ChatGPT and Onetrack Club Sports Physiologist, Anthony Fletcher, go head-to-head on the top ten myths hobbling runners eager to build up their speed
For all runners keen to improve their performance the same core problems keep cropping up. Is that a niggle? Am I properly rested? Am I fuelling correctly? Why am I not getting faster? In this article, we compare the advice on boosting your speed offered by ChatGPT with the advice you can get from our Onetrack Club expert. Which one gives you what you really need to know about upping your pace? Let’s find out…
In the competitive world of running, the pursuit of speed is relentless. As runners lace up their shoes and hit the road in quest of personal bests, they run the risk of getting misled by myths. Separating fact from fiction is crucial for identifying which training strategies work for you and which ones don’t. So let's dispel the top ten myths about achieving faster running times by shedding light on the science behind speed improvement.
Myth: Speed Can Only Be Improved Through High-Intensity Workouts
ChatGPT: While high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be effective, a balanced training program is essential. Incorporating a mix of speed workouts, tempo runs, and long, slow distance runs can enhance overall speed and endurance.
AF: This response is not incorrect: a well-balanced programme is obviously ideal. Improvements in speed will generally result from the faster sessions, but since these can’t be sustained due to fatigue, easier sessions are included to keep the body training while recovering from them. Running slowly on its own may produce improvements in average pace over longer distances, but if the aim is to improve one’s speed for races of 5km or less, intervals of faster running need to be incorporated.
Myth: More Miles Equal More Speed
ChatGPT: Quantity doesn't always equate to quality. Endless miles without strategic training plans may lead to burnout or injury. The focus should be on smart, purposeful training that includes a variety of workouts tailored to individual goals.
AF: Very much agree with this. Some athletes don’t respond well to high mileage during training, whereas others thrive on it, but their performance on the day can be the same. That said, no one’s going to perform well in a marathon if they’ve only done 5km a week of easy running for 6 months. So there’s a balance to strike here too: enough mileage, but not too much.
Myth: You're Stuck with Your Natural Speed
ChatGPT: Genetics may play a role, but significant improvements can be made regardless of your natural speed. Consistent training, proper nutrition and recovery practices can help runners reach new levels of speed, pushing beyond perceived limitations.
AF: Ah, the old nature vs. nurture debate. Not everyone has the capacity to be a world-record-holding marathon runner, but everyone has the ability to improve their speed from their first marathon to their second and so on (unless they break the world record in their first!). Genetics do play a role, but your body is highly adaptive. It just takes time, but with planning, commitment and patience you’re sure to see a steady improvement month by month in your running speed.
Myth: Speed Work Is Exclusively for Sprinters
ChatGPT: Distance runners can benefit greatly from speed work. Incorporating interval training and tempo runs into a training regimen can improve anaerobic capacity, allowing for faster paces over long distances.
AF: Sprinting and speed work for distance running are different. Long-distance running can be improved by both and we strongly recommend that distance runners keep up their sprinting ability. Doing so does take its toll on the body, however, so when you’re covering a lot of miles in a week, you have to be very careful about the amount of sprinting you include.
Myth: Strength Training Slows You Down
ChatGPT: On the contrary, strength training can enhance speed by improving muscle power and efficiency. Targeted exercises, such as plyometrics and weightlifting, contribute to a more robust and resilient musculoskeletal system.
AF: Very much agree. That said, strength training so intense that it leaves you unable to walk the next day will certainly slow you down, so the amount and frequency need to be geared to what you can handle and sustain as you progress. If the strength training leaves you feeling a bit sore one week, you can count on it not being as sore the next week, thanks to something called the repeated bout effect. 1 or 2 weeks of reducing your running a little won’t adversely affect your performance, but the benefits of strength training will definitely enhance it.
Myth: Running Every Day is the Key to Speed Improvement
ChatGPT: Recovery is as important as training itself. Overtraining can lead to fatigue and increased risk of injury. Adequate rest allows the body to adapt and grow stronger, ultimately contributing to improved speed.
