How to get faster when life is not cooperating

If you have been like me lately, you have been struggling to get in your running training, never mind trying to figure out how to get faster, due to unforeseen circumstances in your life.

After nearly 11-solid weeks of traveling to and from Chicago to assist with my ailing mom, I finally landed home in early December for the foreseeable future, as my mom’s health stabilized.

I had managed to fit in some runs while in Chicago all of those weeks there, but it wasn’t consistent training and I had definitely lost more than a couple of steps in my speed and endurance.

Now home and with a new found desire to compete at a high level again, I decided to try something different in my training that I hadn’t focused on in all my nearly 40 years of running: routine progression tempo runs workouts.

If you are unfamiliar with the term progression tempo run, then let me explain. A progression run is a type of training where you start out at a comfortable pace and during the course of the run quicken your speed each mile or certain period of time. A tempo run or a lactate threshold (LT) run is a run that feels “comfortably hard” and is about 10-15 seconds slower than your current 10K pace or about 30-seconds slower than your 5K pace. Put these two together and one gets a great workout that invigorates, strengthens and motivates you all at the same time.

How progression runs got me from 18:45 to 16:30 in 6 weeks

Now I knew all about progression runs before and used them a lot in my training for 5K to marathon distance races, especially. But, I hadn’t done too much with progression tempo runs before. And, if I were to be completely honest, I made the conscious decision to target my training regimen around progression tempo runs because I wanted to find a way I could get in some good quality up-tempo running, while still building my base mileage without having to put in 8-15 mile runs in regularly.

What has occurred in a short 6 weeks is pretty impressive:

  • December 1st – 18:45 progression tempo run
  • December 15th – 18:07 progression tempo run
  • December 16th – 17:32 progression tempo run
  • December 30th – 17:21 progression tempo run
  • January 2nd – 17:11 progression tempo run
  • January 10th – 16:53 progression tempo run
  • January 15th – 16:30 progression tempo run

This improvement is based off of 25-35 miles per week. I will detail in the below sections what else I did to get to this point. Also, understand that these aren’t all-out efforts, these are training runs and the effort I put forth on December 1st felt pretty similar to the effort I put in this morning for my 16:30 run. The purpose and beauty of progression tempo runs is that while they shouldn’t tire you out as much as an interval or straight tempo run, they also due to your effort grow your endurance base faster.

Don’t race these workouts – bail out when you need to

On December 29th I bailed out on the progression tempo workout. Why? Because the effort I was putting forth was way to much for the result I was getting back. On the first mile of this particular progression tempo run, although it wasn’t killing me to keep the pace I was running, it didn’t feel comfortable and two weeks earlier that same pace felt smooth.

You need to lift, too!

This is a crucial part of my training and has been for the past 2 to 3 years. Consistent strength training is a key component to improving your running times and avoiding injuries. I am only in the gym for approximately 20-30 minutes to get in my strength and core work and I see and feel the improvements even in as short as a couple of weeks.

How recovery runs, fartleks and rest play a roll

Other than including progression tempo runs into your training every 1-2 weeks, you need to also include fartlek running, which is Swedish for speed play. These are runs where you run hard, slow and medium speeds throughout a training run. Recovery runs are also important. After a progression tempo run, the next day should be a recovery or easier run. Lastly, you need to rest when your body feels like it’s breaking down or becoming sluggish. Whenever I take a day off of training because I feel exhausted, the next workout I do usually rocks.

Good luck out there – happy training!



  1. This looks like something I would like to try and would benefit from. Could you better describe/outline the specifics of the workout?


  2. Yeah I’m pretty interested in this. I’ve been sitting at a 20:20 to 21:30 5k. I want to get under 20, so this seems like a good training idea, but your times you laid out are for 5k and not mile pace right?

    Also if I hold a 6:20 for my 5k, and my 10k is 7:15, and my half is 8:17….. should the 10k be faster?


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