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Cross Training For Runners

How To Run Faster – A Beginners Guide To Speed Training

8 Mins read

Would you like to learn how to run faster and improve your running times?

Then you have come to the right place.

Learning how to run faster is an endless chase for all runners, and it also happens to benefit your overall health. Speed is, after all, key in leading a fitter and healthier life.

What’s not to like!

Here’s the good news. There are many measures you can take to get you to run faster during training runs and races.

How To Run Faster

In today’s article, I’ll outline eight ways to give your running space the push it deserves so you can run faster, break your PR, and even smoke the competition (if that’s what gets you going).

Let’s dig in.

  1. Start with a Baseline

To begin on the right foot, figure out first your current speed. After all, how would you know that you are progressing if you don’t have a benchmark to measure up to?

Setting a baseline from the get-go helps to establish a baseline from which you can monitor your progress and see real evidence of your success—or failure—over time.

Once you have a precise time—whether it’s 10 minutes or 15 minutes—you can work on improving it.

Just like they say in the world of management, you cannot improve on what you cannot measure. It’s simple as that.

Here’s how to do it.

The best place to perform your baseline running speed test is on a standard track. If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend starting with the one-mile run test.

As your running goals expand, try to establish baselines for other distances such as the 5K, 10K as well as your racing goals.

Each 400-meter lap equals ¼ of a mile, so four laps around the track round up to one mile.

Don’t have access to a track? Then simply measure an exact mile on a flat, traffic-free path, then use it to time your run.

Following a 10-minute dynamic warm-up, start the timer, and run four laps around the track as fast as you can. Stop the timer and jot down your result.

2. Interval Running

A type of high-intensity interval training, interval running involves alternating between faster-running or sprinting and recovery intervals for a set of time.

Think of interval training as a series of peaks and valleys—you push hard at the peaks, then you slow it down and recover at the valleys.

Once you start doing interval workouts, your running will improve, getting easier and faster.

Of course, don’t take my word for it. Research out of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning examined running performance of 16 trails runner who added interval training to their workout plan.

Each runner did six interval workouts over 15 days, with two days of recovery between each workout.

At the end of the experiment, the runners ran an average of 3.6 more meters in 30 seconds. The research also revealed that the subjects improve their speed by roughly 6 percent in a 3000-meter run.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it does add up over the miles.

How long and how fast you go depends more than anything on your conditioning level and training goals. For beginners, I’d recommend starting with shorter sprints at a moderate effort.

Here’s how to do them.

First, perform a thorough warm-up.

This may consist of 5 to 10 minutes of slow-paced running to elevate your heart rate and body temperature.

Then follow it with five minutes of dynamics exercises to increase muscle plasticity and mobility.

Next, sprint at 80 to 90 percent of max-effort for 45 to 60 seconds. Jog for one to two minutes to recover, then repeat the cycle for 15 to 20 minutes. End the session with a 5-minute slow jog as a cool-down.

Additional Resource – Here’s how many miles should a beginner run

3. Hill Reps For Faster Legs

Striving to make the most out of your interval workouts? Try hill training.

Tackling the hills is the ideal thing you can do to build explosive strength and speed. The extra resistance of climbing up an incline puts a much higher demand on your muscles than running on a flat surface.

Again, don’t take my word for it. Research out of the International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance reported that adding various hills session into a running routine improve overall performance in all 20 subjects.

The training protocol was simple. Each participant followed an uphill training plan that involved two workouts per week for a total of six weeks.

By the end of the six weeks experiment, the runners were able to improve their 5K running speeds by an average of 2 percent—regardless of the hill gradient or recovery time between sets.

Another research out of Auckland University revealed that subject increased their speed by roughly two percent due to boosted leg strength from charging up a few hills.

Here’s more good news. Hill runs are pretty simple. You charge up the hill as hard as you can then recover by walking or jogging down.

But, first, begin by finding a hill that takes roughly one minute to run up—typically  150 to 200 meters in length with a challenging but realistic incline.

Following a proper 10 to 15 minutes warm-up on flat terrain, run up the hill at your 5K effort pace—or slightly faster. Make sure to push yourself hard up the hill, but don’t let your form go south. Aim to maintain a consistent effort up the hill.

Additional resource – Bolt top running speed

Speed Training for runners

4. Try Fartleks

Standing for “speed play” in Swedish, fartlek training is another favorite method for runners who are trying to run faster.

And it’s simple. Fartlek training consists of alternating speed—or bursts of faster running—and recovery periods. But unlike classic intervals, both the distance and intensity of each interval varies greatly. You’re not following a set structure.

When you do fartlek, you change up your running pace at random intervals throughout your session. For example, run at a slow pace for a few minutes, then sprint for a set distance before resuming your previous pace. You call the shots.

