There's a lot of silver bullet strategies out there on getting faster at running. Heck, I've even given you some of them on this channel before, but really it depends on where you are in your running journey. So, today I'm going to give you the one crucial thing of you've been running for two years or less, sometimes more, but definitely two years or less, this is the one thing you absolutely positively must do hand in my heart to get faster at running.
If you haven't been with me on the channel before I'm Jessie Funk, and this is a show I like to call runner's high, I talk about all the kinds of things that you can do to be a better runner. So, if you're interested in being a better runner, hit that subscribe button in the bottom right-hand corner, stick with me, that'll give you updates on all the future videos I do.
Now, recently on my other show, also on this channel, called the Smart Athlete Podcast, I was speaking with Scott Johnston co-author of The Uphill Athlete.
Now, his book pertains to mountaineers and cross-country skiing. But as we discuss in my interview with him, endurance training is endurance training.
And when we were talking about juniors in particular, but really anybody that's new to this sport, there's one thing that you have to do that's going to have the biggest benefit, the greatest benefit to you to be a better runner, and that is aerobic development.
You see, before you get going with all the kinds of speed work and fancy training and intervals and all the things that I love to talk about on this channel, because I've been running for so long competitively, I love all the intricacies, but when you're a new runner and you don't have a base under you, that's kind of the jargon to say you haven't been running for quite a while, then the biggest thing you can do to help yourself is to develop aerobically.
This does a lot of different things, but the thing is that most endurance sports, regardless of distance— We're talking, and this is something I spoke with Scott about, the thing Scott himself said, pretty much anything, even 800 and over, but definitely a mile and over is going to be an endurance event. And with that means your aerobic capacity is going to be the biggest limiter to how fast you can go.
So, when you're new to the sport, you have to develop your aerobic capacity if you want to be better.
Now, how do you actually do that? The trick here is really just one thing, and it's going to be the thing probably already know, but stay with me, it's that you need to increase your miles. I talked about this in other videos and how to do this, but the general rule is no more than 10% increase per week. It's going to take some time.
This is why I said at the beginning of the video, if you've been running for two years or less this is absolutely the most crucial thing that you have to do. Now, that doesn't mean that once you have two years in, you have all the aerobic development you're ever going to need. That's not true at all.
I was still developing aerobically into college and really my biggest gains post-college and
So, it's something you can come back to years and years and years on in training, and it is literally what we call it the base, because it is the base of all the other things that you can do. When you increase your training, you're doing a few things, but one of those things along with increasing your aerobic development, your capacity for your lungs to transfer that oxygen to your muscles, inside of that idea is that you're increasing your mitochondrial density.
So, your mitochondria or the powerhouse of the cell, we can go back to high school biology, they are what help produce energy in your muscles aerobically. So, when you have more of them, then you can produce more energy with the oxygen that you're giving your body. When you do this base training, when you increase your miles, run more miles, it signals to your body to produce more mitochondria.
So, with that means that you can produce more energy and go faster.
This isn't something that happens overnight, we can't just take a magic pill and say, “I have the maximum amount of mitochondria my body will produce.” It takes time, that's why you have to be patient. But no, if you stick to this strategy and say, “I'm new to the sport, but I want to get better, all I have to do is increase my miles and I'll get better.” then it becomes pretty much, you know, easy.
One, two, three, increase my miles, get better. That's all you have to do. There will be a point of diminishing returns, but if you're new to the sport, that's going to be the biggest thing you can do.
Along with that extra mitochondrial density comes one of the most overlooked aspects that beginners seem to forget, and that's mental strength. If you have the mental strength to stay and do something for a long, long period of time, to stay focused, to stay with it, that builds your mind's capacity to deal with challenges. I know that there's a difference between being able to go out and run for an hour and a half and run for 20 minutes.
There's a much larger mental capacity needed. Similarly, because I've done triathlons since college, there was a time when I was out on Sundays, I would ride my bike for five hours and then run for a half hour. Now, I backed off mileage and I'm doing like three hour rides max, and then a 15 minute run.
And even this last Sunday, I got pooped on my three hour ride, and it was just— I forgot the kind of capacity it takes to even go five hours. It took time to get up to that.
But during that time, I was a stronger athlete. Life gets in the way, I did back mileage off, but that's neither here nor there. The point is when you go longer, you're building your mind strength, not just that actual physical adaptation.
But there is one more physical adaptation that you get that I actually talked to Scott about during the interview, because it comes up in his book, it's hanging out here on the shelf, in the uphill athlete, and that is fat adaptation.
So, what I'm talking is basically your body's ability to burn fat as fuel instead of glycogen. So, if you don't know, glycogen is basically the sugars for a lack of a more complicated explanation. We take sugars, we turn them into glycogen, it’s stored in our muscles, and we use those as energy.
They're typically used at higher speeds, like when we're racing, but our body also burns fat, and we'll often burn fat at lower levels of intensity versus higher levels of intensity.
So, when you spend more time at lower levels of intensity, it teaches your body to burn fat more as fuel, and the trick here is that fat can be used pretty much forever, regardless of how lean you are, you have enough fat stores to take you the entire distance almost regardless of what the distance is.
So, that is a nice perk to spending more time doing base training. You get these three things really, mitochondrial density, fat adaptation, and that mental capacity to deal with challenges.
One other way you can actually get around to increasing your aerobic capacity, increasing that base training without increasing injury risk, because sometimes that comes up along with increasing miles, ask me how I know, you can check that out in another video.
Like I said, subscribe, and go see that here in a minute. You can actually get on your bike or get in the pool and do training that way. So, you're using different muscle groups, but you're still going to be using your lungs, which is that big, crucial component in running.
So, you can do some cross training with those other activities and help your running out in the same way without having to do the increase of injury risk. Now, you can't just go and cycle all the time and be a great runner, you do have to run, but as a supplement, one or maybe two times a week, as you're building your miles up, you can do those other things to help increase your aerobic capacity, again, while limiting injury risk.
Now, Scott has all kinds of other suggestions and lots of great tidbits. He's a coach that's been around a long time, he's taken five different athletes to the Olympics among other national world level competitions. That book is bananas dance. Just pick it up if you have a chance. But, if you want to hear more from Scott, check out my interview with him, a link to that should be popping up on the screen here shortly. I'll see you next time on the next episode of runner's high.