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    How to Run Faster Without Being a Sprinter

    October 28, 2022

    How to Run Faster Without Being a Sprinter

    Do you need to be a sprinter to run fast? No, but it sure helps. The good news is that most runners can develop good race speed if they improve their aerobic endurance and lactate threshold, which are the two critical determinants of how fast you'll run in races from 800m to the marathon.

    With that in mind, here are ways to increase your speed over longer distances without necessarily spending time running faster intervals.

    Understanding Aerobic Endurance

    When we talk about aerobic endurance, we're referring to your ability to sustain vigorous exercise for an extended period. The longer you can exercise and stay at a low heart rate, the more aerobically fit you are. And that means better running performance and faster times when it matters most (think races). 

    What is Aerobic Endurance?

    Aerobic endurance is an athlete's ability to endure prolonged submaximal exercise by maintaining blood lactate levels within their lactic acid tolerance zone. It has been shown that this level of intensity maximizes fat metabolism, which makes it easier to get energy during submaximal efforts that last a long time, like long distance running or cycling races that last 30 minutes or more.

    The Importance of the Lactate Threshold

    Lactate threshold is more important than raw speed if you're not an Olympic-level runner. Some elite athletes can accelerate beyond what is considered their limit, but for most people, there is little benefit in being able to run fast as long as you can maintain that pace for longer. It's also a good idea to know your lactate threshold and monitor it over time, so you can continue to track your fitness. 

    Here's how to do it: Warm up for 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. Then, for 20 minutes (or until exhaustion), run at 80% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). Measure your heart rate at one-minute intervals during both the warm-up and workout. Your MHR is the highest number of beats per minute (bpm) recorded during either period. This number shows where your lactate threshold is and will likely change over time based on training or other factors.

    Tips for Improving Running Speed

    If you are an experienced runner, you've probably heard plenty of advice on improving your running speed.

    One way is through plyometrics, or jumping exercises that build muscle power and speed-specific conditioning.

    Strides are 20-second sprints completed at about 95% effort on flat ground that can be added to your running routine. Strides are great for improving acceleration, which will help shave time off your race times.

    Another option is hill training because it forces you to work harder than if you were just running on flat ground. Running uphill requires more energy than downhill running, so it helps train your body to use oxygen more efficiently when going up steep grades during races. This translates into improved performance in any race (uphill or down). You should try to do two or three hill workouts a week, each lasting between one and two miles and getting progressively harder as you go uphill. And, if you have no hills nearby, consider the incline capabilities of your treadmill!

    Final Thoughts

    One of the things I love about running is that, despite all its complexities and nuances, it's a pretty simple sport. It's one where getting started with no real running background can lead to success and even enjoyment. So, get out there, start running, and give yourself a chance to see what you're capable of. You may find that your potential for speed far exceeds what you might have imagined! 

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