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Hal Higdon’s 12 Run Fast Secrets

BY Hal Higdon

The first in our three-part series from legendary coach Hal Higdon on how to unlock your potential on the run.

A prolific running coach, contributing editor at Runner’s World, and author of more than 30 books, Hal Higdon is synonymous with the marathon. Everyone from high school track hopefuls to Olympians have benefited from his vast knowledge of the sport and how to unlock your potential doing it. His best-selling book “Run Fast” was recently released in its third edition, and he’s given us a look into some of the many nuggets of wisdom found within it. In this first installment he offers 12 secrets to running success:

1. Run More Miles

This almost seems too obvious. Add a few miles to your daily and weekly running, and improvement will follow. All of my training programs embrace this philosophy, gradually adding miles as runners progress from week to week to a half or full marathon finish. Just don’t add the miles too quickly. Gradually increasing miles works best.

2. Train at a Faster Pace

This seems to contradict the first secret, but even while adding miles, you can still run some of those miles faster. Every workout should not be done at the same pace. On at least one day a week run at race pace, which will help you to nail that pace in competition.

3. Add Speedwork

Say “speedwork” and it scares many new runners. They fear the pain that supposedly accompanies grinding sessions on a track. Note my use of the word “supposedly,” because sometimes training hard can hurt. But speedwork need not be difficult. Put in most of your miles at an easy pace, which allows you at appropriate times to focus your attention on speedwork. This way you will improve without blasting every workout.

4. Cross Train

Adding or substituting other sports can help you maintain, if not improve, your aerobic fitness. In my programs, when I tell runners to cross train, I mean doing some alternate activity—and doing it easily. Swimming, cycling and walking work well. Cross-country skiing is the perfect exercise if you have snow.

5. Strength Train

Strength equals speed. Particularly with the finish line in sight— with all systems used to propel you forward about to break down—runners need strength to provide that final burst. I usually show up at the gym two or three days a week, often after a run, and spend 15-20 minutes moving from machine to machine. Total fitness helps with everything you do.

6. Learn How to Stretch

Scientists have a hard time proving that stretching can either prevent injuries or provide a means of rapid recovery, nevertheless most runners believe both to be true. For best results warm the muscles gently before your run. Even a half mile of slow jogging is enough to get you going. Stop. Stretch. Continue running.

7. Avoid Injuries

Easier said than done, but injuries can be minimized, if not entirely avoided, by simply following all of these 12 tips. See a podiatrist before you get hurt. Investing in a gait analysis before visiting the running shoe store might offer you some protection against buying a shoe that exacerbates an existing problem. Many injuries can be traced back to worn-out shoes or the wrong shoe for your foot type.

8. Follow a Good Training Program

Let me confess a certain bias when I offer this advice, since I provide training programs both on my website and interactively through TrainingPeaks. Nevertheless, intelligent training rules every time. Learning how to balance your elements remains the key to success.

9. Locate Training Partners

I now train mostly on my own for convenience, nevertheless for most of my career I partnered with runners near my ability for tough workouts on the track or for long runs on the roads and in the woods. When you train with others, it allows you to follow their pace and sometimes coax them to follow yours.

10. Join a Running Club

The best way to find partners, as above, is by joining a club. The Road Runners Club of America contains 1,100 member clubs with 250,000 individual members. They range in size from the Anniston (Alabama) Runners Club with 350 members to the New York Road Runners with 40,000 members. Camaraderie can help motivate you to higher accomplishments.

11. Enlist a Coach

Yes, coaches cost money, but it could be money well spent if it allows you to improve as a runner. TrainingPeaks offers dozens of coaches who can work with you online. Many of the clubs mentioned above also provide coaching. But be sure to hire a coach with good experience who can practice the art as well as science of coaching. Experienced coaches have learned how to dig deeply into a runner’s background and current situation in order to develop a completely individualized training plan with workouts based on your history, current level of fitness, general ability and both short- and long-term goals.

12. Train Consistently, If Not Spectacularly

This might be the most important secret of all. Train at a comfortable level for a long time and tweak your training program from time to time, and you can continue to run fast. You have to put the time in. You have to show up. Repetition is the mother of all skills.

In next week’s installment, Higdon will give you expert tips for how to navigate your mind and body on race day.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.