“How can I run faster?” is another question that I see asked a lot, especially by newer runners. Once you have the running bug, the next logical step is to try to increase distance or speed; with most opting for speed! There are a number of ways to improve your pace and run faster; some are slight tweaks, whilst others require a lot of hard training. Today we’ll be taking a look at ways to help you run faster.
If you prefer to watch / listen, the YouTube video is embedded below:
Check Your Form
Before we look at the training side of running faster, we need to make sure that your running form is efficient. Being as efficient as possible will help you to run faster as your body is working as one, rather than with different body parts competing against each other!
When running you should try to look ahead, focusing on the ground above 10-20 feet in front of you. Keep your hands at your waist, with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. Try to avoid your arms from swinging sideways. When your arms swing forward and backwards try to ensure that they are rotating from the shoulder rather than from the elbow. Relax your hands and try not to clench your fists. Keep your posture straight, with your shoulders level and under your ears. Relax your shoulders to ensure that they aren’t lifted or rounded. Your pelvis should be in a neutral position, and there should be no forward or backwards leaning at the waist. Try to avoid “bouncing” (vertical oscillation) as it wastes energy. What happens is your body spends more time moving up and down rather than forwards. This type of movement also places more pressure on your joints as more shock absorption is required. Try to propel yourself forwards rather than upwards. Certain watches (any with advanced running dynamics, such as the Garmin 945) can help you to monitor this to try and improve your form.
Increase Weekly Mileage
Regardless of your goal race distance, increasing your weekly mileage is beneficial. Running more miles per week helps to build endurance and stamina which improves performance over all distances, and thus, helps you to run faster. It can help your body become more efficient at running; in essence, you are practicing your running form! Try adding in an extra run a week, then increase your weekly runs slightly. Once your body has adapted to more running, you could then add in another day of running or lengthen your runs some more. Remember, these are just easy miles that you are building in to help your body become more efficient and to strengthen your ligaments and tendons. Be careful not to overdo it and to increase your mileage gradually.
I managed to get my 5k time down from 46 minutes to 25:58 whilst marathon training and not focusing on speed. This was due to my body becoming more efficient at running; practice makes perfect, after all!
Recovery is just as important as training but is often overlooked! Make sure that you are getting enough sleep to help your body recover from the added stress of training. Staying hydrated and fuelling properly are also important. Make sure that you are drinking enough water and are replacing electrolytes if you have been running for a long duration or at a high intensity. Eating plenty of carbohydrates before a tough workout or race can be beneficial as it helps boost your glycogen stores. Refuelling after your run should also include carbohydrates and protein to help your muscles repair.
Avoid training challenging sessions on consecutive days – follow up a tough workout with a rest day, easy run or cross training session where possible. If you have any niggles then be wary of pushing too hard in the next training session. Don’t be scared to switch out a run or change your plan slightly if you aren’t able to complete a workout. There’s no point pushing for a workout for the sake of it and aggravating an injury. You need to learn about your body and what is just a small niggle that you can train with, versus what should be rested for recovery. If in doubt, always rest as you don’t want to turn a niggle into an injury or make an injury worse
Run A Long Run
As with increasing mileage, this can be beneficial regardless of your goal race distance. You should aim to have one run a week that is longer than your usual runs. Obviously, the distance of this long run will vary depending on your goal. Marathon runners will need to build up their mileage during their training with most running between 18 and 26 miles depending on their plan. Someone training for a 10k may want to run a weekly long run of 10 miles to build up their aerobic base and improve running efficiency. Utilizing a longer distance run when training for a shorter distance race helps the body build endurance and can make the shorter runs feel easier.
Now with the more obvious approach…
To run faster in a race, naturally you are going to have to get used to running faster in training. For my personal training, I try to utilize an 80/20 approach. What this means is that 80 percent of my training is at an easy pace, and 20 percent is then made up of tough workouts. Workouts to improve speed include: tempo runs, intervals, fartlek, pyramid sessions, hill sprints, VO2 Max intervals, Yasso 800s, etc. Intervals are generally performed at slightly faster than your goal race pace as they are of a shorter duration.
I’ll cover some of these different types of run in another post, but the key here is to find a plan that incorporates workouts into your schedule. You should already know what your goal race pace is, but if not, make sure you know how fast you will need to be running on race day. You can then work out your training paces here.
Be wary not to overdo it with intense workouts as it will negatively affect your performance and can also lead to injury.
Strength / Cross Training
This is something else that is often overlooked. Strength training can help, well, strengthen your muscles! Building strong legs, core and back muscles can help improve running efficiency, which in turn helps you to run faster.
A lot of people start to suffer with their running form later on in longer distance events as their muscles start to fatigue. This can then cause the core to fold forward and the back to arch, which can cause pain and reduced pace. Strength and cross training can help to overcome this and also give some more explosive power for those who are training for shorter distance events. Cross training also gives your body a break from running but can still help with building fitness. Just be sure to pick an activity which is lower impact, such as swimming or cycling.
The mind can be a powerful thing! Sometimes your mind will want to stop before your legs or lungs. Motivation is a personal thing, so you need to find something which motivates you to keep pushing. Even when you feel the burn and your head wants to stop, you need to find the will to keep moving. This is especially true for shorter distance events, such as the 5k, where you will build up lactic acid and really feel the burn. Longer events, such as the marathon, also require mental resilience as you are typically out running for more than three hours at a time.
Remember what your goal is and why you set it in the first place. Imagine how good it is going to feel when you achieve it. Repeat a mantra to try and push through your mental barrier. Create a playlist that you can use to inspire you and spur you on (just be sure to use bone conduction headphones if during an event!). Be prepared for the mental battle and have a strategy to help you keep pushing when things get tough.
Consistency and Patience
Improving in anything takes consistency and patience, and running is no different. Find a plan that matches your goal and stick to it. It’s important that you believe in the plan and the training. You have to be honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable, because only you can tell if you are truly giving it your all.
If at the end of the plan you race and don’t hit your goal time, take some time to reflect. Did you really give it one hundred percent in your training and on race day? If not, what stopped you? If you did, look at what happened on the day. Was your goal reasonable; did you give yourself enough time to achieve it? If it just went wrong on the day then repeat your training cycle; if you were quite far out then you may want to revise the plan and move into a new training cycle. Nothing worth doing is easy, and it may take a few different training blocks and phases for you to reach your goal. Just remember to stay consistent, be patient and monitor your progress.
Okay, so there we have some tips to get you started on improving your pace. Remember, when training, slow and steady can still win the race when it comes to building running efficiency. It can sound counterproductive to slow down in order to speed up, but it works! Try to factor in cross training for strength and recovery. Keep a positive mindset and try to monitor your progress so that you can see what works and what doesn’t. Overall, put the effort and consistency in and you should see results!