would barely drink water, and not eat enough throughout the day. As a result, I was struggling, more than usual, during the workouts. However, one day during a long run I was tired after one mile and felt the need to stop. After reflecting on my day, I realized I only ate a couple of breakfast biscuits and raviolis; I only drank a couple cups of water and a cup of coffee. The next day, I ate significantly better, including but not limited to: scrambled eggs, two sandwiches, and 3 bottles of water (plus coffee of course). Our workout wasn’t another long run, but I ran every mile repeat at a fast pace and I never felt better. I continued these eating habits through the rest of the season and never had a day like the long run again.
To implement this in your own life, you need to really focus on eating well. My problem was not that I wasn’t eating, it is that I wasn’t eating enough. I just ate whatever was accessible, to fix this, I just focused on eating three large meals a day and a bottle of water in between. I bought a hydro flask (I know I’m quirky) and just sipped on it throughout the day. There is not a secret to eating better, you just have to put a little bit of effort into it.
My go-to lunch option is just a toasted sandwich with ham, salomni, cheese, lettuce and mayo. Initially, I set my oven to broil and let the bread get a little toasty. Then, I add the ham, salomni, and cheese, until the cheese melts. After this, take it out of the oven, then finally, add lettuce and mayo. It only takes about five minutes, it is easy to clean up, and provides a lot of protein. Easy meals like this is all it takes to get faster.
Running takes a lot of mental and physical strength, and it is not a hobby for everyone. Running fast takes a lot of effort and dedication, but the hard work does leave an amazing feeling of accomplishment after running a new PR. To improve your speed, you are going to want to increase your weekly mileage, establish a healthy diet, and implement easy days into your training plan.
If you want a way to track your workouts, checkout my running log on the home page.