Every runner with a time goal wants to cross the finish line in less time. Posting a shiny new personal best is a great feeling and an accomplishment that's worth all the hard work.
But with all of life's distractions competing for our time and attention, it can be difficult to do the training you know you need to run a new PR. So how can you maximize your race times without running becoming a full-time job?
There are certain training strategies you can implement to "force" training adaptations in order to get more out of each workout and race faster. Most don't require any extra time—some will even save you time—but they will challenge you to think differently about endurance training.
Maximize Recovery to Get in Better Shape
Most runners try to limit soreness and recover as fast as possible after a long run or hard workout. And the most common strategy is to take an ice bath after a challenging run. Not anymore.
Stop taking ice baths after hard runs. Ice baths aren't inherently "bad" but they do reduce the body's natural healing processes—the same processes that help you adapt to that hard workout you just did.
Taking an ice bath after every long run or hard workout strips some of your body's ability to get stronger from that run. Instead of learning how to manage and adapt to soreness and inflammation, your body uses an ice bath like training wheels—it never learns how to recover properly without the help.
Next, you have to get more sleep. It sounds so simple, but why aren't more runners getting nine hours of sleep every night when they're training for a big race?
Sleep is your number-one recovery tool, but we often cut this valuable time short to surf the Web, watch TV, or otherwise waste time. Instead, recognize that sleep is just as important as your runs. Without recovery, you'll never get faster.
Make Your Hard Days Harder
Too many runners work at a moderate effort all of the time instead of modulating their intensity from easy to medium to hard (and sometimes really hard). Instead, I tell my coaching clients to follow this principle: Make your "hard days harder and easy days easier."
There are a few ways to put this into practice:
Your slowest day of the week should also be your shortest. Short, slow runs enhance the active recovery of these runs. Too many runners think short runs can be quick, but that's a mistake.
Long runs should not be "long slow distance" or "long slow runs." The purpose of a long run is not recovery, so don't run at your really easy recovery pace. The effort should still be relatively easy, but it can also be moderate.
Run the day after a long run. The accumulated fatigue and semi-carb-depleted state helps improve your fuel management, and recruits muscle fibers that you normally wouldn't use because your "regular fibers" are tired. It also makes you mentally tough and better prepared for race day.
Run some of your long run at a faster pace. Increasing your pace when you're already tired is a great way to "force" your body to get faster. Try running the last 2 to 4 miles at a steady-state effort or your goal marathon pace. Another option is to run a simple fartlek of 1 to 2 minutes hard with equal recovery during the second half of your long run. Side benefit: this type of workout will help you lose weight.
These strategies take advantage of your body's natural adaptation process so when you line up for your next race, you'll be much better prepared to run a new personal best.race.