Most of us would like to be able to run faster and achieve a PR for our next race. Whether you are a beginner or have been running for years you might think that this is as fast as you can get, however with the right type of training and making a few adjustments to your routine and lifestyle you will be surprised to find that increasing your speed is easier than you thought.
- Increase your mileage but do it gradually and ease into it to avoid injury. Upping your distance safely is the best-known way to improve your aerobic capacity, which increases speed endurance or how long you can sustain a pace during a race. Focus on building a solid aerobic foundation first with plenty of long slow easy runs.
- Practice proper running technique. Proper running form can cut valuable seconds or even minutes off your pace or finish time at races. Making small adjustments to your posture and your gait helps your body to move with less effort. The result is that you will run more economically and have more energy to fuel a faster pace. Poor form and technique can keep you from hitting your top speed. Here are a few key things to think about and work on: Avoid the heel strike. Every time you heel strike (when your heel hits the ground first) it’s like you’re hitting the brakes. Heel striking not only slows you down, but it can also waste energy. Strive for a midfoot strike that keeps your foot directly under your body. Aim to keep your upper body tall yet relaxed, striking the ground with your mid-foot landing under your hip, and swinging your arms forward and back (not side to side) at low 90-degree angles.
- Slow down! Slowing down is the key to speeding up. Many runners are surprised to find that their “easy pace” is actually too fast. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of running every single mile at the same pace, but this can often cause your fitness to plateau. Aim to maintain an easy, relaxed pace during each run that does not include speed work. An easy pace usually involves running nearly 60 – 90 seconds per mile slower than your goal pace. This easy pace provides your body with variety during training and helps prevent overtraining by allowing time to recover each week.
- Increase cadence or foot turnover: Turnover is the number of steps you take in a minute. To figure out your turnover, count how many times your foot hits the ground in one minute and multiply that by two to get your turnover rate. The magic number you’ll hear discussed is 180 steps per minute. (It’s pretty common for non-elite runners to have a turnover rate that’s slower than that, so don’t beat yourself up if yours is less than that.) Also, you don’t have to hit 180 exactly, but aiming for a faster rate will get you closer to the optimal balance of stride length and frequency, which can improve your efficiency and speed.
- Make time for strength training. No matter how much effort you put in to increasing your running pace, it won’t be possible to run faster unless you have the physical strength to do so. Stronger, leaner muscles will help you get to the finish line faster. A 2016 study showed that two to three strength training sessions per week can go a long way in improving your speed. Running faster involves more strength and energy, which require strong, healthy muscles on the run. Incorporating regular strength training is not only a good idea for all runners, but it is essential when you are trying to increase your speed. Strength also reduces injury risk. You can’t get all the strength you need just by running more. Make a point to include at least one strength training workout each week. Incorporate some single leg squats and the Bulgarian split squat to build leg strength. Spend time performing bodyweight and weighted exercises to increase strength throughout your entire body. Strength train your whole body, not just your legs or core. You need full-body strength to run with your best possible form, using your full range of motion and power. A strong body will help you nail those fast intervals, tough sprints, and hard workouts, so you can run faster in no time.
- Get more sleep. Fast runners are usually well-rested runners. Studies show well-rested athletes have better reaction times and run faster finishes. So, one of the smartest ways to improve your running performance is to take your sleep seriously. Practice smart sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Get rid of electronic devices in your bedroom to limit blue light (move your phone charger and maybe even your television to another room) and decrease the temperature slightly to get a better night’s rest. This will improve your body’s ability to recover and adapt after each training session.
- Incorporate Fartlek training. Fartlek is a Swedish word that means “speed play”. If you don’t have access to a track or another measured space to run specific intervals, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge your pace. Instead, you can use fartlek training. Fartleks are simple quick bursts of speed that vary in distance. There are simple ways to incorporate Fartleks into your runs to help you run faster. If you’re running on the road, you can use lamp posts or telephone poles to mark intervals. After warming up, try sprinting for two lamp posts, then recover for two, and keep repeating the pattern until you’ve covered a mile. Or if you are running listening to music, sprint for the duration of the chorus of your favorite song. If you’re running in your neighborhood, sprint past ten mailboxes, then recover for another ten. These speed “pick-ups” help you to learn how to get comfortable with running faster.
- Speed Work. Not surprisingly, speed work is one of the smartest ways to improve your pace. Speedwork produces great results: It increases VO2 max, changes fast-twitch muscle fibers to perform more effectively, and improves lactic acid tolerance and running economy. And it does these things quickly: You can get the bulk of these improvements in just four to six workouts. After that, it’s a matter of diminishing returns and risk versus reward. Your ideal is to do only as much speed work as you need to achieve your desired benefits, and no more, to avoid any risk of overtraining. This is the fate of many high school runners who do a lot of speed early, race fast in the middle of the season but fail to perform by the championship season.
One way to do speed workouts is to practice structured intervals. For example, you can run 400-meter repeats at a track. After a warmup of 5-10 minutes, alternate between running one 400-meter lap at your 5K pace and jogging one slow, easy recovery lap. Start with two or three 400-meter repeats (with a recovery lap in between each), and try to work your way up to five or six.
