Running Faster Makes Me Go Slower!

by Catherine

running faster makes me go slower
I have been running 4 - 5 miles four times a week for about three years. I've been trying to improve my time for this distance, before a marathon relay coming up next month.

I was able to reduce my time per mile by 45 seconds and kept it at that rate for a few weeks.

But now I can't even do my old time without hitting a lactic acid burn at the beginning of my third mile.

I started doing intervals to see if I could blow past that but nothing is helping and my race is in less than a month. I'm worried I won't be able to even finish with my old time.

What am I doing wrong?

Answer by Dominique:
Thanks for your question.

Firstly, with 4-5 miles per run, four times per week for a number of years, you have built a very solid base. That's quite admirable and will surely contribute to your health and fitness in the long run.

With regards to you speeding up your training in order to get faster and fitter, I have got the following thoughts:

1. Run slower to go faster
2. Running faster - the way to injury and burn-out
3. Balancing running slow and fast

Run Slower to Go Faster

running faster makes me go slower
The first place I'd like to start is one that might seem a bit surprising: slowing down. I know, it sounds counter-productive when your main goal is to speed up, doesn't it?
Let's imagine you’re painting a big wall. Yes, running and painting are two very different things, but hang with me here!

If you try to paint that whole wall as fast as you can, without stopping, you're probably going to get really tired. Now, imagine if you painted in small sections, taking mini-breaks in between. You'd still get the wall painted, and you'd feel a lot less tired, right?

Running isn’t all that different.

Easy running, believe it or not, is an essential part of training. It helps to build your endurance- that maintainable power that keeps you going. So, instead of effecting quick speed increases each time you run, focus on increasing your mileage at a comfortable pace. Over time, this added stamina will naturally contribute to quicker running times. The rule of thumb is first miles, then speed.

Build that 4-5 mile run out to a 6-8 mile run. Create one long run into your schedule and get that to 10 miles or so. Over time your training week will change from 15-20 miles per week to maybe 30-35 miles per week. That's two weeks of your current training into one! The improved stamina will make it easier to go faster.

Also check out the Increasing Mileage Safely page.

Running Faster - the Way to Injury and Burn-out

running faster makes me go slower
There is some truth to the age-old credo: no pain, no gain.

However, it sounds very much like you have been embracing the pain a bit too much. You have been pretty much racing every training run. When you push yourself to run faster every time without allowing your body to adapt and adjust, you might put yourself on the fast track to issues like injuries and burnouts.

Given your decrease in performance, it sounds like you are pretty much at that spot. That's why slowing down is very important right now.

The important thing right now is to get back on track without causing more strain to your body. Remember, your initial goal was to improve your time before an upcoming marathon relay, but the first priority should always be your health. Focus on building up a strong running foundation of consistent, easy runs before ramping up the intensity.

Take it easy for the next couple of weeks and do short, easy runs only. You need to give your body a chance to recover.

Balancing Running Slow and Fast

running faster makes me go slower
So, step 1 must be to do only short, easy runs for at least two weeks.

Step 2 is to focus on easy runs still, but start building up your stamina through going longer.

The last step to improving your running is to balance varied running speeds during your training. Each speed affects a different system in your body.

Just as our bodies need a balanced diet so we don't have too much or too little of particular nutrients, it also needs balanced speeds to improve our overall performance.

This variety in training speeds is like fuel to your running engine, it promotes a healthy balance that benefits your performance in the long run. If your training until now had been too one-paced, perhaps it's time to introduce an array of speeds into your workouts.

I'd recommend the following pages for additional information on different types of training:

Running Training Section - your portal to a large range of articles on different facets of running training.

Running Workouts page - this page provides a wealth of information on different types of running, from slow to fast. It's all there.

Catherine, I hope that you find these suggestions useful and that they bring you closer to your goals.

Remember, running isn't just about how fast you can go, but also about how long, how efficiently, and how safely you can keep going. Balance is key and, most importantly, the journey is as important, if not more, than the finish line.

Good luck with your running.
Kind regards,

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