A New Strategy For Getting Faster

For the past couple of years, I have been trying everything to get faster and so far, nothing has worked. My first reaction was that I am aging and it’s possible that I have reached my peak. However, this explanation doesn’t fly for one simple reason. I run with a group on a regular basis in addition to having friends who run. Many of these people are around my age and they are still getting faster each year.

Every year that I have been running, my pace has improved. I have a benchmark 5 mile race that I run every year and every year I have finished with a faster time. My recent paces were 8:20, 8:05, 7:45 and last year… 7:40. My last two marathon times were 3:56 and 3:58 respectably. Even though I trained a lot harder for the second one, I ran it two minutes slower.

Running with a local group has been a great way to gauge myself with other runners and I am starting to notice some interesting trends. One thing that I have noticed is that we all tend to cut back on the miles in the winter. When we start picking it up again we all seem to be at about the same pace. In fact, many of them have commented that I am pushing the pace a little too hard. However, all of these people are also marathoners and by mid summer, they are all WAY faster than me. Last year every single one of them ran a marathon in under 3:30 and two of them finished with a time of 3:15.

One gentleman in this group recently turned 60 but is remarkable shape. Last spring the two of us were running together and he mentioned that we were running a little faster than he was expecting to so I slowed down a little. By July, I couldn’t keep up with him. In October, finished a marathon in just over 3:20. He would have qualified for Boston even if he was 10 years younger.

This year I am noticing the same thing happening. I was recently running with a member of this group who also finished the same October marathon as the previously mentioned runner except this fellow is in his mid 40’s and finished that marathon in 3:15. While we were running he mentioned at the 4 mile mark that we were going a lot faster than he had planned on. I instantly thought to myself… here we go again.

Years ago when I first started running I had no idea that it would become such a major part of my life that would change my entire social horizon. I have become friends with a lot of people solely because of running. Nearly all of these people are also around my age. Some of them run marathons in 4:20, some in the 3:30 range and some finish in under 3 hours. One thing that I notice about the really fast runners is that when they go out for a casual 5 or 8 mile run, they run slow. Like, really slow.

Here is an example. Last summer I ran with someone who was the same exact age as me and was training for his first marathon. The prior weekend he had just run a 5k in under 18 minutes (sub-5:45 min/mile pace). He said that his target for the upcoming marathon was 2:50 which would be a 6:30 pace. The run we did was 7 miler which he was using for a scheduled training run. What pace was he running? 8:20. He finished the marathon in 2:58 (6:47 pace).

This blows me away and I see it time and time again. Another friend ran his first 50 mile ultra last fall. I talked to him during his training period and he said that he had just finished a run at a 9:30 pace. He finished the 50 miler in under 8 hours. That is a pace of about 9:00 flat.

Could this be the key to getting faster? 

Could it be that you actually become a faster runner by training slower?

I never run slower than full speed. Ever. Every single time I run, I am shooting for a personal best which hasn’t happened for a long time. This just might be the problem. I need to slow down when I train.

I recently began training for a marathon scheduled for the end of May. I would love to finish in under 3:45 which would be a pace of 8:34 min/mile. In stead of running at a 8:15 pace, my plan is to slow it down to 9:30. This goes against everything that I have been doing and it actually takes a lot of discipline. You need to let people pass who you are sure are slower runners, you need to visualize the entire distance that you want to cover and you need to remember to finish with a lot more left in the tank.

We’ll find out in May if this strategy works.