1. Get your focus right: speed or endurance
Find out what your strongest distance is by following Jeff Galloway’s formula, US coach, what he calls the Magic Mile – a mile time trial to predict times for other distances; after warming up with some drills, run a mile fast and consistently paced (not so hard you want to throw up at the end) then:
- add 33 seconds for your pace for a 5K
- multiply by 1.15 for 10K pace
- multiply by 1.2 for half marathon pace
- multiply by 1.3 for marathon pace
If, after doing this sum, you can see your results match closely to the 10k but nowhere near the marathon, chances are you need to work on endurance; if it’s the other way round, it’s speed you need to improve upon.
2. Total body conditioning work
Improve your stride length with conditioning to open up the hips and stretch out the hip flexors. According to Fraser Quelch, the US-based TRX Head of Training and Development, moves like the one below can improve your stride length by 10cm can and knock 90 seconds off your 10k time.
Conditioning work like this also works the core meaning you’ll run in a more balanced and efficient – and ultimately faster way – staying upright and driving your legs forward.
3. Embrace inclines
Hill training boosts your running economy (the ability of your body to use oxygen as fuel, a bit like a car’s efficiency at going from 0 to 60). It does this by building power in the upper legs, and strong hamstrings will help you drive your leg back in the swing phase of the running cycle.
Hills also help to improve your stride length as you power up the hill and your stride frequency as you ‘cycle’ down – both of which will translate to faster times on the flat. Aim to add in two or three hilly reps a month (in addition to speed work).
4. Power up with plyometrics
Plyometrics are moves that put power in your lower limbs, and energy into the tendons, meaning you will bound off the ground more quickly. Many sprinters’ drills involve plyometric moves, but they’re just as relevant to distance runners. Try skipping, hopping and jumping squats on soft ground or a gym mat.
5. Lose weight
It's an annoying fact that losing weight will mean you run faster as you’ve got less to carry around. However, it’s not the only factor to consider as weight loss can also mean you have lost muscle mass or you are dehydrated, and of course weight loss without training is meaningless.
However, it’s no co-incidence that elite runners are generally on the slimmer side on average (Frank Horwill, the famous coach estimated around 10 percent slimmer) and commentators have said that 10lb lighter equals 20 seconds per mile faster.