While I am not a fast runner, over the past year (even over the past six months) I have been able to make significant gains in my running speed. In April 2014, I ran a 10K in 50:15 (8:06/mile) and finished the race with no much left in my tank. In November 2014, I ran my first half marathon in 1:46:06 (8:06/mile). My second half marathon, in April 2015, was run in 1:43:12 (7:52/mile) on a hilly course. Realistically, I had successfully trained for a 1:39-1:40 and could have run it in 1:41-1:42 if I had not slowed myself down way too much at aid stations.
My tempo runs over the past year have progressed from an 8:30/mile to a 7:30/mile, and now most of my easy runs and long runs are around 8:10-8:35/mile now. (These times are still not fast…but they are faster than what I used to run. I still want to get much much faster!)
I did not magically become a faster runner overnight; rather, I trained both my mind and my body in ways to make me capable of running faster. While part of it is untapping my own potential, a lot of it is through hard work. Here are my tips on how to become a faster runner:
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Let’s face it: running fast is uncomfortable. Whether you’re a 1:15 or a 2:30 half marathoner, there is a point in the race where race pace will become uncomfortable and require effort to maintain. And it’s not just the race; in training, there are a lot of moments where running is uncomfortable. Mile repeats make my lungs burn. Rolling hills and long runs make my glutes and quads scream. Our brains signal to us to slow down when this starts happening, and I’ve learned to not slow down by telling myself that the discomfort doesn’t bother me. I try to ignore the part of my brain that tells me to slow down because I know that I can continue to run that pace even when it’s uncomfortable. Practicing race pace during your training will help you learn how to mentally and physically push through discomfort.
Increase Your Weekly Mileage
There is a reason elite marathoners log somewhere around 100-120 miles per week. Training volume is one of the keys to running faster. The more you run, the more your body adapts to the mechanics and stress of running, and you become more efficient at running. I still have a long way to go in increasing my mileage, but over the past year I increased my weekly mileage from 25 miles per week to 45 miles per week during my last training cycle. The key to increasing mileage is to keep a lot of your runs at an easy effort. I say effort because as you run more, your easy run pace will slowly increase.
Add Tempo Runs and Speed Work
In order to run faster, you have to run faster. Not every run should be a run where you push your pace, but you should aim to include at one or two runs each week at a faster pace. Tempo runs are extended efforts (20-60 minutes) at a moderately hard pace (between your 10K and half marathon pace). Speed work can be done through variety of workouts: repeats of 400m (¼ mile), 800m (½ mile) or 1600m (1 mile), totaling about 3-4 miles of hard running. Between each repeat you should recover for at least 400m. You want to pace yourself where you’re going hard enough where you are breathing hard during each repeat, but not hard enough where you can’t complete all of the intervals; so roughly around 3K to 5K pace for shorter intervals and 5K to 10K pace for longer intervals.
Strides and Fast Finishes
A quick foot turnover is essential to running faster: the quicker your feet move, the faster you move forward. Strides are short controlled sprints of about 80-120 meters (or 15-20 seconds) in which you focus on practicing a quick turnover to teach your feet to move faster. This will prepare you well for doing speedwork and sneak in little bits of speed training on easy runs days. I like to do 4-6 strides after two or three easy runs per week. Another way to practice quick turnover is to pick up your pace during the last mile or so of a run. You don’t want to sprint, but rather run at a harder effort and focus on taking short and fast steps. Practicing good turnover and faster running on tired legs will help you develop muscle memory for how it feels to run fast and keep that quick turnover during the later miles of a race or hard speed workout.
Strengthen Your Glutes and Core
Our glutes and core muscles do a lot of the work in running. Strong glutes help you maintain proper running form (which means you can run more efficiently and therefore faster because less energy is being wasted), power you up hills, and propel you forward when you pick up the pace. A strong core also helps you keep an efficient form while stabilizing you as you move forward. Strong core and glute muscles also mean that your muscles are less prone to injury, and preventing injury is another key to getting faster. My favorite moves are planks, side planks, push-ups, squats, kettlebell swings, leg lifts, lunges, and bridges for building core and glute strength. Two or three 15-20 minute workouts a week can shave minutes off your next race! Try this core workout or this glute workout.
It’s all too easy to compare yourself to other faster and more experienced runners and begin to doubt yourself. I remember that I used to look at 1:45 half marathoners and think, there’s no way I could ever run that fast…and now I run faster than that! Your brain is one of the most powerful muscles you use when you run. If you tell yourself before a workout that you can’t run 4 x 1 mile in 7 minutes each, then you probably won’t be able to. By telling yourself that you are capable of running faster and removing that mental limit of “I can only run this fast,” you will become faster because you won’t be mentally holding yourself back. Practice positive self-talk before, during, and after your runs to prevent doubt from creeping in during your run.
The harder you push yourself in running, the more recovery your body needs. Sleep and rest days are two obvious examples of recovery that no runner should skip. Your muscles heal while you sleep and it is that healing that allows your muscles to adapt and make you run faster. Rest days are also essential to recovery, as a day or two of no running will further facilitate muscle repair. In addition to rest days, you should also include cut-back weeks (also known as step cycles) into your running, whether you are training for a race or not. Cut-back weeks are when you slightly reduce your mileage every few weeks to give your body extra time to repair. Step cycles often will include a week of higher mileage before the cut-back week. For example, a step cycle will feature a week of 30 miles, a week of 35 miles, and then a week of 25 miles. This allows you to include harder weeks in your training without overtraining, getting injured or plateauing.
Question of the Day:
What are your best tips for increasing your speed?