Shaquille O’neal once dismissed billionaireDallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban saying, ‘He made all his money through luck.’

Mark Cuban’s reply, ‘Shaq’s right.  I am lucky.  But Shaq being 7 feet, 300 lbs, that was planned.’

There are some things you just can’t teach.  You got ’em or you don’t. You can’t teach luck, you can’t teach 7 feet, 300 lbs.

You’ll be surprised at what can be taught though.

And, more importantly, what you can learn.

Too many athletes have an attachment to who they are presently.  They say things like ‘I’m not flexible’, ‘I’m not strong’, or even, gasp, ‘I’m slow’, like they can’t do something about it.

Does this sound like you?

If it does I have some good news.  None of these are permanent afflictions.  You can improve flexibility, strength, even speed.  Look at my Sister Jamie.  She ran her first marathon (in her 20’s) in just under 5 hours (at the time I questioned if we were actually related).  Her latest marathon was in the 3:20’s (definitely related).  She blogged about it.

So how does one make the leap and get fast?

Big question with many, many answers.  There are as many answers to this question as there are races, body types, and athletes.  A fast 100 M dash is different than a fast Marathon.  And since this is a distance running blog I’m going to assume you want to get fast for a mile, 5k or longer.  Since there are hundreds of ways to answer this question I’ll do it over several blog entries in lieu of one overly long post.

We’ll go down the rabbit hole today and talk about interval training.  But first…

‘If you do what you have always done then you will be who you have always been.’

To get fast you have to do something different.

Let’s start with your mindset.  To get faster you have to swallow that red pill and believe you can go faster.

I think we all have the potential to run faster, we just choose not to believe.  Why?  Fear.  You think that running fast hurts (it can).  Logic would indicate that to go faster would hurt more (it can), or for longer (it can).

Beyond that barrier that you have placed in front of yourself, past which pain and suffering eagerly await, there is a little more pain… but mostly what you’ll find there is fear.  You’re running a race, You can handle pain, you can handle fear.

Running rewards pain.  Get over your fear.  Go faster.

Back to intervals…

S.A.I.D. principle.  The body Specifically Adapts to Imposed Demands.  If you task your body with performing a certain task it will adapt and improve to perform that specific task more efficiently.  So to run faster you must… run fast.

Deep.  I know.

Running intervals, or running distances shorter than your race distance, but at a faster pace, will make you faster.  So, for instance, if you were training for the mile run you might run tons of 400/800 M repeats.

Take your race, calculate your goal pace, and then design some intervals, shorter than your race distance, that will force you to adapt to running your goal pace.

Why do intervals work?

Your body has three types of muscle fibers:

To run to your potential you must use all three of these muscle fibers.  Your long runs and slow easy jogs develop type 1, Intervals develop 2A and 2B fibers as indicated above.

A great thing happens when you start to run fast over short distances: your over all running economy improves.  I teach a running interval course.  Early in our workouts I stress going out slow, letting your body warm up and building towards top speed in the final intervals.  Running form during the early, slower intervals is usually sloppy.  These are type 1 intervals.  Spines are rounded, shoulders hunched.  Later in the workout when speed is the emphasis I see a great improvement, despite fatigue.  Digging into these type 2A and 2B fibers sharpens form.  This point is confirmed in Scott Douglas and Pete Pfitzinger’ s excellent book ‘Advanced Marathoning’.  They write ‘Running short repetitions quickly but with relaxed form… may train your muscles to eliminate unnecessary movements and maintain control at fast speeds.’

Based on what I’ve seen consistently I’ll cosign that observation.

‘Move it or lose it.’  My Mother was fond of saying that.  That’s effectively how your brain deals with muscles. If you don’t move them, you lose them.  So if you never run fast, or sprint, these muscle fibers remain undeveloped.  If you do use them your body adapts (S.A.I.D. principle).   These muscles grow stronger and your running improves.  Intervals are the best way I know to engage and recruit type 2a and 2b muscle fibers for distance running.

Your body’s ability to utilize oxygen and fuel will also improve.  When you run fast your body is deprived of oxygen (welcome to anaerobicville, population YOU).  By frequently putting your body into this oxygen deprived state you are asking it to adapt, improve and utilize oxygen and fuel more efficiently.

Simply put- intervals put your body under a certain stress and it adapts to handle that stress efficiently.  This results in faster running, personal bests, getting laid more…

Pre did intervals.  Girls loved Pre.  Coincidence?

How many and how fast?

That depends on you, your goals, your running age, how much free time you have.

There are so many interval programs out there… you have to read, experiment and track your results.  I’m not so arrogant as to recommend one specific program that will work best for everyone.  I know a few that work well for me.  Will they work for you?  Probably.  Why?  They all work, for about 6 weeks.  You’ll have to keep a running journal to figure which combinations work best.

And then switch up.  Pick another race, try another strategy.  Log your results.

Where can I find some sample workouts?

You can hire a coach and they’ll do all the programming for you.

Runner’s World is forever printing programs that will better your 5k, 10k, marathon.  Every issue.

You can find some really great suggestions in books like ‘The Daniel’s Running Formula‘.  I got into the best shape of my life training with one of the programs in this book.  Just remember that there is not a single interval program that works best with everyone.  Your response to intervals is yours and you should keep a running log to see which types of workouts you respond to best.

There’s any number of books out there by amazing coaches like Lydiard, Daniel’s, Coe.  To get faster is going to take some commitment, so I’d suggest you invest in a book or two and get a handle on what it takes.

Some hard earned advice

  • Run intervals that are somewhat close in distance to your race.  Running fast 400M repeats will probably not help your marathon time.
  • Don’t overdo it.  There’s a common belief amongst runners that if 1 is good, and 2 is better, 37 might be best.  Stop when you feel like you could do one more really good interval.
  • Embrace failure.  The point is to take your body to the limit, and then adapt and create a new limit.
  • Control your rest during the workout.  Don’t take full recovery until you’re in your taper.
  • Schedule an easy day before and after your intervals.  Allow your body rest so it can adapt.

Intervals will get you faster… to a point. They have their limitations.  Thankfully they are not the only way one can increase their speed, just one of the most effective.  In the coming weeks we’ll look at a few more ways to get fast.

Next up: How I got faster.

After that: lose weight and get fast.

Stay tuned.

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