Fartlek’s are especially handy if you don’t have access to a standard track or another measured stretch of road for intervals but still want to do some form of speedwork.

They’re also the perfect stepping stone to the world of speed training—hard enough to challenge you, but you can still tailor them to fit your own fitness level.

Here’s how to proceed.

After a 10-minute dynamic warm-up, run as fast as you can for three telephone poles, then recover for two. Repeat the same pattern for 20 to 30 minutes, then end it with a 5-minute cool-down jog.

And yeah, remember to have fun.

5. Practice Good Form For Running Speed

Your form can significantly impact the way you run.

By practicing good running technique, you’ll become faster and more efficient-. It also cuts your risk of injury.

Here are some cues to improve your running form to achieve a faster pace.

  • Keep your back flat, core engaged, head up, so the chin is parallel to the ground.
  • Keep your body relaxed the entire time. Relax your shoulders, relax in your strides, etc. This prevents you from tensing up, which wastes a lot of energy.
  • Gently lean from your ankles, not your hips. Don’t hunch over. This forward momentum creates more propulsion, thus, faster pace.
  • Keep your body tall. Try to make yourself six inches taller when picking up the pace.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize—gazing roughly 10 to 12 meters in the distance. Gazing at your feet or turning your head to check out the competition can only waste time.
  • Focus on a faster cadence. Shoot for 180 steps per minute—with short and quick strides.
  • Swing your arms at a 90-degree angle and avoid hunching your shoulders or clenching your fists. Shake your arms whenever you feel the tension in your upper body.
  • Strike the ground on your mid-foot, then roll forward onto your toes as you push off. Take springy, light steps, lading each foot right under your body.

6. Lose Weight

Runners come in all sizes and shapes, but one thing for sure, the lighter you’re, the faster you can run.

That’s why if you want to take your speed up a notch, those extra pounds around your midsection might be one thing holding you back.

This, of course, depends on how much you weigh, but if you’re carrying ten extra pounds or more, losing it can translate to faster running times.

Again, I didn’t come up with this. Research suggests that you can run two seconds per mile faster for every pound you lose. For example, if you lose 12 pounds, you may shave more than a minute off your 5K time.

So how do you actually lose weight?

Begin by addressing your eating habits and make sure you’re eating enough calories.

What’s the bonus? Eating healthier can have the side effect of providing you with more energy than before, which is key for running that little bit faster.

I’m not preaching crash diets.

You shouldn’t deprive yourself of food nor starve yourself to death, but at the very least, aim to eliminate forms of empty calories from your menu.

In fact, if you’re still eating starchy friend snacks, coke, sweetened tea, baked goods, and other processed foods, know that you’re doing your body a great disservice—even if you run regularly.

Instead, build your menu around foods such as fresh vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.

Additional Resource – 13 Exercises to improve running

7. Strength Train To Run Faster

Not all the steps required to help you run faster are running steps. Your cross-training activities can also impact your pace, especially strength training.

A review out of the journal Sports Medicine revealed that incorporating strength training into a running plan two to three times a week positively impacted running performance.

The key to getting the most out of strength training lies in choosing the exercises that give you the most bang for your buck.

You should also spend similar amounts of time building your upper body and lower body strength.

Logging the miles isn’t just about your lower body—upper body strength is also needed to complement and help the lower body while running.

Here are some of the exercises you should be doing:

  • Pushups
  • Squats
  • Planks
  • Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Russian twists
  • Bulgarian squats
  • Split squats

8. Stay Persistent

These training strategies are enough to help you run faster and improve your overall fitness level.

But, to reap gains, you ought to be consistent—otherwise, training every now and then while expecting to break your 5K time is simply a recipe for disaster.

Learning how to run faster requires a lot of devotion and discipline on your part.

What’s more?

Staying consistent will also help you build that endurance and make running easier, which is important for building the running habit and sticking with it for life.

While recovery days are key for improving performance and avoiding injury, neglecting the training part can only backfire on you. And you don’t want that.

The solution is simple. Make training part and parcel of your life.

Follow a plan designed to target the specific distance that you want to train for. It doesn’t make sense to follow a 5K plan when you’re trying to run a sub-3 hour marathon.

Start by determining what time of the day works for your lifestyle, then stick to that. Just remember to mix in a recovery day every few days.

How To Run Faster – The Conclusion

Increasing your running speed won’t happen overnight—it’s a slow and gradual process that requires time and a variety of methods and workouts.

Aim to incorporate the above strategies into your weekly running plan, and don’t forget to listen to your body and take plenty of recovery.

When your body is well recovered, you’ll see your running speeds increase.

What about you? Do you have any favorite speedwork training tips you’d like to share? Please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

David D.

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