Why Can’t I Run Faster?

Why Can’t I Run Faster?
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For runners, PR-chasing creatures that we are, getting faster is a common goal.

  • I want to get better at running. Therefore, I want to be able to run faster.
  • I finished my marathon in X:XX:XX. I want to finish the next one in less than that.
  • I want to run as fast as, or faster than my friend/ sibling/ spouse/ running partner.

So let’s talk about getting faster, and specifically, about the misconceptions surrounding it. Because what is the point of pursing a goal if you’re going about it the wrong way?

Run Faster

Here are the three most common myths about becoming a faster runner that I’ve come across over the years. They are holding many runners back, diverting their focus from things that could actually bring results. (We’ll talk about those, too.)

1. MYTH: My running form is bad.

I get these emails so often:

“Hello. I’m looking to hire a running coach. [Gives some background about his or her running history, talks about wanting to get faster, finish a certain race under a certain time, etc.] But I think my running form is really bad and I need a coach to see me run and tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

To which I wish I could reply:

“Hi! When you run, are you putting your left foot in front of the right? Are you then putting the right foot in front of the left? Do you then repeat that all the way to the finish line? If the answer is yes, you are doing it right.”

Saying that would be rude, of course. So I try to explain that “bad running form” often gets a bad rap — and why. We blame a lot more than we should on bad running form: injuries, inability to run faster, even hitting the wall in a marathon. But in the vast majority of cases, that’s an excuse. It’s a myth that has been so generously profitable for the running shoe industry, that many millions of marketing dollars go into keeping it ablaze.

The truth is, you are not a slower runner because you are heel-striking or pronating. You will not get faster as a result of simply changing your stride. But, your form will improve as a result of getting faster, as the body will naturally find the most efficient way of running from start to finish line. That’s how our brains are programmed to work.

This doesn’t apply for those competing at an elite level or professionally, of course. (I don’t think professional or elite runners would waste their time with this blog, anyway.) If you’re in this category, you have your team of experts who analyze your stride, and coaches who work with you on even the slightest tweaks in form. At the professional level, these things matter.

As for those of us who run for our health and race in the back, middle, or even relative front of the pack: we have a lot more to gain from just getting out there to train, consistently. And if running like Phoebe makes you feel happy and free: go for it every once in a while!


 

2. MYTH: I’m in the wrong running shoes.

Were you fitted for your shoes in a specialty running store? Did an employee see you run and recommend several options based on your stride and running volume? Did you you pick the pair that felt most comfortable? Then chances are, your shoes are not the reason you are not running as fast as you’d like to run.

The same goes for all of running gadgets and gear. A special sports bra with a built-in heart rate monitor or a $600 running watch will not make anyone run faster. Running shorts that leave you a bloody chafed mess at the end of a marathon are not the reason you slowed down and didn’t meet your goal. They were a contributing factor, but the truth is, somewhere out on that course, someone else was also a chafed bloody mess and they were able to push through the pain.

Running gear that fits your body and needs is a huge plus and we are blessed to be living at a time when so much is available to make our running comfortable. But not having the best of the best, or having something that you think is not the best for you, is not what is holding you back.

3. MYTH: I’m not running fast enough in my training.

This is a potentially dangerous way of thinking, as running too hard all the time would most certainly have the exact opposite effect of making you a faster runner. (Read more about slowing down to go fast here.)

Yes, if you are running at a 10 min/ mile pace in all of your training runs, chances are you will not be able to run a half marathon at an 8 min/ mile pace. But this doesn’t mean pushing yourself to run an 8:30 min/ mile in every single run. Before your body adapts to the faster pace, there is a good chance that it would break down with an injury or out of sheer fatigue. Worst case, you’d be looking at needing weeks or months to recover from overtraining syndrome.

So, you’ve read this far (thanks for sticking with me!), and you probably want to know: what, then, is the way to get faster? Well, here it is:

The Secret to Becoming a Faster Runner…

… is simple.

It is a combination of time, consistency, persistence, smart training and proper recovery. That is all!

There are no shortcuts – no gear or tweaks to your running form – that would make you faster. But with hard work, the right kind of work and over time, you will improve. In my training, I always follow these five principles:

Don’t run too hard all the time. Structure your training to incorporate easy days surrounding your hard-work days.

