If you’ve proven you can finish but would like to finish faster, here are three proven strategies to do just that. Insert these workouts into your training plan to boost your race pace and feel stronger over the final few miles.
Fast Finish Long Run
By far the best workout you can do to improve your times is the fast finish long run. In this run, start at your regular long run pace (see the McMillan Running Calculator to determine your optimal long run pace). Then, over the last few miles, gradually yet steadily pick up the pace so that by the time you reach the last 1-3 miles, you are running very, very fast. It should feel like you’re racing a 5K or 10K and you’ve done it right when you feel that same mental challenge to keep pushing despite growing fatigue, just like you experience in the latter stages of long races. They are a way to experience the “pain” of the last few miles of a long race without having to do a long race.
You only need 2-4 of these fast finish long runs in the last few weeks. I typically prescribe the workout 3, 5 and 7 weeks out from your race with the typical easy, conversational pace long runs on the alternating weeks. Because the fast finish long runs are so challenging, it’s best to add an additional 1-2 recovery days after each.
Athletes at the front of the pack include pace change workouts and you should too. These “interval” workouts are simply runs that alternate fast running with slower running. After warming up, run quickly but under control for 3-10 minutes (at your 5K-half-marathon race pace) then slow down for 1-3 minutes to catch your breath. Repeat this so that you get a total 15-30 minutes of fast running. My favorites are 5-7 x 3 minutes at 5K-10K race pace with 1-minute recoveries and 3-4 x 10 minutes at 10K-Half-marahton race pace with 2-3 minute recoveries.
While the bulk of your training for a long race focuses on duration, include a pace change workout every 2-3 weeks across your plan. You’ll increase your ability to utilize oxygen (VO2max) and you’ll again practice running fast while tired, the key to a faster race.
“If you see a hill, attack it!” is a great mantra for runners who want to race faster. And, don’t just run up fast, practice running quickly down as well. On the up portion, you’ll develop leg strength to boost your running economy (think of it as better miles per gallon in a car). On the down portion, you’ll develop muscle durability so your legs will be less prone to fatigue in the later miles of the race.
You can also do hill repeats, where you run up and down a hill repeatedly, but I find that attacking every hill you come to across your training plan is an easy way for runners to get a boost in performance. Commit to the mantra, “If you see a hill, attack it!” and you’ll find that not only will your hill running improve but also you’ll have an extra level of toughness come race day.
The bottom line is that in order to race faster over long distances, you must practice running faster. But, the faster running you do must be specific to the physical and mental challenge of long races, namely running fast when mentally and physically tired. All three of these workouts do just that and for runners who have proven they can finish a half or full marathon, these workouts are great additions to your next training program.