How To Run Faster? Run With The Fast Crowd

running races, New York Harriers

The New York Harrier men (inlcuding my fist-pumping husband) are ready to cheer on the Harrier women at the 2011 NYRR Team Championships. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

I stared down the track in front of me. I’d already run a 1600, two 800s and four 400s at an all-out pace. Now just one more 800 stood between me and the end of the workout. I didn’t know how to run faster. But that was the task before me.

“Group 4, you’re up!” my coach yelled.

“Why do we have to run another 800?” someone moaned.

“Because it mentally prepares you to run hard, even when you’re tired,” he said. “All right, this is all-out. This should hurt. Group 4, go!”

I had a cramp in my left foot, a stitch in my right side, and I still hadn’t caught my breath from the last interval. Everything in me wanted to quit.

But I took one look at the rest of the runners in my group, and I thought, “I can do this.”

How to run faster? Run with the fast crowd

(Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Over the years, team speed workouts have become my favorite part of half-marathon and marathon training. There are so many reasons to train with a friend or a team. Camaraderie, accountability and encouragement are some of them. But my favorite reason to show up to team speed workouts is that I like to run with the fast crowd. It’s inspirational, motivational and encourages me to push myself harder than I ever would on my own.

Team Training

The running community is one of the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve encountered in my life—making room for runners of all speeds. My much faster friends never make me feel like I am less of a runner simply because I am not as speedy. On the contrary, they are incredibly supportive. They ask me in earnest how my training is going and wish me luck before big races. Unsurprisingly, they have been instrumental to my continued improvement as a runner.

How to run faster? Run with the fast crowd on a running team

Group 4 and I run to the start of a race together. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Camaraderie is one of the obvious benefits of training with a team. Knowing people with whom you can talk the talk and walk the walk is invaluable. That’s what running friends are for. Where else will you find people who don’t think you’re crazy for being a runner?

And when you’re meeting a team or a friend for a running date, it’s a lot harder to punk out because it’s cold, or you’re tired, or your favorite episode of “The Golden Girls” is on. Thank you for being a friend: friends keep you honest and keep you running.

But my favorite reason to train with other runners, especially runners faster than me, is that I like the motivation.

I like being the slowest in a pack of gazelles. I like running with the fast crowd. It pushes me to run my best.

How To Run Faster Through Team Training

I’m a solid middle-of-the-pack runner. My best half-marathon time is 19:18 faster than the national median time of 2:19:48 for women. The men’s national median is 2:01:37. I’m a minute faster than that too. But I wasn’t always, as I chronicled in 7-Year Raceiversary Inspiration For Running Beginners, where I compared my first race times in 2007 to my personal records now.

How to run faster? Run with the fast crowd on a team

Showing my Harrier pride. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

One commenter on that post asked, “What did you do to get faster?” I thought about all the things that helped me improve. One of the most important, I think, is this: track workouts with a team.

When I started going to weekly track workouts with the New York Harriers, I wasn’t nearly as speedy as I am today. Heck, I’m still one of the slowest people on the team. But running with the fast crowd helped me get a lot faster.

I’ve got friends who can rattle off marathon times like 2:37, 2:41, 2:59 and 3:03—largely, people who have been running their whole lives, people with multiple Boston Marathon qualifying times under their belts. Quite simply, they kick my butt. But they also inspire me.

How to run faster? Run with the fast crowd on a running team

Two of my teammates volunteer at a race. (Photo: RunKarlaRun.com)

Hitting the track with them for a speed workout is motivational. Playing greyhound to their rabbit helps me push myself in ways I never would if I was training alone. And it gives me a vision of where I could be someday if I put in the time and effort.

We usually run workouts in four groups according to time. I like to joke that I’m group 4.1, bringing up the rear.

At my latest workout on Wednesday, Group 4 ran six 800-meter repeats at half-marathon pace with a 400-meter recovery in between. Hitting 4:02, 4:02, 4:09, 4:00, 3:58, and 3:59 as 800-meter splits, I finished every repeat faster than my half-marathon pace, and feeling good too, feeling like I had plenty more intervals left in me.

I also finished dead last on each lap. Does it bother me? Nope. There are always some people who are just a hair faster than me, finishing a few seconds ahead, and a few in back with me.

