Q+A: I’ve been running a year - I can’t speed up!

Q I’ve been running for just over a year now and can now comfortably train at around 10 minute/mile pace for an hour, which I do three times a week. However, I’ve been doing this for at least six months and don’t seem to be able to get any quicker. I’d like to do some speedwork, but worry that I’m not quick enough yet. Is this the case?

A Absolutely not! Any regular runner can add speedwork to their training schedule and everyone can benefit from it. In fact, you’re now at the ideal stage to incorporate some faster running into your programme. Your three long runs a week will have helped you form an excellent endurance base on which to build, but if you stick to this routine your pace will improve only very slowly, and you risk getting disillusioned.

The key to running faster is running shorter. At the moment you’re probably running about six miles in each session. If you set out to run less, say just two miles or roughly 18 minutes, you’ll find that you actually increase your pace without even trying. So my first step would be to add a shorter run to your weekly programme. You could replace one of your hour-long sessions with one of 20 minutes, or better still add it to your schedule as an extra run. If you have a heart-rate monitor use that. Compare your heart rate from your normal runs to your shorter run. If you’re running faster, your heart rate should be higher.

The next thing to do is to break your short run down into even shorter runs, or intervals, with a rest between each interval to get your breath back! This might make interval sessions sound terrifying, but once you get used to them they’re one of the best ways of getting quicker.

An example of an interval session would be 6 x 400m (or around two minutes) with a couple of minutes to recover between each repetition. Be sure to have a 10-minute warm-up jog first and a similar cool-down afterwards. The best place to run intervals is on a track, but if you don’t have one nearby don’t worry. Find a flat grassy area, where you can run quickly for 90 seconds or so. As you get used to intervals you can start to add extra repetitions, reduce the amount of time you have to recover and increase the distance of each rep. These are guaranteed to make you faster. You can also do a session of random faster bursts within a normal run. It will all help.

One thing to remember, though: the day after any speedwork, have an easy day. Either do a very slow run, or do nothing at all. Following a hard session with another hard session will increase your chances of injury.—Rob Spedding, RW Staff Writer