How to cycle faster, swim better and conquer pre-race nerves

Pick Up the Pace

One of the first steps to running faster is to learn what it feels like to pick up the pace. Start with short bursts of speed work and return to your usual pace. Keep in mind that increasing your speed might leave you more winded than usual at first, which is why it’s important to regulate your breathing. If your muscles start to fatigue, it’s equally important to notice the difference between discomfort and pain. If you’re experiencing the latter, you’ll need to slow down your pace.

Running outside your comfort zone may feel uncomfortable at first, but as you start to develop mental stamina and physical endurance, you’ll get accustomed to the sensations that arise when you pick up the pace and start to anticipate (and maybe even enjoy) the experience of running faster.

To get a sense of your current pace, use this pace calculator. Just input your distance and time, and watch as your pace gradually starts to improve.

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Count Your Strides

Counting your strides can help increase your stride turnover, which is the number of steps you take every minute you run. By doing so, you’ll probably run faster as a result. To determine your stride turnover, run for about 30 seconds at a pace that you can sustain for three miles, and count each time your right foot hits the ground. Double the number to get your overall stride turnover rate.

Many runners target a turnover rate of about 180. This number is highly variable, but in general, new runners tend to have a stride rate on the lower end. So you'll likely get faster by simply improving your turnover rate.

To increase your stride turnover, start by running for 30 seconds at your current pace. Then jog for a minute to recover and run for 30 seconds again, this time trying to increase the count. Focus on taking quick, light, short steps—as if you're stepping on hot coals. Repeat 5–8 times, trying to increase your rate each time. Eventually, a faster turnover rate will feel natural during your longer runs.

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4. Shut off Windows tips and tricks

As you use your Windows 10 PC, Windows keeps an eye on what you’re doing and offers tips about things you might want to do with the operating system. In my experience, I’ve rarely if ever found these “tips”  helpful. I also don’t like the privacy implications of Windows constantly taking a virtual look over my shoulder.

Windows watching what you’re doing and offering advice can also make your PC run more sluggishly. So if you want to speed things up, tell Windows to stop giving you advice. To do so, click the Start button, select the Settings icon and then go to System > Notifications & actions. Scroll down to the Notifications section and uncheck the box marked “Get tips, tricks, and suggestions as you use Windows.”

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Turning off Windows’ suggestions for you should help things run more smoothly (and give you back a measure of privacy). (Click image to enlarge it.)

That’ll do the trick.

Get stronger

Strength is critical to running fast because the m

Strength is critical to running fast because the more force you can exert against the ground the faster you can run. Not only do you need to be able to exert force against the ground, but you also need to be strong enough to maintain your posture when your foot strikes the ground.

To develop your ability to exert force against the ground, focus on the following exercises:

  • Squats: Squats teach you to use your entire body to exert force against the ground. You have the potential to work up to fairly heavy weights, and the exercise also trains hip extension, which is important for sprinting.
  • Lunges / Split Squats: Lunges and Split Squats train you to exert force against the ground primarily with one leg at a time. This is important because when you sprint, only one leg is in contact with the ground at any given time.
  • Romanian Deadlifts / Good Mornings: These exercises train your hamstrings and glutes, which are important for injury prevention during sprinting. But they also train you to extend your hip, which is key to exerting more force against the ground.

To develop your ability to maintain your posture during foot strike, you should also focus on eccentric strength. You can do this by modifying any of the above exercises, either by doing them with an exaggerated eccentric focus (take ten slow seconds to descend with the weight) or by taking a four- to five-second pause at the bottom of the lift.

How to cycle faster

Chris Hoy, Six golds and one silver between Sydney 2000 and London 2012

Photograph: David Davies/PA

My top tip to improve your cycling is to get your saddle at the right height. That will make a big difference for both comfort and efficiency, and reduces your chance of injuring your knees or back. It will also help you go faster.

Start by leaning your bike against a wall or a fence. Get the pedals in the six o’clock position and then put your heels on the pedals. Not the ball of your foot, but the heel on the pedal axle. And when the pedal is at the bottom of the stroke, at six o’clock, you should have your leg fully locked out. That means when your foot is in the right position for pedalling; that is, when it’s the ball of your foot there, there will be a slight flexion in the knee. Just enough, and not too much.

People tend to have their saddle too low, and that can cause all sorts of problems with your knees, as well as meaning you aren’t getting full power from your legs. When you get the height right you avoid all that – and also go faster.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is it so difficult to run fast?

