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Speed It Up

Speed It Up

Written by Dana Carman
Posted to Windy City Sports Jun 25, 2008

You’ve done the marathon already. Why not go faster?

A friend recently told me she was nervous about moving up a pace group in marathon training. She’d increased her speed considerably over the winter and it made sense for her to run with a faster group this year. But, she worried, what if she couldn’t keep the pace?

Trying to run faster taps into one of our greatest fears—failure. If we consistently set out to simply finish, there’s room to fail, but if you’ve done a modicum of training, odds are you’ll finish. Attaching yourself to a certain pace, however, requires training with higher stakes. You risk the debilitation of defeat.

The other side of that coin is the sweet smell of success. New goals add variety and get us out of those sometimes-too-familiar comfort zones. If you’ve been wondering whether you have it in you to push your marathon pace, the answer is yes. Here’s what it takes:

Training Faster

Chris Wehrman, a three-time CARA Runner of the Year who completed the 2008 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:27:Ω33, offers his straightforward, but obviously effective, philosophy: “It’s about putting in quality miles,” he says. In other words, making your workouts count. “The marathon is all about being patient and building strength over time,” he says. “If you want to push yourself in the race, then you have to push yourself in training.”

Chicago Endurance Sports head running coach Brendan Cournane puts it another way: “You’ve got to run fast if you want to run fast.” At least one day a week, you should be running faster, whether it’s a designated track workout, quicker-paced segments throughout a run, or a tempo run.

Being Consistent

It’s easy to come up with reasons not to run: heat, fatigue, no Gatorade in the house. “Run consistently,” Wehrman says. “I don’t think you have to run 10 miles every day, but be out there almost every single day even if it’s only 4 or 5 miles.”

There is no quick way to get faster (ironic, isn’t it?) so if you’re in it, be in it for the long haul and plan to stick with it accordingly. Trying to ramp up too much, too soon will only lead to injury, Cournane says.

Taking it in Stride

It’s no secret that a strong core can lead to better, and happier, running. Supporting those muscles in your trunk and hips helps provide a strong stride, which is key to getting faster. Cournane’s program incorporates what he calls a “power base build up,” including hill and beach workouts, which help develop stride and leg turnover. The Chicago Area Runners Association also offers core strength through its Peak Performance program ( Whether it’s a favorite workout you already have or a Pilates class at your gym, don’t ignore the role your core plays in streamlining your stride.

Setting a Goal

“I think you should always have a goal set out at the beginning of the season,” Wehrman says. Assess where you are, what kind of time you can dedicate to your training and plan your goal accordingly because you don’t want to set the bar so high that you set yourself up to fail.

“Setting realistic goals is important,” Cournane says. Which is why he suggests periodic goals throughout the season. He’ll time a 5K early in the season and again after six weeks of speed work. “It puts things in a better perspective,” he says. Because perspective is what you’ll need to adjust that goal if things aren’t quite where you’d hoped they’d be.

That in itself is good training for race day too, where all manner of things can go wrong and you may have to abandon plan A for plan B. The key is to not give up altogether. “Every year is not going to be absolutely perfect,” Wehrman says. “The last thing you want to do is completely bag the training.”

Keeping Tempo

If there’s time in your schedule for only one speed workout a week, do a tempo run, Wehrman says. A tempo run is exactly as it sounds—running at a “comfortably hard” pace for the duration of your run, which helps train your body to become better at running at the pace at which lactic acid begins to build up and you fatigue. The pace should be 20 to 30 seconds slower than your recent 5K pace.

Adding in some faster bursts of speed during another weekly run is an easy way to incorporate speed. Called “fartleks,” you run faster for however long or short you want. Slow down to a jog after or if you can, resume the regular pace, which will teach your body to recover while still running fast, Wehrman says.

3.26 Copyright (C) 2008 / Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved.

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