How I Started to Run Faster

As soon as I was able to run, I wanted to run faster. It’s been a journey with a lot of ups and downs, but you can really start out as a slow runner and, well, get a lot less slow. I’m not an Olympian, but I’m fast enough to occasionally win medals in age groups at local races. Here’s my story.

But first, I want to be clear about something: it doesn’t really matter how slow you run . At any speed there will always be someone faster than you and someone slower than you. I knew this even at the beginning, but still I wanted to be better than myself . I wanted to be better. And for a while it seemed to me that this was impossible.

As a child, I did not play sports. I hated physical education. In one year in high school, we all had to run a mile, and the teacher recorded our time. For faster children, there were different categories – up to eight minutes and so on. I was in the slowest group: more than ten minutes. I don’t even know how much more. I never asked. All I knew was that I failed this test. I thought I was destined to be a slow runner. Or better yet, not runners.

I learned to run and made exercise a part of my life.

I didn’t even think about running on my own until a few years later I took cardio and then karate lessons (to meet college requirements) and ended up joining a karate club. I was gaining stamina and strength, and I loved it. When summer came, I couldn’t afford a gym membership at home, so I printed out the Starter Program from Runner’s World (it’s no longer available, but it’s similar to Cool Running’s Couch to 5K plan) and I clicked on Road.

That is one specific road. I ran on it every day and every day turned in the same place, expecting that over time I would be able to cover the same distance faster. It didn’t happen, but at least I stayed in shape all summer, which was my real goal.

For many years after that, running was a constant part of my life. I haven’t noticed significant improvements in my speed, but by continuing to exercise in life, I’ve laid a solid foundation to become a faster runner in the future.

I changed my daily routine

Why didn’t I get faster? It took me years to realize that I was making a big mistake in my training.

All this time I have been doing the same running workout. I walked on a straight road or trail for about a mile and a half and then turned around and ran home. I did these sessions at the hardest pace I could handle, hoping that today would be the day when I would shave off my time for a minute. Basically, I raced the 5K four times a week without any changes. There were no easy days, no intervals to build strength, and no long runs.

Serious runners – professionals, people on teams, people who follow a training plan – change their workouts because each one offers a different benefit . Slow runs build endurance, and you deliberately make them slow to benefit from as many miles as possible. Short, quick intervals increase strength and put your lungs in a load that cannot be obtained from constant running.

So, I started to change my program. On some days I still ran my usual three-mile run, but on other days I ran five or six miles as slowly as possible. Sometimes I would run a shorter run, maybe two miles, and end it with a series of ten second sprints up a steep hill.

I did my first 10K race that year. I covered those 6.2 miles at an eleven minute pace, not bad for a distance that I couldn’t even dream of just a year earlier. In my second 5K race, I ran the first mile in just 9:17. Despite the fact that I slowed down for the rest of the race, I was delighted: I finally broke the ten-minute hurdle.

I trained in strength and started to win

My next milestone came when I trained hard for a different reason: I played roller derby and did everything I could to be stronger and faster on skates. Running was my extra endurance workout and I also went to the gym regularly. I squatted a lot .

I got stronger and stronger, but I didn’t really think about my running speed. In the spring, my gym friend announced that she wanted to run 5 km. Of course I said, I’ll do one with you.

This 5K turned my fastest, recording that I still dream about the beating. A lot of good things came together that day: it was cold, which actually improved performance . I didn’t set myself a scoring rate, I just groped. And I have been training for years since my last 5K, so I probably should have known that I should set a new record.

I finished at 25:20. I stood and ate cookies when the race organizers announced they were posting the results, so I checked the list, wondering where I ranked among women in my age group. My jaw dropped when I saw the results. I received a medal.

This is how rewards work in this type of race. The first three men to cross the finish line receive “general” awards, as do the first three women. The rest are then categorized by age group, usually within five or ten years. Thus, all the women between the ages of 30 and 34 who came that day, with the exception of those who received one of these first three medals, were in the same age group. There were 49 of us. I was the first.

By and large, my time was not that great, and if I entered the larger 5K race, there would be a lot of fast runners to beat me. But among the people who participated in this race, that day I was ranked high enough to go home with some equipment. Was I … a fast runner ?

I learned my strengths

Just because I can run 5 km fast does not mean that I can run well at all distances. I ran a marathon and a couple of half marathons and decided that I was neither mentally nor physically fit for long distances. I don’t find zen in watches like some people, and there’s nothing special about my marathon.

The only thing I liked about marathon training was the strength training day. I tracked workouts and uphill reps, which I loved because I could do my best and know it would be over in seconds or minutes.

It got me thinking: was it possible to try a race shorter than 5 km? I signed up for 2 km, a distance of about 1.2 miles. I was in pretty good shape that year and uploaded a workout plan that was n’t aimed at a marathon or 5K, but to get me in shape to run a really fast mile. My long runs never went over an hour, but I went to the track twice a week to run at short intervals.

The result was another medal for first place. I felt like I had really found my strength: a distance that I loved and at which I was good. I was in good shape, and if I continue to train the same way, I can become even faster .

And a month later, I twisted my knee in roller derby training and tore my ACL . This led to an operation that took months to recover. I hung up my sneakers.

I didn’t give up

Almost two years have passed since my operation. At first I was forbidden to run for three months; then I could run slowly, but I had to skip many other exercises that I liked. And soon after that, I got pregnant. I used to run during pregnancy , but it’s not interesting. I sat on this.

This, too, was not my first failure. During the entire journey described here, I took many breaks from running. Sometimes I stopped because of a minor injury, and sometimes just because I decided that it would be better to spend this time and energy on another hobby. I couldn’t run in the third trimester in any of my three pregnancies, and I never managed to keep running when I had a very young baby to take care of.

This means that I have returned many times . I earned this 5K medal after my first child was born. I received a 2K medal after my second child. And now, after knee surgery and my third child, I’m back in sneakers, trying to buy time.

Now I know what I need to do to get better. After all, I have done this many times. At first, I make the exercise a habit. I record my jogging or exercise activities on a calendar and in the first weeks I just strive for consistency. Then I choose a plan to help me navigate, so I try to do all kinds of workouts that will help me get better. I also revisit my goals to make sure I’m still moving towards what I like.

Right now I’m trying to get back to that fast time when I was running in 2K. I started by combining walking and running, gradually reducing my walking as I got stronger. Basically, I quickly moved through Couch to 5K.

After I was comfortable and stable in my running, I ran for time: an easy mile to warm up , and then one mile at a time. My time then, at the beginning of this summer, was 8:58 miles. (My pace is 2 km, the time I am trying to overtake was 7:37).

I selected the plan in the Nike + running app , and since it focused on the 5K goal, I added some extra speed workouts. After two months of hard work, I checked myself again: now I have 8:18. You can bet that I will continue to train; another personal best – within reach.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.


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