Don’t race too much, or train hard all year long. Take a few weeks or even a couple of months off after a big race. Stay active, but do things for fun. It’s important to have an offseason and de-train a little. You’ll come back refreshed, rested and ready to get after it and become even stronger – and faster – for the new season.

Be consistent. Don’t be one of those people who hang up their running shoes for three months after finishing a marathon, and only get back into “training” 16 weeks out of their next big race. If you’re training for marathons or ultra marathons, chances are you love running. So turn running into a lifestyle.

Be patient. Time is on your side, so give yourself time. Maybe you won’t go from a 4:20 marathon to a 3:40 marathon in one season. But can you can go from 4:20 to 3:50, to 3:35 (!) over the course of two years? Set realistic goals, smash them and celebrate your success!

Enjoy the process. None of the above would be doable unless you really love running. Running is hard, running fast is hard work. If running feels like a chore, or worse, you don’t enjoy it and look forward to lacing up those running shoes… then maybe it’s time to find another hobby.

Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and Triathletes

Holiday Gift Guide for Runners and Triathletes
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Greetings, Shoppers!

Welcome to December: the month of Mall Madness, Parking Lot Rinse-and-Spin, and Shopping with the Zombies.

Wouldn’t you rather be out on the trails?

Lucky for all of us, these days we can buy most anything we want online. The problem is, there’s so much stuff — how do you find just the right gift for your the runner or triathlete, fitness lover or adventure seeker in your life?

Here, as has become my tradition over the past few years, I share with you a few of my favorite things that not only have reasonable price tags, but are made by small businesses that are helping communities and making a difference in the world of endurance sports.

Read on, and you might just find the perfect stocking stuffers, white elephant or Secret Santa gifts for this year. (Check out my suggestions from last year, too.)

So, Dear Santa. This holiday season I’d like you please to bring to my fellow athletes:

1. This “Do Epic Shit!” tank from Betty Designs

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When it comes to dressing the female athlete, Betty Designs can do no wrong. Founder and owner Kristin Meyer has truly revolutionized women’s cycling, swimming and triathlon gear with her bold, edgy kits (check out the Fly collection!) — and has plenty of casual wear items, like this tank (and trucker), to enable you to make a badass statement off the race course, too! I have a few friends who’ve done some truly Epic Shit this year and you can bet they’re getting these for the holidays!

2. This “I just PR’d a little” tank from Skirt Sports

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Skirt Sports revolutionized women’s running in a way no other gear company – even Nike! – has done over the years. More than a decade ago, founder and CEO Nicole DeBoom created the first ever running skirt. She has since made it her mission to empower women in sports and inspire them to be active, no matter what size they wear, and feel good all the while. There are too many skirt models that are as cute as they are functional (hello, thigh pockets, back pockets and mini key-pockets!) and I do have my favorites, but if you’re looking for a fun tee that makes you smile, you can’t go wrong with the “I Just PR’ed a Little” tank.

3. This Gone For a Run Wine Glass

They have pint glasses for runners and triathletes, too!

Cheers!

4. This 2017 Runner’s Streak Calendar

Well, technically it’s a Daily Desk Calendar and yes, I know no one actually needs a big ol’ paper block to remind them what day it is any more. Wouldn’t it the perfect source of daily inspiration for those crazies you know who “streak”, a.k.a. run every day, though? Or anyone, really, who loves running. Right?

5.This Location Coordinates Necklace

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Are you shopping for someone who just completed an epic race or achieved a long sought-after goal? Help them commit that special place to memory – and a piece of beautiful jewelry – with this hand-made destination necklace from PlaidLab Studio. (Check out her Etsy shop more unique, handmade pieces.)

6. The new COMPETE Training Journal by Lauren Fleshman and Róisín McGettigan

This will be my third year of tracking my workouts in these journals. I started with the Believe Training Journal when it first came out and am now on the final weeks of the second edition. Lauren Fleshman and Roisin Dumas update the content each year, so the journals are a daily source of inspiration, in addition of helping me keep track and periodically look back on my training and goals. The perfect gift for an athlete who seeks consistency and adding structure and purpose to their training!