But regardless of our position, we encourage each other along. We start each interval as a group, no runner left behind. And runners in the faster groups cheer us as we race by while they’re on a recovery leg. As I’m rounding a lap of the track, there’s often a coach holding a stopwatch, telling me that I’m “looking good.” It’s like being at a race with throngs of spectators rooting for you. Motivation doesn’t get better than that. It pushes me to run my best, which just keeps getting better and better as a result.

So how did I get faster? I joined a team. And it’s one of the smartest things I’ve done as a runner.

Karla Bruning

About 

Karla Bruning is a regular contributor to SHAPE.com, the host of NYRR's On The Run web + TV show, and a race announcer at events like the TCS New York City Marathon. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now she freelances as a running reporter. She's run 7 marathons, 20 halves, 6 triathlons, sings in an '80s cover band, spoils her dog + travels compulsively.

    Follow Karla:
  • facebook
  • googleplus
  • pinterest
  • twitter
  • youtube

22 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    I like to think my best friends would understand you don’t miss your favorite episode of the Golden Girls. I love the murder mystery episode. “Not part of the show people, not part of the show!”
    Nicole @ Pink Elephant on Parade recently posted..Je Suis Stupide.My Profile

  2. 3

    Wow you run with some speedy people! Thanks for the insight into how team training has helped you improve. I rarely ever run with other people, but when I do I find that I can usually sustain a faster pace than what I would consider normal for myself. I don’t usually have trouble getting myself motivated to run, but I do have trouble getting myself motivated to run fast!
    Kristina recently posted..My Favorite Running Memes!My Profile

  3. 5

    I wish I had trained with a team for my first couple of years of running. I am self-coached, but running with other people is a great way to improve even more
    Jojo @ RunFastEatLots recently posted..Tour de Montgomery County Farm CountryMy Profile

  4. 7

    I like how supportive runners are towards each other as well! By the way, you have some seriously FAST runner friends! I do speed work but have never done track workouts with a group. It definitely makes sense, though, that running with faster people does make you faster!

  5. 9

    I couldn’t agree more about how supportive other runners are! And I can also vouch for the benefits of running with other speedsters — that’s how I got my crazy-fast mile time :) But kudos to you for joining a faster group and not fretting about being the slowest.
    Sadye recently posted..How runners do Iowa NiceMy Profile

  6. 11

    Go Group 4.1! Sounds like a very encouraging and supportive group Karla. Hope you can encourage more mid-pack runners to join. I’m with you on team interval/speedwork training being an excellent way to race faster. We have a similar set-up with the Speedygeese Monday night training sessions. Good fun, and afterwards you realise that you couldn’t have run as well without the group.
    Ewen recently posted..A good 5k and racing JimMy Profile

  7. Pam #
    13

    I agree 100% with this post. Since I joined my coached group last fall, I can definitely tell that I am a stronger runner. With a fair amount of self discipline, I did go to the track for speedwork prior to this. However, running with others makes you improve and also the camaraderie when out there doing workouts together is just amazing. We all encourage each other and it is fun. I can’t believe I just said that speedwork and tempo runs are fun. Congrats on improving your speed. Who cares what group you are in, as long as improvement is being made. Way to go Karla!
    Pam recently posted..Friday Five: 5 Places I want to RunMy Profile

  8. 15

    So true Karla!!! I really think it makes a huge difference, and I have been missing it a lot these past few years. It always pushes you that little bit further and causes you to focus on something other than yourself! I wish I had people to run workouts with!
    Tina Muir recently posted..Secrets to Success as a Runner: DrillsMy Profile

  9. 17

    I love this! Yes, every person has their own speed goals, it doesn’t matter. Just as long as you’re out there doing the work, you will get faster! I (like most people) have a love/hate relationship with my track workouts. I hate them when doing them, but love them when I see the results they produce!
    Scott Evans recently posted..Rock the Block 10k Preview!My Profile

  10. 19

    I’ve definitely run faster when training with a group and would like to do a team or group thing in the near future again!
    Cynthia @ You Signed Up For WHAT?! recently posted..Friday Five: Five Places I’d Like To RunMy Profile

  11. 21

    Thank you for writing this. I have often thought about joining a running club but am always hesitant because I am so much slower than most people. I worry (because I am a worrier!) about people waiting for me while I bring up the rear. But you are right – most runners are still so encouraging, even to the slow ones. I shouldn’t let the fear of being slow and last discourage me from joining a group.
    Emily recently posted..Wish I Was Wednesday #58My Profile



Your Comment

CommentLuv badge