How to Improve Your Running Times

Feel like you’ve hit a plateau in your running? Many runners run the same pace all the time, whether running with friends or running a race. The best way to improve your running times and stay injury free is to vary your pace.  Today we’ll walk you through different types of runs and workouts that should be sprinkled throughout your training. Try some of these. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your times improve. 

The Long Run   Also known as the Aerobic Threshold Run, the long run is a training run, done at a good pace. However, too many people run their long runs at, or close to, their race pace. The problem with that is that it increases the chance for injury and overtaxes the body. Doing long runs at the proper pace helps prevent injuries and builds a foundation for more difficult training to follow. 

The Tempo Run   Tempo runs are done closer to race pace.  Your tempo should be about 1 minute per mile slower than 5k pace for 15 to 20 minutes.  This type of workout helps runners avoid overtraining and yields more satisfying workouts and better consistency than trying to run at race pace. It also increases your lactate threshold pace, which is the pace you can hold before lactic acid builds up in your legs because your body can’t process it fast enough.  If you can run a faster pace while continuing to process the lactic acid so it doesn’t build up in your legs, you will avoid “hitting the wall” at the end of races.  

If running for 15 to 20 minutes seems daunting, cruise intervals will accomplish similar results.  These are done at 5k pace with short rest. Try 3-4 x 5 min with 2 minutes rest or 2 x 10 minutes with 3 minutes easy in between.  I personally like 4-5 x 3 minutes with 1 minute easy.  The short rest keeps you from fully recovering, allowing the improvement in your lactate threshold. 

VO2 Max Intervals   VO2 Max intervals are the workout that will give you the most results. These are faster than cruise intervals and have longer rest. Run them at a pace 30 seconds faster than your 5k race pace. Your rest time should equal the time it takes you to run the interval. Improving your VO2 Max allows your blood to transport more oxygen to your muscles to produce energy and allows you to maintain your speed over a longer period of time. These intervals need more recovery time so don’t overdo them. Try doing 400-1000 meter repeats with equal time rest. Sample workouts would include 3 x (4 x 400) with rest equal to your 400 time and 3 minute rest between sets or 4-6 x 800 with rest equal to your 800 time. 

Fast Intervals   Fast intervals help you become more efficient, which allows you to run faster with the same effort. Keep these to 400 meters or less with a full recovery at least 2x the time it takes to run the interval.  Without enough rest, your form will suffer and your legs will be too tired to run fast.  A good fast interval workout is running 150 meters hard, then jogging 250 meters. When our running club at New Milford Fitness & Aquatics Club does this workout, we do 4-5 sets after our running drills. 

Recovery Run   The last piece of the puzzle is the Recovery Run.  This is more of a rest day to keep your body loose.  It can be a very short run followed by a good stretching routine. The biggest mistake many runners make is not giving their body a rest. Take a day off if you need to.  On my rest days, I go for a short run or cross train with an easy bike ride or swim.  Whatever you choose to do, make sure you stretch after.  This helps keep your body loose, limber and healthy.

Tying It Together.  Pick a “goal” race three to four months out.  It’s hard to be specific without knowing the distance of the race, but I can give some generalizations. 

First 2 weeks: Stick to easy running to get your legs used to running. 

Weeks 3 & 4: Start increasing your mileage and slowly increase your long runs. Throw in some easy/fast intervals to work on form and turnover. Workout ideas: Run around a track 3-4 times, sprinting the straights and jogging the curves. Do 5-6 sprints up a short hill (50 meters long). 

Week 5: Take an easy week to give your body a rest.  Drop your mileage to 60-70% of the previous week’s mileage.

Weeks 6, 7 & 8: Along with your long runs and short intervals, add in 3 weeks of tempo runs and/or cruise intervals once a week. Our running club does short intervals on Tuesdays, thresholds or longer intervals on Thursdays and long runs on Sundays.  The other days are mixed with easy runs/training runs and recovery days.

Week 9: Take another recovery week.

Weeks 10, 11, 12, 13: Start mixing in VO2 Max intervals. Here is a good schedule to follow.

  • Monday: recovery day
  • Tuesday: short intervals
  • Wednesday: regular run or cross train*
  • Thursday: VO2 Max intervals
  • Friday: easy run or cross train*
  • Saturday: race or tempo run
  • Sunday: longer run

**You could also take either Wednesday or Friday off for rest.

Weeks 14 & 15: It’s time to cut your mileage (taper) to get ready for your “goal” race. Drop your mileage to 70% the first week. Cut your mileage in half the week leading up to the race.  Continue to do some workouts but decrease the number of intervals and increase your rest between intervals so you are rested. You’ll be amazed at how fast you run your race.

I am a fan of cross training and strength training to stay healthy. As I have gotten older, running every day tends to beat me up a little too much.  I go to the pool or bike several times a week to give my legs a rest.  I also strength train twice a week to help keep my muscles, tendons and ligaments strong and able to withstand the pounding of running.

Good luck with your training! If you are interested in joining our running club, stop by New Milford Fitness & Aquatics Club for information.  Our running club is free to members. We have a fun group of all different levels!

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