AF: I agree that recovery is as important — if not more important — once training is over. Training can’t help causing a degree of damage and, if we haven’t recovered sufficiently from that damage before training again, training risks becoming counterproductive instead of invigorating. Some people can run every day, but that’s generally because they’ve been training for years and going for a run is less likely to impair their performance than it used to be. Of course, if someone wants to fit in 100 miles a week, they probably will have to run every day, and sometimes twice a day. But not all the elite runners are clocking up 100 miles a week, which some of them find detrimental to their fitness.
Myth: You Must Run Fast Every Day to Get Faster
ChatGPT: While speed workouts are essential, incorporating easy runs and rest days is equally crucial. The body needs time to recover and adapt to the stress of high-intensity training.
AF: Training to run faster doesn’t mean having to run to the point of exhaustion. You could add a 20-30 second faster effort (a pace you could hold for 5 minutes for example) at the end of each session every day and probably be fine. Whether this would make you faster in the long term would depend on your physical constitution. For example, your speed over 5 km would depend on your maximum rate of oxygen consumption (V̇O2max), so sessions that developed your V̇O2max would be vital for improving your 5 km time. Equally important would be how long it took you to recover from each session before you could do another one and see the benefits. Doing intensive V̇O2max sessions every day is unlikely to raise your speed in the long run.
Myth: Expensive Running Gear Equals Faster Times
ChatGPT: While quality gear is important, expensive doesn't always mean better. The right shoes, comfortable apparel, and appropriate accessories are essential, but the key to speed improvement lies in consistent, well-planned training.
AF: While I agree that expensive doesn’t always mean better, when it comes to racing, shoes are now an important aid to improving your performance. For the first time in running history, it’s not solely down to you, the runner, to do your best, because the shoes you choose can really make a difference. The price of these so-called super shoes is dropping though. As the manufacturers release new versions, the older models become more affordable. The choice of clothing and accessories, however, is still a question of comfort rather than a means of producing faster times.
Myth: Carbohydrate Loading Before Every Run Enhances Speed
ChatGPT: Carbohydrate loading is not a pre-run ritual. While glycogen is essential for energy, loading up on carbs before every run is unnecessary. Instead, focus on maintaining a well-balanced diet to support overall training needs.
AF: Nutrition is not my area of specialism. However, in practice it depends on the definition of “loading”, as eating enough carbohydrates to fuel the workout is essential for success, especially in higher intensity sessions. In order to run faster, we have to become better at using larger amounts of fuel for energy, including carbohydrates. Therefore, if we are depleted of carbs, we may be limiting the intensity that we can work at. On another note, if we are doing an early morning session before breakfast, it can help to have more carbohydrates the evening before to offset some of the depletion that naturally occurs when we sleep. Long story short: fuel the workout. Every run? No. But before every session that requires harder effort? Yes.
Myth: Speed Improvement Is Linear and Immediate
ChatGPT: Patience is a virtue in the world of running. Speed improvement is a gradual process that requires time, consistency, and dedication. Celebrate small victories along the way and understand that progress may be nonlinear.
AF: This really depends on how long you have been training for. Runners who haven't trained much don’t have to do much to see large improvements. The more experienced you become, the harder it is to gain dramatic results from training, which is why some runners fall into the trap of thinking that more is better. If you’re just starting to train, you’ll see a significant improvement in your speed in a relatively short time (3-6 months). After that, the aim of training is to maintain the best speed possible over the next 10 to 20 years, bearing in mind that your speed will vary from day to day, depending on your physiological condition at the time.
What’s the verdict?
As runners strive for faster times, understanding the facts and dispelling the myths surrounding speed improvement become paramount. There's no shortage of attempts to solve the problem of speed improvement in print and online. But it's hard to find qualified, expert advice that can be trusted to solve it and put a plan of action in place for you as an individual. ChatGPT does seem to hold its own when it comes to tackling common misconceptions. But the quest for greater speed is a marathon, not a sprint, and the value of customized daily guidance from a human being can’t be underestimated.
So why waste time online seeking one-size advice on running faster, when our coaching experts at Onetrack Club can show you how in a way that’s designed just for you? Find out more about bespoke coaching here.