• Zack McCarty

How to run harder, better, faster, stronger

Good Afternoon Finishers!

After a brief hiatus, I’m absolutely stoked to be bringing back your weekly dose of Monday Mug Thoughts in 2021. I’m so proud of what we were able to achieve in 2020 and couldn’t be more excited to take things to the next level with a fresh 12 months ahead of us. If you’re just now tuning in, check out our 2020 year in review to get a taste of what you might be in for as a part of the M1F family.

The reason you’ve been deprived of Mug Thoughts for the last two weeks is that I was taking some time off the grid in Costa Rica! After a very busy year, I felt long overdue for some time to slow down, relax, and recharge. After 6 days of gorgeous jungle hikes, swimming in waterfalls, and hunting for sloths, I got exactly what I needed and feel so good about heading into this new year with a full battery. Here are a few pics from my vacation!

Hopefully, the holiday season gave you an opportunity to slow down, even for a little bit. You can only store so much in the gas tank and once it runs out you need to refuel. If you haven’t taken a break in a while, I challenge you to make that a priority. Plan out a small road trip, spend some time outside, treat yourself to a spa day, or open up a book. Whatever fills your cup, put your laptop away, and go do that. Running on empty won’t do you, or anyone else, any good.

Picking up the pace

While some of us need to focus on slowing down, many have been asking me about how to speed things up. You might be at a place in your training where you have the distance down but want to see improvements in your pace. If this is you, then listen up, as today I’ll share some of my knowledge around what biological factors control our pace and how we can train to start running more miles faster.

VO₂ Max: What is it? Why does it matter?

VO₂ max is the maximum rate of oxygen your body can use during exercise. In simple terms, it measures how much oxygen you can use, and how efficiently you use it.

We absorb oxygen through breathing, and that oxygen is used alongside glucose to create energy in the form of Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP). This process is known as cellular respiration (throwback to high school biology).

ATP is used for a long list of critical cellular processes. For the purpose of running, here are three crucial roles that ATP plays:

  1. Powers the movement of your muscles

  2. Provides energy to Red Blood Cells that deliver oxygen throughout your body

  3. Helps release CO₂ when you exhale in exchange for more oxygen.

Since oxygen is the key ingredient to creating ATP, that means we want as much of it as possible. This is where Vo2 max comes in. The more oxygen our body can leverage, the more ATP is created, and the more ATP is created, the harder and faster we can push our bodies. So in order to run at faster speeds for longer distances, VO₂ max is one of the best metrics we can optimize for.

How to maximize your VO₂ Max

Think about building VO₂ max the same way you would build strength with when you lift weights

If you eventually want to bench press 300lbs, how would you do it? Well, you might start by doing one rep of 225lbs. A week later, you might do 4 reps of 225lbs, and try for 1 rep of 250lbs. After another two weeks, you might aim for 6 reps of 225, 4 reps of 250, and 1 rep of 275. And the pattern continues.

To reach new limits, you have to push your current ones. If you only bench press 225lbs forever, you’re never going to reach 300. You’ll definitely get stronger and realize better muscle definition, but you’re not going to be able to lift much heavier weight than that.

The same ideology goes for running. If your goal is to run 6 miles (roughly a 10k) under an hour, then you need to run faster than a 10 minute per mile pace. Well, the only way to beat a 10 minute pace is to practice running faster than that!

The more time you spend at a higher intensity, the more comfortable your body becomes with exertion at that level. Over time, that level of effort won’t feel as intense, and then you’re able to push even further. We can only approach these high-intensity limits for short durations of time though. So the strategy for building up your VO₂ max involves exercising in “intervals.”

You may be familiar with the term “HIT” training? This stands for high-intensity interval training and it is a form of exercise that involves high-intensity workouts for very short periods of time. Many think that HIT training is just a type of fitness class you might see at an Orange Theory studio. Wrong. HIT can also be applied to running and today I’m going to share a few ways you might do that.

