If you want to become a faster runner, the first thing you must do is be able to get outside your comfort zone.
I’ve worked with a lot of runners–individually through my online coaching services and in-person with several training groups at Skinny Raven. Sometimes the #1 thing that runners could do that would immediately improve their performance is pushing themselves to get outside of their comfort zone (when appropriate!).
We all have a pace we are very comfortable running: we can carry on a conversation with a running buddy, saying a few words at a time. And once we’ve established some base to our training, this comfortable pace should feel pretty easy most days. (There will be days where even the easy pace feels hard.)
However, some runners (definitely not all!) make the mistake of running this comfortable pace all the time–in their training runs as well as on race day. I see it occasionally the end of a race: a runner is coming down the homestretch of the race, they are running a comfortable pace but suddenly they see the finish line. They immediately crank it up several notches and have a seemingly unknown burst of energy. They sprint the last 50 meters of the race and pass a handful of other runners in the process. (Why do I always imagine a guy doing this?) Every time I see this, I think to myself, “How much faster could they have run had they been pushing themselves like that throughout the entire race?” (Not at that same speed but at least at that intensity level.)
Sometimes racing technique comes from inexperience, as we’ve all seen it with little kids: they start out racing at a full-out sprint, die after 200 meters, and then suddenly get motivated to kick it in when they see the finish line again. (Even us adults do it to a lesser degree!) Other times, it is just easier and more comfortable to stay at a pace that doesn’t hurt, doesn’t burn the lungs and legs, and doesn’t put us in a potential spot to fail.
It takes a lot of practice (and patience!) to run even splits throughout a race. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to pace ourselves appropriately hard and become comfortable with the uncomfortable. The easy pace is comfortable, familiar, and not too exhausting, but those things don’t get us PRs or test the limits of our body. If you want to achieve new personal records and see what you are capable of, then you must learn to push your body and get out of your comfort zone.
Outside the comfort zone, we train our bodies to keep pushing when we want to give up mentally. We learn to test the limits of our body and see what we are capable of.
Here are a few ways to push past that comfortable pace:
- wear a heart rate monitor to see if you are training at the appropriate intensity.
- run with a buddy and see how your breathing compares.
- use a running calculator to see what your average pace should be depending upon the workout.
- at the end of the race, ask yourself, “Did I give it my all, or could I have pushed harder?”
BUT with all of this said, we need to make sure we aren’t “racing to train,” but are “training to race.” It would be harmful to your training if you ran every workout as if it were a race. There are times to push hard, but there are also times to take it easy because we can’t get faster without proper rest either.