Can you really improve your running speed?

Looping the loop

Today’s run (Business Park): 4.8 miles

I’m beginning to wonder how much one can actually do to optimize running speed. When I first started running, I was averaging 12 minute miles over the first full month. Two months later, I was breaking 10 minutes a mile. When I completed my first full year, I was averaging 9:15 per mile, with occasional dips below 9:00 on shorter distance runs.

Four years later, despite holding consistently to a six day running schedule, I’m still averaging about those same paces. The good news is that I’ve managed to keep my performance at the same level. The bad news is that it now takes a lot more effort to do that. My goal has always been to average below 9:00 a mile and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get there.

As I focus on speed, I’m realizing how difficult it will be to get to my targeted pace. After taking a break from performance to run the trails on Friday, I headed over to the local business park to run the big loop. This route provides a lot of elevation gain and loss (+/- 1,040 feet), which I thought would be helpful training for Cow Harbor.

The temperature was 59 degrees when I went out 8:00 AM, and that provided great conditions for taking on the hills. I did two laps around the park before ducking into an adjacent neighborhood for another mile. With the great weather, I was surprised to see only two other runners out this morning. One woman was circling the park counter-clockwise while I ran it the other way. She was running with traffic and we passed closely. I wonder if these people ever connect the reason why I run on the left with safety. I’m guessing they don’t.

I made it back home in time to make an early obligation. When I mapped my run, I saw that I’d averaged 9:27 a mile. Despite my focus on speed, my performance is still lagging on longer runs. Tomorrow, I’m planning on doing a fairly long tempo run, followed by hill repeats. Only one more weekend after this to train for Cow Harbor before I taper. I’m doing the best I can to prepare, but there may not be much more performance to gain.

8 thoughts on “Can you really improve your running speed?

  1. Anonymous

    I'm no expert and I just began running last September/October, but I can't help but think that you would be better served by running fewer days, while increasing the mileage and/or intensity of each run. Fewer runs per week, but no more easy three milers. Add some biking or spin classes if you want to keep doing cardio six days per week.Just my two cents. And good luck!


  2. Hmm..If it's taking more effort to keep that level, perhaps, as Anonymous suggests, longer daily runs should be tried. I know that to increase my endurance last year without wanting to incur any injury, I was biking 25 and 30 miles at time on the weekends. I believe that's how I got to break 1:00:00 on CH. Just a thought.That route looks interesting, esp with the elevation gain. Is there a lot of traffic there?


  3. I appreciate the point.There's always been debate about run frequency, its benefits and performance. Some elite runners run less days and most do significant cross training. However, some top trainers say running daily is the best way.I'm not really a fan of spinning or biking, but I've committed to more cross-training (elliptical) and core sessions. I know I should mix it up more, but I really like my daily runs.


  4. Thanks TPP. What I didn't say was the reason it gets harder is that I'm now five years older. I've been doing more hiking and will be spending more time cross training. But I like the six day schedule. Nothing works better for me than daily, guilt-driven workouts.The Cow Harbor course is like five different races: Scudder is fast and downhill, mile 2 is James St/Widow Hill., miles 3 and 4 are for recovery, mile five is an uphill slog and mile six (after Pumpernickel Hill) is blessedly downhill. You'll have fun.


  5. Anonymous

    I prefer running as well, but there is no way in hell my body would countenance it six days per week. I'd either suffer additional or more severe injuries (I've had foot problems), or my performance would suffer from tired legs and joints and/or from managing my effort (consciously or subconsciously) to avoid injuries. Food for thought.


  6. Both mileage increase and very specific speed workouts (tempo runs, 5x800s, etc.) a la Higdon or Pfitzinger shaved off a good amount of time for me. The whole aging thing? I can't relate. I decided to stop aging about 6 years ago. What?


  7. I get that. I've discovered that everyone's different in terms of what they can handle on a daily basis. I've been fortunate to avoid chronic injuries through the years. The worst running related injury I've suffered happened when I backed off my frequency in favor of longer runs. It was while training for my first half marathon. I developed a knee problem that plagued me during the race. Going back to my old training routine eventually fixed the issue.


  8. I think not aging is an excellent strategy!The Hal Higdon method is considered one of the best available programs and I know a number of people who use it during their marathon training. I've never been able to follow a structured program but I've been borrowing the concepts lately.After Cow Harbor I may dedicate a month to a specific training program to see if moves the performance needle. I'd love to get a new 10K PR this year.


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