OK, you’ve lost the weight, done a century ride, ran a marathon and/or some other notable completion of a distance goal.
Now, if you are like me, you are getting annoyed by losing to that 77 year old guy who always beats you by 13 seconds.
So are you asking yourself, “How do I get faster?”
I’ve got the distance, got the endurance, got the cardio down. Now it’s time to WIN something. Sure it’s nice to say “I finished!” That doesn’t ever get old, does it? OK it DOES. It’s not as satisfying as saying “I got on the podium!” or better “I won!” or even better:
“I finally beat that ONE PERSON!” (Insert that ONE PERSON who matters to you here …)
So How Do I Get Faster?
Every article I read starts with the same disclaimer: “You have to determine what works best for you.”
I used to think they were just satisfying the lawyers, but after a few years of trying a lot of different things, I now agree with that statement. What works for me does not work for my wife Kathleen, for example. While we are all humans (at least I hope so) we all have different bodies, goals, levels of exercise and physical history.
There are however, a few rules that seem to apply to everyone. Here’s what I have found so far:
Define Some (Slightly) Unrealistic GoalsWhat good is it to set an easy goal and make it? The best goals are those that are just slightly beyond reach.
Pick a goal that you think you can get close to, but probably not quite make it.
Famous line from some author – “Shoot for the stars, for even if you miss, you’ll hit the moon”
To Get Different Results You Have To Do Something Different
You will not significantly improve your performance by doing the same thing you’ve always been doing. You have to change something. This can be a simple as doing the same exercise, but in a different way. You can even try a different exercise or different sport. Some suggestions:
- Try a different style of running / riding / etc. Example: Try a mountain bike instead of a road bike.
- Try a completely different sport. Swimming, Standup Paddleboard, etc.
- Change up the workouts. Add intervals (more on this later)
- Try racing. Don’t get discouraged if you do poorly at first. You will. Everybody does.
- Talk to different people. Get a coach!
Find a Way To Objectively Measure Your ResultsThere are many devices, tools, websites and apps for this. I use a Garmin Edge 500 to measure everything, including not only the basic stuff but also heart rate, power (on the bike), percent of incline (running and riding hills is a good change up), and temperature. I upload everything to Endomondo.com, Strava.com, Garmin.com, TrainingPeaks.com and also use an offline program called Power Agent.
Review your progress frequently. A good coach will have you doing this anyway. One website, TrainingPeaks.com, allows you to choose an online coach at a fairly reasonable price. They will review your workout files from your Garmin, for example, and make suggestions and corrections.
Regularly Measure Your Results and Expanded Limits
Important limits to measure are your Lactate Threshold and your VO2 Max. There are lots of articles that discuss these. Coach Adam Baskin of Cat One Fitness has a great system for measuring these levels on a precisely controlled cycling trainer. By gradually increasing the resistance, he measures wattage output and monitors heart rate. Every minute or so he pricks a finger to measure the levels of lactic acid. By assimilating all this data, he has shown me what my “zones” are:
Limits Do Not Increase Unless They Are Stretched or Broken
For me, Interval Training has done the trick to increase my speed. I have yet to meet someone it doesn’t work for. So what is it?
Well, in a nutshell, for brief, controlled periods, you approach and/or exceed limits in your workout. Then you back off for a predetermined amount of time. Your coach will help you a lot here.
This works for cycling and running (for me anyway.) This morning, for example, I did an interval running exercise, repeating the same 3 minute pattern:
- 0:00 – 1:00 Run very easy (jog really)
- 1:00 – 1:45 Run hard, starting to run out of breath (Zone 4)
- 1:45 – 2:15 Run easy, allowing HR to fall back slightly
- 2:15 – 3:00 Walk, allowing HR to fall back to Zone 2
I did this over 5.8 miles. This should begin to increase my leg strength, increase LT and VO2 Max for running.
The cycling interval pattern for me is something similar, just longer.
- 0:00 – 3:00 Ride easy – HR in Zone 2
- 3:00 – 5:00 Ride hard, Power at or above FTP, starting to run out of breath (Zone 4)
Never Never Never Never Never Give Up
Winston Churchill used that line as his entire speech to some graduating class back in the day, probably Oxford or something like that.
On those days when you feel like it’s not working, you aren’t getting anywhere, and you just want to go “Become One with the Couch and a bag of Cheetos”, this is your mantra.
In every long race, ride, run, duathlon, etc that I have done, there has been a crisis moment, when things didn’t feel good.
In fact they felt pretty bad. Several times I’ve wanted to go to the side of the course and throw up, sit down, take a beer from a friendly fan (seriously, fans were handing out beers and Bloody Marys at the Space Coast Marathon) or just plain get in the car and go home. I can’t remember the last time I voluntarily quit. Oh I had some force outs, broke a spoke on Six Gap last year, got rained out (lightning) at a 5K once, but those were beyond my control.
Those barriers are defining moments. See paragraph above on “Exceeding Limits.”
Patience Young Padawan. Nothing Happens Overnight
Continuing from the last paragraph, you will hit those plateaus that everyone hits.
Yes, everyone. Nobody’s rise to performance is a straight line.
Stay the course. You will become a:
You will stand atop the podium. You will shake the hand of THAT GUY and say good race, knowing you finally beat him.
Or if you’re like me, you will continue until it happens …