7. This Hyperspace lava-colored tee

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Know a dude who loves bikes and Star Wars? Score! Can’t go wrong with this t-shirt. I got that for HusbandRuns earlier this year and can attest to the high-quality material. (Indeed, it is very soft.) You’ll be supporting Endurance Conspiracy, an athlete-owned and managed company in Boulder, Colorado. Plenty more fun tees, tanks and truckers available on their website.

8. This Tank, T-shirt or Trucker designed for bike lovers

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Shameless plug for a tank I made for myself with CafePress and decided to make available to others to buy – because why not? CafePress lets you order all sorts of t-shirt, tank and hat models – I like the racer-back tanks for their versatility. I can wear them on short runs, post-run, or to hang around the house whenever I’m in a summery mood! Check out the other stuff in my Race With Heart shop, too.

9. The gift of (non-athletic!) style

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Last, but not least: If your athlete friends and loved ones are like me, they spend more time in (and money on) athletic gear than they do in “real-life” clothes. And shopping for clothes? It’s a nightmare. It’s ironic, really, that I have such a fun time buying matchy running clothes or cycling kits, but cannot for the life of me put together a decent outfit for a work meeting, casual day out and about, or a night out on the town.

Enter Stitch Fix. I’ll admit I resisted it for a very, very long time. I thought it was one of those “monthly box” blogger fads. But a few months ago I caved in and gave it a try — and I swear, no exaggeration, it has changed my life. Well, my wardrobe! I now have outfits that look good — and different from my usual “jeans and free race t-shirt” getup.

The quick-n-dirty on how Stitch Fix works:

1. You create an account and fill out a super detailed questionnaire about your style and preference. The more details you give, the more information your stylist will have when picking clothes for you! Visual help from Pinterest boards or your Instagram account are super helpful.

2. You schedule your fix and a stylist (human being) will select five pieces for you based on your preferences. Once you receive your fix, you’ll try them on and decide which ones to keep and which ones to send back in the prepaid envelope they’ve included in your box. Also included in the box is a style card with recommendations on how to pair the clothes with other stuff from your closet. Personally, I just paired them with each other, because my closet was so outdated!

3. The $20 stylist fee will be applied towards the items you decide to keep. If you keep all five, you’ll get a 20% discount.

4. You can schedule to receive new “fixes” as often as weekly, or spread as far as every three months. You can reschedule a fix at any time.

5. That’s it!

Phew! I didn’t mean to make this so long, but I’ve actually been so excited to finally get some decent items in my wardrobe without having to go to the store and try things on (and end up buying jeans, which I’ll later match with race shirts, anyway).

If all that sounds appealing, grab a Stitch Fix gift card — your friends will be thanking you for a long time!

Happy shopping, happy gifting – and many, many happy miles on the trails!
 

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are referral/ affiliate links.

The Mermaid Run San Francisco: Sirena 10

The Mermaid Run San Francisco: Sirena 10
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If I had to guess one item on the bucket list of most San Francisco Bay Area runners — or runners anywhere, really? — I’d go with running on the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’d chance, even, that it’s an item you never really get to cross off the bucket list. You do it once, then again, and again – and it never gets old.

GGBridgeMermaid

The price you pay for racing on this beauty, however, is steep. Literally. Getting up to the bridge – and down, and back up again – involves hills. Not massive trail-like hills, but hills nonetheless.

I knew full well about those hills when I signed up for the 10-mile distance at the Mermaid Run San Francisco. The memories are fresh, even if it had been more a year and a half since I last ran a race over the bridge (the San Francisco Rock’n’Roll half marathon). But while the course doesn’t easily lend itself to a PR, the last time I ran that particular race was back in 2013, so I had a PR in mind anyway.

Truth be told, I was hoping to run somewhere around 1:15, a 7:30 min/ mile average pace. (One day, I really hope I can do this course in 1:10 — a 7 min/ mile average pace — but with this year’s race schedule, I knew that couldn’t happen… In fact, for me to be able to run 1:10 on this course, I think I’d need to make this race a key one for the season. Planning your race season: a topic for another, important!, conversation.)

Race Morning

I carpooled with a couple of friends and we got to the Marina Green early enough to score a convenient parking spot just a short walk away from the start. On the flip side, that is also when I realized I forgot my Honey Stinger gels… Not a terribly big deal, I should be able to survive 10 miles without extra carbs. (In hindsight, though: a huge deal for my mental game over the last two miles of the race.)