When you push your body to its limit, it reacts physiologically in defense response to the discomfort of running fast. These reactions can come in the form of oxygen deficit, inefficient muscle-fiber recruitment, a build-up of lactic acid, a feeling that your legs are on fire (!!!) and effort overload for your brain.

Though these are natural reactions for your body, there are ways to train the body and mind to handle the discomfort of reaching new speeds and adapting to harder efforts. 

So, what can you do to run faster? 

Improving your speed is not as simple as just running faster. There are many small changes that can be implemented into your training to run faster. Follow these workouts and exercises designed to make you a faster, stronger runner—and stick to the 8 tips we mentioned above to learn how to run fast consistently.

How to run longer?

Most athletes don’t want to just know how to run faster—they want to know how to run faster longer. First, avoid injury. Injuries will set back your speed and distance. Next, follow the training workouts, exercises, and techniques above—they’ll help you build up consistent, reliable strength and form that’ll help you run faster throughout a 5K or an ultramarathon.

6. Don’t forget to take breaks

Oftentimes, runners will skip recovery days out of fear they’re losing progress if not constantly running. “What you actually end up doing when you skip recovery days is slowly digging your own grave in terms of progress,” says Corkum. 

If you moderately work out everyday and don’t find yourself improving, Corkum says it’s probably because you aren’t resting: “A golden rule in running is to make the hard days hard and the easy days easy.” 

The reason you’re sore the day after a workout is because training causes microtears in your muscles. When you rest, those muscle fibers rebuild, slightly stronger than before. Without recovery days, your body is unable to rebuild itself.

According to Corkum, here are some signs you may be pushing too hard and skimping on recovery:

  • Your speed is not improving despite consistent training
  • You are constantly tired 
  • Your aerobic paces feel harder to maintain 
  • Your muscles feel weaker instead of stronger
  • You are frequently sick 

In extreme cases, skipping recovery can lead to injury, which will set your running schedule back more than any recovery would. “Running causes impact stress on your body and allowing your body to rest is a key component to avoiding overuse injuries and overtraining,” says Springer.

“If you do choose to exercise, it needs to be light enough that your body identifies it as rest and not work,” says Corkum. A few examples could include a really light run, swimming, or yoga

Overall, Springer suggests that runners take at least one or two days of rest each week in order to build speed. 

6. Use OneDrive Files on-Demand

Some users may not want to stop OneDrive from syncing; doing so defeats its purpose of making sure you have the latest files on whatever device you use. And it would also mean you won’t be able to use OneDrive as a way to safely back up files.

But there’s a way to get the best of both worlds: You can keep syncing to an absolute minimum and only do it when absolutely necessary. You’ll speed up performance, and still get the best of what OneDrive has to offer.

To do this, you use Windows’ OneDrive Files on-Demand feature. With it, you can choose to keep only certain files on your PC, but still have access to all your other OneDrive files in the cloud. When you want to use one of those online files, you open it directly from the cloud. With fewer files on your PC sync, you should see a performance boost.

Right-click the OneDrive icon on the right side of the Taskbar and select Settings, then click the Settings tab on the dialog box that appears. Check the box next to Files On-Demand. Now click the OneDrive icon and select Open Folder. OneDrive appears in a File Explorer window. Right-click a folder whose files you want stored only in the cloud, but not on your PC, then select “Free up space.” Files from that folder will be removed from your disk, but still kept in OneDrive in the cloud.

For every folder whose files you want kept on your PC, right-click the folder and select “Always Keep on this Device.” You can change the options on any folder at any time by right-clicking it and choosing what you want done.

Microsoft Microsoft

Use this dialog box to turn on OneDrive Files on-Demand

If you change your mind and want all your files stored locally and kept in sync via OneDrive, go back to the OneDrive settings dialog box and uncheck the box next to Files on-Demand.

Note that OneDrive Files on-Demand is available only on Windows Version 1709 and higher.

Take longer steps more quickly

Today, the concept of exerting more force against the ground is very popular for improving speed. In the past we were worried about taking longer strides and trying to move our limbs more quickly as well. While these are no longer popular, there is still merit in improving these qualities. Think about it: if you can take bigger strides, you can arrive somewhere more quickly. Also, if you can take faster strides you have the potential to get somewhere faster.