To achieve the best results with speed work, it helps to run at the specific pace that you’ll be running during your next race.
Try doing a 5K-specific speed workout once a week.
There are other workouts that you can rotate into your training. They can be done on a track or treadmill so you’re able to accurately track the distance. You can also incorporate quick changes in direction over shorter distances to improve your agility and balance.
800m (Half-Mile) Repeats
800m at 5K race pace
1-minute easy recovery
Repeat 800m @ 5K race pace/1 minute recovery 4 more times
1 mile at 5K race pace
1-minute easy recovery
Repeat 1 mile at 5K race pace/1 minute easy recovery 2 more times
6 Minutes at 5K Race Pace
If you don’t have access to a track or treadmill, here’s another one to try (a running watch or another timing device is required):
6 minutes at 5K race pace
1-minute easy recovery
Repeat 6 minutes at 5K race pace/1 minute easy recovery 2 more times
To avoid the acidic buildup that disrupts your aerobic development and leads to burnout:
Delay frequent (1-2 times per week) speed training until 4-8 weeks before your peak race. Limit any speed workouts during base to once every 3-6 weeks.
Keep all of your training during the first 60 to 70 percent of the season either slower than lactate threshold or short enough to avoid breathing hard.
Do only 4-6 workouts that contain repeats between 30 seconds and 6 minutes at VO2 max pace or faster during the final few weeks of training.
Be careful, as your fitness improves, to control your effort and paces in the last few workouts before your peak race so you don’t “leave the race in training.”
- Incorporate Plyometrics. Plyometrics increases the rear leg drive by building up the fast-twitch muscle fibers in your legs, resulting in a bigger stride. This newfound leg explosiveness also explains the boost in VO2 max and maximum speed.
How to Do It: Start in a squat position with feet shoulder-width apart, slightly pointed outwards. The jump happens from here. Jump vertically and land back into a squat. Repeat. Remember that rule number two applies to this and all of the plyometrics exercises listed below. Do two to three sets of ten reps prior to your running workout. Note: A countermovement jump (CMJ) is when you start from a standing position and get into a squat then jump. The CMJ and squat jump are two different moves. So, to perform a proper squat jump, always start in that squat position.
How to Do It: Stand tall with feet shoulder width apart; this is the starting position. Using only your ankles, hop up in place fully plantar-flexing your ankles with each jump. This means that you’re pushing the balls of your feet into the ground to fully flex your foot as your jump vertically. Land in the starting position. Do two to three sets of ten reps prior to running workouts.
Double Leg Bound
How to Do It:
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with knees slightly bent and your arms at your side; this is the starting position. Quickly bend your knees and pump your arms backward as you jump up and forward. As soon as you land, repeat the hop-forward. The goal isn’t distance. It’s a combination of height, speed, and distance to result in completing the reps as fast as possible with proper form. Do four sets of five reps prior to running workouts.
How to Do It: You will need a plyometric box between 12-30 inches high, depending on your fitness level. Stand on top of the box with feet shoulder-width apart and toes near the edge of the box; this is the starting position. Now, step off the box and land with both feet on the floor. Immediately jump vertically as high as possible. That’s one rep. Do two sets of ten reps before running workouts.
How to Do It: You’ll need a barrier of some type, whether it be a SKLZ Hurdle, Power Systems Hurdle, the hurdle at your local track, or even just a cone. Stand in front of the hurdle with feet shoulder-width apart; this is the starting position. Bend your knees slightly and jump over the barrier with both legs. Keep your feet and knees together throughout the jump. Land in the starting position and jump over the next barrier. If you only have one hurdle, turn around and jump over it again. Do four sets of five reps prior to running workouts.
How to Do It: Get into a half squat position where knees are bent and you’ve lowered your hips about 12 inches. Your thighs are not deep enough to be parallel; this is the starting position. Now, simultaneously pump both arms back and bend your knees then jump forward as far as possible. Land with both feet entirely on the ground, meaning that the heels should “stick it” at the end. Take 30-60 seconds to rest between repetitions to achieve maximum distance. Do two sets of five reps before running.
- Eat For Performance. Even if you are at a healthy, stable weight, you may be able to run faster if you eat better. Are you consuming enough protein to build stronger muscles? Are you consuming the right number of carbs to provide adequate fuel for challenging workouts? Do you eat the right kind of fat to maintain healthy joints? If not this may be hurting your performance and speed.
Evaluate your caloric intake and your macronutrient balance and see how it compares to recommended intakes. Eliminate foods that don’t provide good nutrition. Increase your intake of healthy, nutrient-rich foods to improve your performance. Food is more than calories to burn for energy. Real foods contain nutrients that can improve cardiovascular health, speed recovery, protect you from disease, provide more consistent energy, and result in prolonged periods of better health. And invest in a session with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports performance to make sure you are getting the macro and micronutrients that you need.