As usual, Moms Run This Town San Jose had a solid presence at the Mermaid Run and getting organized for a pre-race photo – or two! – was a party.

San Jose MRTT Mermaids ready to roll!
San Jose MRTT Mermaids ready to roll!

When we got the “five minutes to start” warning, I lined up near the front, put my music on and got ready to go.

Hills, wind and mind games

The first two miles of the course are flat and I settled into a comfortable pace. Probably slower than I should have been running, but I didn’t want to blow up too early in the race. The lead group took off super fast and I could barely keep them in my sight within the first mile. Obviously, those ladies were running a pace I couldn’t match for the life of me, so I just ran my own race.

As it happened, I spent those first miles in the company of a small group of ladies and a dude. Why men run those women-only events, I don’t know. We actually talked about this before the start and one suggestion was that they come to run with and support a woman in their life. That’s quite nice, indeed — except this dude was running solo and feeling quite competitive, it seemed. He took off chasing the lead pack and I was left to run with a few ladies in silence.

It’s weird, racing in a tiny group and with no spectators. Quiet to the point of awkward. It doesn’t quite feel like a race, but you know you must push and try to run your best. One long, silent mind game.

For me, anyway.

Every race tests the mind, but in this one, my mind games began much earlier than I thought they would. Just as soon as we started climbing those hills (somewhere along mile 3), I felt tired and started wondering if it’s even worth to push the pace to the point where my lungs hurt. Why? Why make myself hurt when this is the last race of the season, I could run a comfortable 8 min/ mile pace and still get my course PR, and just enjoy the day?

Oh shut up. Because. Because we’re runners, and we do these things to ourselves.

Then came my first course surprise. I saw that we are running out on the left side of the bridge (against traffic), and not on the right as I remembered it from 2013. Not a bad thing, since we wouldn’t have to share the narrow pedestrian walkway with runners still making their way out over the bridge while we were running back, but still. I was kind of bummed because one thing I loved about this course was seeing everyone I know on my way back over the bridge: the smiles and high-fives are such good distraction from the pain!

As it was, I had no distraction but the wind, the beautiful views of Marin and… the flight of stairs we had to run down to get to the other side of the bridge! Course surprise number two!

Down under the bridge we went, over to the other side, and — a flight of stairs to climb! So painful! So annoying that I was forced to slow down to a walk! (No point in running up stairs, it isn’t much faster and I’ll get way too winded to settle back into my pre-stairs pace easily.)

Another lesson in “always double-check the course, even if you thought you know it.”

Running back over the bridge was lonelier and windier than ever and not even the beautiful San Francisco skyline could distract me from the pain in my lungs and my tired legs. I somehow made it over the bridge and – a brief reprieve! – settled into a few delicious downhills before hitting the last two miles of the course.

The last two miles are on a straight, flat dirt path, and are simply brutal. Every time I’ve run this section in a race, I’ve suffered so much! I had actually set a pretty ambitious goal for myself pre-race: to muster the strength and try and run a 7:30 or 7:20 min/mile pace for those miles. Well, I couldn’t. All I kept thinking about was my gels, and how I forgot them, and I needed some calories, even though I drank some Gatorade from a couple of aid stations (and some of it tried to make its way back up my throat ewww… another reminder to not do stuff I haven’t practiced in training!).

I don’t know if that was a mental bonk or a physical bonk — the first is more likely! — but I ran those last miles in 7:57 and 7:47, and I swear I felt that I could not have gone one second faster.

My Garmin clocked my total mileage at 9.75, too, so either the course was short, or the GPS was off — possibly because of the stairs at the far end of the bridge? Who knows.

I was so happy to be done with it at that time, that I could care less about the actual distance, or my time. As it turned out, I finished in 1:16:39. Almost two minutes off my 1:15 goal, but I knew I had given all I had that morning.

I made a beeline for the food, too, and the bagel and banana tasted like heaven!


As usual at Mermaid events, I loved and soaked up the festive, friendly atmosphere. More than a thousand women looking strong, fit, healthy and fabulous in one of the world’s most beautiful places. What more could I want?

Oh, and there is a Philz Coffee truck right near the finish area. Perfection!

Time: 1:16:39
Pace: 7:39 min/ mile
Overall: 13 of 1139
Gender Place: 12 of 1118
Age group: 4 of 185