A grey blanket covered the sky and a thin misty rain kept everything soggy. It was one of those days on which it seemed an umbrella would be useless. It felt like the raindrops were just suspended in the air blowing around in every direction. Despite the conditions, I had a goal in mind. 20:00 or less for a 5K. In my first year of running I went from a 26:47 to a 20:30 PR. Today I wanted to do even better. I had 6 months more experience since my last PR, but I had some things working against me too.
Over the winter I had stopped focusing on 5K speed and was adding distance to train for a half marathon trail race. Over that training cycle I had injured myself and was set back a little bit. The half marathon (report here) was an awesome experience but there was only one month between it and this 5K. I took 2 weeks to recuperate, not running for one week, then taking it easy for another week leaving little time for speed training.
At the halfway mark I talked to another runner we both were trying to break our 20:30 PRs so I stuck with her for quite some time. We did a little leap frog for about a mile. Then on the hills in the last mile she left me in the dust. My final time was 20:32.
Here it is one year later and I still haven't beaten that 20:30 PR much less gotten under 20:00.
So on to the question so many runners are asking.
How do I get faster?
There is a system, there are steps you can follow. Which step you start on today really depends on what you've already done.
1. Get more efficient.
If you are new to running, stop thinking about getting fast, instead get more efficient. Your tendons, ligaments, and muscles need to adapt to the stress of running. So do your heart and lungs. So for now, ban the word faster from your thinking. Gradually increase the duration of your runs, add minutes or miles a little at a time, week after week. Your body will start adapting down to the cellular level. You could spend as much as a year in this phase. Don't worry, you have the rest of your life to run.
Part of getting more efficient is improving your technique. Learn to run correctly, research running form, have someone look at your running form to see if you are doing something that will slow you down or injure you, then fix the problems.
2. Get stronger.
Don't neglect strength training. Running is the best exercise for running, but doing the same motions over and over works the same muscles in the same movements. Give the other muscles some love so you don't develop imbalances in the body.
3. Don't get hurt.
Don't say footstrike any more. Say landing. Why would you want to strike the ground with your foot? Striking the ground sends energy downward into the ground. Leave foot striking to martial arts training. Run soft and easy, land your foot on the ground and propel yourself forward. Follow the advice I was once given. "If it hurts, don't do it." Believe me, pushing to hard and getting injured will slow you down a lot more than taking it too easy.
4. To learn to run fast, you must run fast.
Once your body is now a runner's body (remember, it could be a year or even more) start running fast.
Once a week, work on intervals, do a warm up, then run hard for three minutes then jog for three, run three, jog three. Gradually build up the number of intervals you do. Look for other interval workouts, this is just a super basic way to get started.
Other than getting a personal trainer and a running coach, that's really the way to go. If any of you were hoping for a magic solution to cut your 5K time by five minutes in four weeks I don't have that for you. If you find out how to do that, let me know.