Once You Know You Can, You Will (or How I’ve Gotten Faster After 40)

I almost forgot I have a race this week: a local Thanksgiving Day 4-miler. I ran it last year. It was the first race I had run in a long time. I think the last race I had run before that was an untimed Color Run 5K in Brooklyn in 2014, and that was only because a friend persuaded me to do it with her.

Another thing I forgot was to take a post-run picture this morning. So here is a picture of an inflated turkey outside Macy’s I walked under on my way to work this morning. This is my post-run picture for the day.


You’re welcome.

I didn’t do one race in the year and a half I lived in L.A. I ran a lot – that’s when I truly embraced running as not just a workout but a full-on lifestyle, baby, going from running 30 minutes two or three times a week when I arrived in July 2015 to running 45-75 minutes five times a week by the time I left in December 2016. Since my running had progressed so well in L.A., when I came back to NY for Thanksgiving last year, I decided on a whim to do a local turkey trot.

My pace in last year’s race was 9:15 min/mile. At the time, my typical training pace was anywhere from 10 to 11 minutes a mile – slower if I was extra tired. Rarely did I go faster than 10:00. Maybe on insanely good days. This didn’t really improve. I was running a lot, but speed-wise, I was flat.

This morning I ran 3 miles at 8:35 pace. My goal was to run close to 5K pace just to see where I was for the race this week (I didn’t have time to do 4 miles). So much has changed this past year, and especially in the past six months. I’ve kept up the five-days-a-week training plan, but have managed to get a lot faster.

Here’s how I’ve done that. Now, please know, I am not as fast as a lot of other people. To some people, I am just a big gross tortoise-like lump of slow-moving flesh. But I am fast compared to the old me.

The old you is the only person you should ever compare yourself to.

(Within reason: your 70-year-old self will most likely not be as fast as your 20-year-old self, which is perfectly okay. But you know what I mean. Don’t nitpick.)

Maybe this calls for a bullet point.

  • Consistency: I’ve kept up a pretty strict schedule, only taking days off for colds or soreness, which don’t happen often. I have set days of the week I run, and for the most part I stick to those days. If it rains, I switch it out with weight training and run on a non-running day.
  • Longer Long Runs: It might not seem obvious at first, but one of the best ways to run a fast 3 miles is to just be able to run 10. You don’t even have to run the 10 fast. Just run them. The more long runs you do, the faster your body will be able to adapt to the shorter ones. There is also a mental thing that happens when you’re running long, where suddenly 3 miles feels like a leisurely walk in the park.
  • Races: Something happens during a race that is (for me) impossible to replicate on a training run. You go faster than you thought was possible, and this not only affects your muscle memory but your mental process as well. Once you know you can go faster, you will go faster. That’s a good rule for life, too: Once you know you can, you will. Plus, races make fun goals – for me, once I knew it was possible to place in the top 3 of my age group, races became that much more exciting.
  • Varying Up Routes: I don’t run the same route two days in a row. I have about 5 or 6 different ones I do, each one about once a week. Maybe twice, but no more. This keeps my body from getting bored: each day, the hills, dips, inclines, twists, turns, and possible deadly intersections are all different. This is good for both your muscles and brain.
  • Cadence & Stride: I’m just starting to be more conscious of this, but taking quicker, more frequent steps, and making sure to keep my feet under my body (as opposed to stepping way out in front) seems to help me go faster. And from what I understand, it’s just better for your body to run in quicker, shorter steps.
  • Lower Body Strength Training: I probably don’t do enough of this, but the more squats, lunges, and deadlifts I do, the stronger my legs are and the faster they can carry me.
  • Racing Flats: Okay, these won’t really make you that much faster. But they do help. A second pair of lighter shoes for shorter, faster runs will make you more efficient, which in the end will shave off who knows how much time from your overall pace. They also trigger something psychologically: if you know you’re wearing something that will help you go faster, you will probably go faster just feeding off that knowledge alone.

That may all seem pretty obvious to anyone who’s been at this for a while, but to anyone else looking to improve speed, try some or all of these things and see if your pace improves. It worked for me. And hell, I’m over 40. If I were an athlete I’d be retired by now. Over 40? AND a woman? I’m not even sure why I’m allowed to show my face in public. I should be probably be in jail. In fact, I’m going to go turn myself in now. Goodbye, world.

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