There is no secret to running faster.
However, there are little tricks you can implement before and on race day to get you through the distance sooner.
Here are a few methods of finishing anything from a 5k to a 100 mile ultra marathon faster. And the best thing is they have absolutely nothing to do with your fitness level or training!
Take the corners sharp
At my first 100 miler I was running and chatting with a man who continually would move side to side on the path around turns. He said to me “I came here to run 100 miles, not 101.” For 100 miles he took every corner as sharp as he could, while still staying on the course, of course.
Looking at a track for example, lane 8 is almost 50 meters longer than lane 1. Corners count!
Jack Daniels said that most mistakes in a race are made within the first two minutes, perhaps even the first minute. The most common mistake is going out at too fast a pace and prematurely fatiguing the body during the race. While you may not be running for a world record, your next PR may depend more upon you practicing restraint early on in the race.
Doing this is harder, but here is a good way to think about it. For the first bit of the race (say, 25%) your goal should to be passed by people. Don't worry, the bulk of them are running too fast, will expire, and be passed by you later on! Be the person passing people in the last third of a race, not the one being passed!
Preview the course
The most famous hill in all of running is likely Heartbreak Hill, at mile 20.5 of the Boston Marathon. Imagine going into such a race and not having a clue about the existence of such a landmark! This stretch of road is painful enough to people who are aware of it!
For a 5k, take some time and either run the course during the warmup or at some point before the race. Take note of any climbs or downhills.
Be wary of the wind
This is resolved as easily at checking the weather app on your iPhone. However, can be the difference between a negative split or not. Knowing which sections of the course are into the wind will allow you to position yourself well.
This can mean falling in behind a group right before a headwind to draft, or saving yourself for a surge when that headwind comes.
Start with the correct corral
This is only applicable at larger events, where you must provide a previous or expected finishing time, and they put you in a starting corral with other people at a similar fitness level.
If you start with people not as fast, you will spend a great deal of time zig-zagging through traffic. While it seems insignificant, over a marathon this is one of the most common reasons a runner’s GPS measures the course long.
Surge after the hill
A study determined that athletes who took the ascent of a climb easier than competitors but attacked at the top or at the bottom, when their fellow athletes were fatigued, had more success.
This was because common practice is to attack at the start of a climb, but athletes who did that could not respond to the attack at the top or bottom.
Take Beetroot Powder the two weeks pre-race
It's come to light that beets may be a great means of bumping up your pace a tiny bit, and all you have to do is drink it. The important ingredient is the nitrates, however there is research to suggest that taking beetroot juice or powder is more effective than nitrate supplements on their own.
The easiest and cheapest method is likely to purchase some powdered beetroot juice. You can also order concentrated juice. Other methods were to drink the regular juice during the three days prior to the event.
Heat Adapt the week of a race.
Athletes that are heat-acclimated have a number of physiological adaptations that may give them an edge over non-acclimated competitors while racing both in the heat and in cooler conditions. This includes a lower core temperature, higher sweat rate, more blood plasma, and your sweat will contain less electrolytes.
Don't think this is important? Not being able to adequately cool the body has been one of the theories as to the greatest hinderance to a sub 2-hour marathon. It matters.
There have been numerous studies that suggest the importance of such body characteristics such as this one from the University of Oregon and here from the University of Canberra. Most recently, this study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports suggested that a 40 minute bath in 40*F water up to the neck (that's hot) immediately after exercise while the body temperature is already elevated may improve endurance. It's unclear whether less time may stimulate the same adaptations, further research is required.
Bonus: Add some epsom salt to the bath.
Carbohydrate Load (for longer events)
This is when runners gorge on any form of carbohydrate available in an effort to race faster. Sort of.
Carb loading is a way to super-saturate your muscles with extra glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrates. There is little doubt this is beneficial to marathon performance.
Instead of simply eating all of the carbs, there are two great options. The first is to eat a lot of carbs but also perform a single extremely high intensity 30 second acceleration on an overnight fast 24 hours before the event, while eating a high carbohydrate diet during this time or avoid as much physical activity as you can the day prior to a race while also eating a high carbohydrate diet. Both of these methods seem to increase store glycogen the next day.
Practice these during your training runs.
Implement them during your races
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