4 Training methods that will make you faster

If you’re looking to pick your pace up a notch, experiment with some of these methods below. All of these implement a level of variation to your run that involves running at various effort levels for different periods of time.

Interval Runs

With interval workouts, you develop a strict pattern of intense effort followed by recovery for the duration of your workout. These intervals are not specific to a certain pace, but a level of effort as things like weather, terrain, and other factors might influence how fast you can go.

The format of your intervals can vary depending on what type of workout you want to have. Here are a few examples of how you might structure it.

Workout: 7 miles | Interval: 3-minutes normal, 1-minute sprint, 1-minute jog. repeat.

Workout: 4 miles | Interval: 30 seconds high effort, 30 seconds recovery.

Interval workouts help your mind and body calibrate how long you can spend at each effort level. This strategy is great for diversifying your longer runs and hitting faster paces deep into the workout.

Personally, I enjoy doing interval training on the treadmill as I can experiment with speed and incline in a way that I can visualize on the screen.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are more consistent. You set the tempo and stick with it the whole way through. The tempo you are aiming for is just above your “normal” effort level. This pace should feel like you are pushing yourself hard but also have to maintain that level for a long period of time. It’s not a sprint though. If you can talk easily while running, you need to push a little harder. If you’re gasping for air, you’re pushing too hard.

This type of workout helps to increase your lactate threshold, or the intensity your body can sustain while still removing lactate faster than it’s accumulating. Excess lactate tells the brain to slow down and can cause people to be nauseous. If we can tolerate higher levels of lactate, we can maintain a higher intensity for a longer period of time. Tempo runs also enhance our mental discipline as you commit to a certain level of effort and push your body to maintain it.

Tempo runs are great for race prep. They get your body accustomed to what a full out effort might look like and your mind programmed to stick with it.


Another workout format for improving speed is called repeats. Using this format, you commit to a certain distance at a high intensity and follow it up with recovery after each rep. For example, a 1-mile repeat would involve you running 1 mile at 75% max effort (or so), resting, and then doing it again. With each rep, you push yourself to a level just shy of your max, but then are rewarded with a good amount of rest after.

These are commonly done around a track. While you don’t need a track to do this, it does help you avoid looking down at your watch periodically to see how far you’ve gone and also keeps you ending up at the same place each time. You’re also a little faster on the track than you are on the road, so it’ll give you a little ego boost too 😉

Incline Training

Running up a big hill is not a fun time. BUT, it is one of the best ways to improve your VO₂ max. Going up an incline is more challenging because you are fighting against gravity pulling you down. It also requires more of your muscles to grip and balance your weight as you run up the inclined surface. This increased effort though is GREAT for speed enhancement though, improving your cardiovascular fitness as well as your muscular fitness.

For distance running the best types of hills to train on have a gradual incline over a longer distance. You want to be able to run up the hill for 2-3 minutes at a time before recovering on the downhill. Repeat the hill as many times as you can and set goals around doing more repetitions each time you do it.

Some tips for running up hills though.

  1. Shorten your stride. Take small choppy steps as you go up

  2. Maintain good posture. Keep your head up and back straight

  3. You’re going to run slower. Don’t try and keep the same pace, just the same effort

Final thoughts

Now if you’re just starting out your running journey, I would recommend not worrying too much about these types of workouts. For now, stay focused on just completing each of your runs at whatever pace feels right for you. By simply running more, you’re going to get faster. You’ll notice a ton of progress with your pace early on.

On the other hand, if you’ve been running for quite some time and feel like you’re stuck at a certain pace, give some of these things a shot. They all serve as great ways to add some spice to your normal running routine and will do you big favors when it comes to speed.

For me personally, I’ve adopted #MountainMondays as a weekly challenge for myself to implement incline training in preparation for my 100-mile ultramarathon in October. Every Monday expect a Strava post with my ugly mug on top of a mountain.

If you have any questions on any of these things, don’t hesitate to ask by replying to this email. There are plenty of variations and other strategies that can be used to help with running at a faster pace, and I’d be happy to brainstorm on what would work best for you. As always, thanks for reading!



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