Stride length must be trained deliberately. I set up a course with some type of markers (e.g., miniature hurdles, tennis balls on the ground or even pencils—just something the sprinter can see). I then set up the course so that the athlete will run for about 20 meters. After that point, the markers are set up so that the athlete has to increase his or her stride for about 5-6 strides, then maintain it for 4-5 strides.

In other words, set up 5-6 markers so that each one is a little further apart than the one before it, then set up a maintenance course. But be careful with stride length. If you are leaning backwards, then your stride length is too long and you are probably spending time braking and learning bad habits .

You can train stride frequency with drills that teach you to move your limbs more quickly. One of the best is a Fast-Leg Drill. Line up at the start line and face the course. Take a step forward with your left leg. With your right leg, quickly bring your heel to your hip, cycle the leg forward, and drive your foot toward the ground. Repeat for 10-20 meters and then switch legs.

Bonus: improve gaming performance on your laptop

Here’s the good news — if you’re a laptop gamer, you can use most of the tips above to boost FPS and optimize your laptop for gaming. While many laptops aren’t able to handle aftermarket GPU upgrades, you can enable the Windows 10 gaming mode, update your graphics drivers, and in most cases, upgrade your RAM and swap out your HDD for a blazing-fast SSD instead.

Here are a few more tips and FPS boosters to improve the gaming performance of your laptop:

Optimize your power settings for performance

Maximize your laptop’s gaming performance by giving it all the power it needs to increase FPS. Optimize your power options by clicking the battery icon in the system tray and dragging the slider all the way over to Best performance. This will shorten battery life if your laptop isn’t plugged into an external power supply, but as long as you’re using one, you’ll be fine.

Keep your laptop cool

Keep your laptop cool

The hotter your laptop gets, the worse its performance becomes: a hot laptop will try to self-regulate its temperatures by slowing things down. Here’s how to keep your laptop cool for more consistent high performance and less stress on sensitive internal components:

  • Clean your laptop’s fans and vents. As dust builds up, your laptop can’t vent hot air as efficiently. Physically clean your laptop regularly, and tidy the vents so it can keep itself cool. If you’re feeling brave (and don’t mind likely voiding your manufacturer’s warranty), you can open up your laptop and clean its fans directly.

  • Don’t put it on your lap. The word “laptop” is misleading. Place your laptop on a smooth, flat surface so that air can circulate underneath it. If it’s on your lap, or on a carpet or blanket, you’ll smother it.

  • Plug it in. When your laptop runs on battery power, things can get hot — especially if you’ve optimized its power settings for performance. Whenever you can, keep your laptop plugged into an external power supply.

  • Use a cooling platform: An external cooling stand blows cool air against the underside of your laptop to improve airflow. You can pick one up for a relatively low price, and it’ll plug right into your laptop via USB.

Turn off background Windows services

Every little bit helps when it comes to increasing FPS on your gaming laptop. You can prevent apps, including Windows services, from running in the background to conserve valuable system resources and optimize your PC for gaming.

  1. Open the Start menu and type the phrase background apps. Select Background apps from the results.

    

Toggle the top switch to Off to prevent all apps
  2. Toggle the top switch to Off to prevent all apps from running in the background. Otherwise, toggle individual apps as you see fit.

How to deal with pre-race nerves

Jonny Brownlee, Triathlete, bronze at London 2012, silver at Rio 2016 and gold at Tokyo 2020

Photograph: Emanuele Perrone/Getty Images

Having nerves before a competition is absolutely normal. In fact, they are beneficial, as they get the adrenaline flowing and tell your body this is a race, not a training session. Most athletes also get negative voices in their head: that’s normal, too. It’s about having strategies in place to ensure they don’t stop you performing.

Every time I get a negative thought, I answer it with a positive one. So if it’s really hot, like it was in Tokyo, and the negative voice says, “No, you don’t perform well in heat,” then I remember all the heat preparation I did beforehand.

I am a very process-oriented person, so I deal with nerves by writing down a schedule for everything – when I’m going to leave the hotel, when I eat – and following that. Triathlon can be a nightmare sport because so many things can go wrong: you can get a puncture, have a crash. But I try not to worry about the things I can’t control.

Nerves also create a level playing field, whatever your level. Even now I can be at the start, thinking, “Why am I doing this to myself when I could be on a nice bike ride to a cafe in Yorkshire?” But you have to remind yourself that this is what you have worked so hard for, and try to enjoy it.

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Ava English Ava English is a freelance health writer. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in science writing and editing. You can follow her on  Twitter.  Read more Read less

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