In my earlier running days, the competitor in me couldn’t help but envy the fast personal best’s my friends would achieve. “Some people are just naturally faster than others.”, was the justification I used to explain why they were fast and I wasn’t. The more I ran, and the longer I ran, my pace gradually quickened, but I never achieved a personal best. I needed something to help me run mile paces that started with 8, 7, or even 6 (when really pushing it!) – that something was converting to the Paleo diet and losing over a stone and half of body fat. This gave me the impetus I needed to take my pace to new places.
… Maffetone urges runners to slow down, saying this anaerobic speed work is actually quite stressful on the body…
While one expects speed after significant weight loss to just happen overnight, it actually wasn’t that simple. I got a bit faster, but nothing remarkable. Once I started employing the below strategies to my training and weekly physical activity, however, that’s when the personal bests came pouring in!
Running Tips to Beat Your Personal Best
Slow Is the New Fast
Or ‘Slow the F down’, a term coined by primal endurance all-star Phil Maffetone. Known for working with numerous high-level athletes, including world champion triathletes, Maffetone pioneered the notion that an athlete could build stamina by slowing down instead of speeding up. Traditionally, runners know that in order to run faster, we need to practice running faster; Maffetone urges runners to slow down, saying this anaerobic speed work is actually quite stressful on the body, triggers the fight-or-flight response, lowers our immunity, and contributes to injury and over-training. By slowing down and running according to a heart rate in line with your chronological age, you’re still building stamina but aerobically instead, with little stress on the body, and quick recovery time.1
I use this to train for races, and while it requires some discipline to maintain a very slow pace, I’ve seen amazing results and continue to achieve personal bests (PB’s) by larger chunks of time, across all distances. For more information on Maffetone’s heart rate training, click here.
In my pre-Paleo days, a colleague always told me to cross-train and build more muscle to help with my running. Stubbornly and lazily, I didn’t listen, and only started doing this once I turned Paleo. He was so right. While I haven’t bulked up, I’ve built muscle and improved overall strength in my entire body.
What are the advantages? More muscle, especially your core, helps a runner maintain good form over a long distance. You’re not engaging your core throughout your run, but rather it’s there to support your body and running form, especially as you run up or down hills. Add the muscles of your extremities to this mix, and you’ve got a great support system in place for trail running: they help stabilise as you run over dynamic terrain, and with some practice you could be blazing through quite technical sections with the help of the muscle strength you’ve built. Some running pains and niggles are a result of weak muscles, so increasing muscle mass could prevent injury. Finally, increased strength helps in the latter stages of a race. As a runner starts to tire, form becomes compromised; this compromise uses energy. Building better musculature allows you to maintain proper form, even hours into racing; you can use your energy for that last push to the finish instead. It really helps with all facets of running!
Try body weight and dynamic exercises twice a week, which will contribute to overall strength.
Hills Are Friends, Not Enemies
A great divide amongst runners is hills: some love them, others hate them and purposely avoid them. If you want to get fast, you need to run hills. They too help build stamina, and confidence, and help prepare for races. Once I started working on my hill fitness, through occasional hill sprints and just running up big hills, my race times and stamina improved.
Try hill sprints once a week to every 10 days: 10 minute light jog to warm up, 5 continuous reps of 45 seconds uphill at just slower than sprinting pace, then immediately 45 seconds down at slow pace. Cool down with a light jog for 10 minutes. You should also start incorporating hills into your weekly training runs.
The Little Things
… that we take for granted but are paramount to PB’s: form and turnover.
On the flat, you should have a relaxed jaw and relaxed shoulders. Your arms, bent at 90’ angles, should be pumping by your side. Lean forward slightly at the hips, and strike the ground with your midfoot instead of your heel. Aim for short strides.
For hills, it’s the same technique going up and down: shorten your stride even more, lean forward at the hips, head up, shoulders back. For running downhill, leaning forward (and your abs) will help get you down, quicker. As much as possible, especially on roads, aim for quick leg turnover, which is the rate at which you stride naturally. It takes some practice, but by taking more quick steps downhill at the same effort, you can actually run faster without exerting more energy.
The food we eat can make or break us, and this applies to runners too. Food can be fuel, or the reason your race went so poorly. What you eat greatly impacts your energy to run and race, your immunity, and your body’s ability to recover. You can feed it cheap fuel with a grain-based, sugar-based, SAD diet, or you can feed it quality fuel in the form of a well-formulated Paleo diet. When it comes to athletic performance, a proper diet can be your greatest asset.
Above all, the strategies mentioned should be done consistently, in conjunction with training plan that takes into consideration peak weeks, lighter weeks to break up the mileage, and an adequate taper period. Running to a new personal best isn’t about going all out or luck: it’s the result of conscious training and smart choices.
Have you struggled to beat your personal best? Why not share your experiences below by leaving a comment.
- Maffetone, P. (2015). The 180 Formula: Heart-Rate Monitoring for Real Aerobic Training. In MAF. Retrieved 30 January, 2016 from http://philmaffetone.com/180-formula/