Is there a limit to how fast endurance runners can actually run? It’s questionable. I’ve heard people say it’s impossible to run a sub-2h marathon but we also thought it was impossible to break the 4-minute mile in 1954. Records show that people thought a runners lungs would explode if he/she ran a mile in less than four minutes! Roger Bannister managed to beat this challenge on the 6th of May 1954 at the University of Oxford, and guess what… his lungs didn’t explode! (Read more about the four minute mile here).
Currently it seems like the biggest obstacle is finishing a marathon in under two hours. Nike is at the forefront of this challenge with a project named Breaking2. Nike elected Eliud Kipchoge as the frontman of this project and so far he is doing a fantastic job, finishing the full 42km in just 2 hours and 25 seconds!
Here’s the good news. It’s easier for us, recreational runners, to improve our finish times when compared to the elite athletes. Elite runners spend months trying to shave a few seconds from their finish times. It takes them a lot more hard work, effort and time because they are already running at peak performance levels. Recreational runners have much more room to improve and grow, especially if you’ve never done any speed-specific training before.
WHEN TO RUN FAST
I’m explaining the WHEN before the HOW – this is super important. If you want to get better at any sport, you have to train strategically. You don’t need any fancy training plans or anything like that, you just need to put some thinking into what you’re doing and when you’re doing it.
If you run at a high effort today then you will need to have an easy run day tomorrow, to allow for recovery. If you run at a really high effort today then you’ll need to have at least two easier running days before you attempt another hard run.
On the graph, the effort scale is from 0 to 10 (0 is equal to a rest day and 10 would be an extremely hard training session). The main thing to notice about this graph is it’s similarity to an ‘up-and-down’ cycle. On Monday you will have a medium effort running session, followed by a higher effort run on Tuesday. On Wednesday you take an easy day to recover and prepare the body for Thursday’s high effort session (a speed training session for example) before coming back down on Friday to recover again. It’s important to keep this cycle going in order to push your body to new limits and allow it to have enough time in the next day to recover and adapt.
To close out this section of the article I would like to emphasise the importance of planning your training in a cycle-like structure, where low efforts are followed by highs and high efforts are followed by lows! Following this strategy is a fool-proof way to minimize the risk of injury from overtraining!
In the next section I will show you how to apply speed training and how often you should do so.
HOW TO RUN FAST
How do you train for speed? Do you just run really fast? Well, yes, but there’s more to it than that. What exactly do you need to do to achieve these results? How often should you do speed work and how long should you run for? Let’s take a look at a few different studies and analyses to understand how you can use speed training to your advantage.
The athletes were asked to run a 3,000 meter time trial before and after the two weeks and all of the athletes improved their finish time! One athlete actually improved by two minutes… in just two weeks! Click the image to amplify it and analyze the results of this fantastic study.
A 2014 meta-analysis shows that SIT improved aerobic capacity in 318 participants. It also indicates that sprint interval training is an equally effective alternative to continuous endurance training… so next time you’re tight on time, just squeeze in a quick SIT session!
VO2max (maximal oxygen consumption) has been shown to improve significantly after HIIT (high intensity interval training). When comparing HIIT and endurance training for VO2max gains, HIIT provides greater results, according to another meta-analysis from 2015.
I hope it’s clear by now that SIT is definitely beneficial to most runners, especially if you’re trying to speed up! If you want to include these sessions into your current training schedule I recommend you start by adding only one session of SIT per week. Have a look at the graph for an example of what your training week should look like and also a sample SIT session based on the training method used in the study above (click on the image to enlarge it).
Throughout all my research I haven’t been able to find anything advocating against the use of sprint training to improve aerobic capacity, therefore, I hope to have successfully proven that sprint training is a valuable, efficient and free tool to add to your running toolbox!
A word of caution: sprint training is a strenuous kind of exercise - make sure you're physically ready and healthy before attempting sprints. You should also consult a physician before making big changes to your training plan.
Speaking of toolbox - where do you save your race results? You deserve a simple yet effective way to store all of your precious race photos and other details after training for so many hours and finally crossing the finish line after so much hard work! This is where RunPage comes in.
With RunPage (developed by Pic2Go - the global sponsored race photography solution provider) you can celebrate your achievement by creating a page for each race you finish, with your results, photos and personal experience. Relive, share and own your experiences forever! Click here to get started.
1. Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes
2. Sprint interval training effects on aerobic capacity: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
3. Effectiveness of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Continuous Endurance Training for VO2max Improvements: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials.
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