Having now spent some time on social media since I went on this journey of discovering myself as a runner, I have seen a lot of posts from people asking how do they run faster. I saw one only the other day on Facebook and I put some ideas down in a reply I thought was useful and many people before and after either said the same or elaborated somewhat on the general theme of response.
By default, such a question appears to be answered with a list of running types and strategies which people feel have helped them build speed. Undoubtedly this is true and I personally would throw a bunch of running techniques that I feel, in no scientific way, have helped me.
But it struck me recently that very few times do you get an answer that is not about getting your body more physically capable of running faster, and instead addresses the mental hurdle which often exists in many of us. A hurdle we don’t always notice – often mistaking it for physical limitation, or our own small version of ‘the wall’!
I think this mental hurdle shouldn’t be underestimated and needs addressing for any of the physical training technique concepts to really bring the results you hope for.
There are a few aspects to the mental hurdle when it comes to it. Firstly I think there is the ‘do I really need to run faster?’ question to ask yourself. In many cases getting into running is a massive achievement, running 0.5Km, 1Km doing a park run whatever it may be is often a massive achievement and one to not understate. So do you actually need to run faster or is it an assumption that to improve things, and maintain enthusiasm that you need to keep seeing progress and achievement? There are many ways to keep running inspiration and enthusiasm alive. Speed isn’t the only one. Scenery, time of day, social running over lone wolf running are just a few things you can do to add a bit of spice to running without having to just work faster. I really like the idea of using running as a medium for adventuring and seeing new places. This never gets boring and there are so many great places to run where speed is not the be-all and end all of life.
If when you reflect, you decide you do need to run faster, or indeed further, you might find you need to not change much at all. When I started out I soon found that a couple of Km, maybe 3, was my limit. But why, why was there a limit? Well I soon realised that I didn’t know the answer to that and therefore questioned if the limit was real, or just in my head. What I found was when I was out running I used the advice I was given “listen to your body” everyone told me your body will tell you what is the right amount or speed of running to do. And that’s what I was doing, the problem is, I realised I didn’t actually know what the messages I was hearing meant. What is the message of exhaustion, and how does that differ from tired but still got life left? I decided that the only way to work that out was to challenge it. At about 3Km I used to feel done in. Could do no more. So I would stop and go home for a muller rice (love them after running – cold straight from the fridge!!) but what if that wasn’t the exhaustion message, what if that was the message of ‘blimey this is an effort’, and actually not a sign to stop.
I think you assume you know what the messages should be but I would just ask you to question whether that’s true, how sure are you that you read the messages correctly.
Anyway, I realised I might be misreading and on an early evening run one day, just said to myself I should keep going after 3Km and just see what happens. That evening I nearly doubled my run length, and very quickly established 5-10Km was pretty achievable for me. I didn’t feel a great deal different after the longer runs than the previous 3Km runs, but there was a difference which I now feel probably is the difference between your body being actually in need of rest, and it just telling you it’s recognised that some exercise/workout is underway.
I think that without sometimes overcoming this hurdle the advice of technical running to improve time can be hard. Almost all advice people give is to get out and run. Put one foot in front of the other and repeat. Doing this routinely, working yourself, and doing it for as long as you can is key to achieving progress. Mental hurdles get in the way. If you cannot be happy with running generally, trying to adhere to techal training plans or mixed run strategies etc is maybe asking too much of yourself.
But finally, going back to my earlier comment, for most of us getting out the door and crossing that doorstep and just trying is the biggest achievement and we shouldn’t underestimate how big a deal this is for so many. Keep that up and find ways of enjoying running, and you’ll see your running achievements naturally improve.
Enjoy your running