In 2010, after a three year hiatus from running I returned to the sport I loved. Over the past five years I’ve run and raced and gotten a lot faster. I’m not the fastest girl out there, but I have gotten better and had a lot of fun in the process. In 2010 my 5K personal best was 23:35, in the spring of 2014 I ran a new PR of 19:46. My 10K time in 2010 was 56:16, last summer I ran 41:58. And although I haven’t run a half marathon recently those times have improved as well, in 2010 my half marathon PR was 1:55:43 and I ran my fastest half marathon in 1:38 during the second 13.1 of my marathon in 2014. Someone recently asked me what I did to improve my racing times. There are a few significant factors that I believe have helped to make me a faster, smarter and better runner:
Join a Running Club
Prior to 2010 I had always run alone. The only time I ran with anyone else was at a race. I was so intimidated by the idea of running with other people. What if I was the slowest? I don’t know anyone. What if I don’t know what to say? [I’ve always been an introvert and it’s taken me a while to learn to be unashamedly me in public settings] But in 2011 I joined a local running club, the Rochester Runners and started attending the weekly track workouts and eventually some of the group runs. I instantly had access to the clubs running coach and a whole group or runners with much more experience than I had. I wasn’t the slowest or the fastest, I fell somewhere in the middle and there were a lot of other runners right there with me. Running with that group helped me to push myself and gave me a resource that improved my knowledge of running and training. I am now a member or both the Rochester Runners and 603Endurance, both communities continue to help me become a better runner.
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When I first started running in 2003 I dabbled in a few track workouts. I’d read a workout in Runner’s World and then go an duplicated it on my college’s track. The workouts were random and had no philosophy or training purpose driving them. When I joined the Rochester Runners in 2011, I started running weekly track workouts that have gradually helped me to get faster. The workouts, created by the club’s running coach helped develop fitness that allowed me to run faster. If you don’t have access to a running coach a great resource for introducing interval running into your training is Hal Higdon’s book, Run Fast: How to beat your best time every time. Becoming a certified running coach has also contributed to my knowledge or running and my ability to construct effective training plans for myself.
From 2010 to 2012 my weekly mileage averaged around 25 miles per week. In 2013 I started running more and began to increase my mileage, averaging 35-38 miles a week and peaking somewhere in the high 40’s or low 50’s. My mileage would increase if I was training for a goal race, like a marathon or half marathon but I never really maintained a high mileage base. In the winter and spring of 2014 my focused changed as I began training for a marathon PR, I knew that if I wanted run the marathon well I needed to run higher mileage. My weekly average for that training cycle was in the mid 50’s and I peaked at 71 miles. Gradually building mileage over the past five years is probably the number one contributor to getting faster in races, especially at the marathon distance. Running more means physiological changes at the cellular level: increasing mitochondrial volume and density. And an increased mitochondrial volume and density means more fitness and the ability to run faster and longer. This article explains it all very well, but basically increasing your training volume and intensity over several training cycles will lead to significant improvement and performance come race day.
Embrace the Hill
It hasn’t just running hills that I’ve learned to embrace. It has been learning to accept and not avoid hard run or hard workouts that has helped make me a better runner. When I first started running, running itself seemed hard enough. Just to step out the door and go for a run was a lot of effort and uncomfortable. After a while running becomes more comfortable and not quite so ‘painful,’ and that’s when I realized to get faster I had to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I had to want to do the hill workouts and the hard track workouts and run races with every ounce of effort in my being. We dream of race day and the PR and the success, but honestly the journey-the work-is where it’s at. It’s in the moments where you get comfortable being completely uncomfortable that you find your strength and you surprise yourself. Now I love the work, the hill climbs and the grueling track workouts, that’s my favorite part, because I know I’m going to learn something about myself in the process.
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Believe You Can.
I love the saying: “She believed she could, so she did.” It’s an amazing mantra because of its truth. I can remember after running my very first 5K back in 2003 walking away thinking, someday I want to win this race. I’ve always believed I am capable of running as fast as I am willing to work. If I put in the work, then I can position myself to run fast and win races. In 2014 that 5K time of 19:46 was a winning time…at the same exact race that was my first 5K back in 2003. Part of getting faster is believing it’s possible. If you don’t think you can improve, you never will. If you look at paces and think, I could never run that. You won’t. Certainly there will be moments of doubt, but always leave the door open for possibility. Because you never know until you try.
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Sarah is a certified running coach with the RRCA and USATF. She and her husband Mark Canney, CPT CSCS collaborate in coaching clients of all ages and abilities to help them reach their running goals. You can learn more about their coaching services HERE.
What factors do you think have helped you in your running career?
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
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