Do you want to run faster? If you got some distance running under your belt and can consistently run 6 miles or more then you’re probably ready to add some speed-work to your workout plan and become a faster runner. As mentioned, it is necessary to have some running under your belt already to really see success. With running, distance comes first, then comes speed. When I started running I built up distance milestones first, then I added speed to master the same distance a bit faster and when I was able to run the same distance consistently faster than before that’s when I expanded my running distance again and the whole process repeated itself.
To become a faster runner lots of moving pieces (literally) come together. As mentioned you need a good foundation so that you are able to measure your progress and where it really makes sense to improve your pace. I started out running as a treadmill runner. The treadmill was a great way to start because you could dial in on the speed and then just run while the machine was doing its thing. Measuring your pace: Back then I did not have a GPS watch and smartphones were just coming out the door and so using a smartphone running/fitness app and go outside was not an option. So, measuring my pace and speed data happened on the treadmill and for that the treadmill is hard to beat. Speeds are consistent once set and all you gotta do is run. There is no wind, no hills (unless you turn on some incline), no traffic lights or anything else that could interrupt or affect your run. Well, you could “die” of boredom on the “dreadmill”, but that is a whole ‘nother story.
Also, think about your speed and how much you want to become faster. It is unlikely that you can shave off a whole minute per mile quickly. There are also limitations with how old you are and how fast your body can adapt to the increased challenge of running faster. Your body needs to be able to build up muscle. You might also hurt yourself by pushing too hard too early. Start with some moderate goals like being able to consistently run a 6-miler 15 seconds per mile faster than before. We all have good and bad days and so it is important to be able to maintain the speed through-out several runs and at different times of the day. Don’t move up to the next level too fast. It takes time and a little bit of patience, too. When I started training for my marathon I was averaging about 10:15 per mile and now I am able to go under 9 minutes per mile even on my longer runs. The longest training run this year for me has been 19 miles at the time of this writing. My average pace for that run came in at 8:51 minutes per mile – and that run included many hills. I know it is still a long way to go before I can run 26.2 miles at that pace, but it is very promising and motivating that I have been able to improve my average pace by almost 1.5 minutes over the last 6 months.
So, now that we have the basics out of the way let’s look at how you can run faster.
I live in a very hilly area and hills make for great strength training which in return helps you to run faster. Hills build extraordinary leg and extraordinary lung strength and that is the foundation you want for faster running. If you do not have any hills where you live, get creative. Bridges work quite well as replacement hills, but be careful with those cars. A bit different, but stairs work into the same direction for building strength, but you are going to use your muscles a little bit different on stairs. However, lung and legs will have to work hard running up the stairs and so it qualifies and the effort will translate into the ability to run faster. I know a guy who works in a large office tower building and at least once per week he uses the stair wells for his workouts (there are 46 floors in that building). When I run hills I put on a smile – I know it is silly, but it helps me to run up some really long hills where I live. I also avoid looking “that hill into the eye” – meaning, I do not want to discourage myself mentally when running up a long hill by seeing how long the way up still is. I look down a little bit and concentrate on the area 30-50 feet in front of me. I have several run routes mapped out where it goes up hill for almost 2 miles with barely any flat areas in between and they also have some really steep inclines at times. These are some nasty hills and I really feel it when I am at the top of the ascent.
Using a long stride is not going to help your pace. The famous running coach Jack Daniels discovered that runners with a long stride are “longer in the air” when running and that type of running increases the impact upon landing. For one it increases the risk for injury, but it also means that the runner has to use more energy for each step to get off the ground again. The more energy you need to use for an individual step, the less efficient you run and in the end it comes down to the pace and the ability to hold a faster pace for a longer time. The Solution: Increase the number of steps aka increase your cadence and make more steps as you run. Quick, short steps are the key to a faster pace. It is important to find out how many steps per minute you are taking. Your goal number should be 180 for both feed. Try counting the number of steps you take with your right foot in a 20 second period. The multiply it by 3 and from there you can determine how many steps total you are taking per minute. Ideally the number for one leg should be close around 90 = 180 steps per minute for both legs.
An important part of improving your pace is doing interval training. Interval training has proved to be a great tool when it comes to run faster. There are quite a few different approaches to interval training. Some people prefer the high intensity interval training as they are able to pack a lot of effort into a short period of time and feel they can maximize the effects of the interval training. Others use less intensity, but do more repeats. I cannot tell for sure which approach is better, but from my own experience I can tell that the high intensity approach also carries a higher risk of injury. Last year when I started my marathon training I did intervals on the treadmill at a local 24Hour Fitness and while I was able to run the high-speed intervals I had programmed into the machine, it left me heavily fatigued for two days and I also had some muscle tensions in my legs. I tried it two times duing two consecutive weeks and then decided against the high intensity interval training approach or interval training in general (read on to understand) – especially with me doing my bootcamp style workouts in the morning and running in the afternoons during weekdays. I actually gave up on interval training in favor of my bootcamp style workouts. It is a full-body workout and comes with a lot of leg work through-out the entire week. That combined with the hills I am running is an almost perfect combination of strength training and my improved pace confirms that for me. But do not skip interval training unless you have a liable alternative.
If you want to run faster, you also need to work on your cross-training exercises. For one, many runners skip cross-training altogether and then wonder why they are not making any progress. Cross-training is initially thought of when it comes to strengthening the core and back muscles. But cross-training can and should also include strengthening exercises for your legs and glutes. When running, the glutes hold your pelvis level and steady, extend your hip, ultimately propel you forward, and keep your legs, pelvis, and the torso properly aligned (=proper running form). As an example butt-kickers, squats, jump squats, walking lounges, deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, and high-knees are some great exercises that will help you to improve your running because they build up strength in your legs. I do a lot of those exercises in my daily bootcamp style workout and really noticed the difference these exercises make.
Tempo runs should be part of your marathon training (or any distance running training). Many of our long training runs are run at a slower pace to build up fitness and endurance, so adding tempo runs forces your body to adjust and that results in stronger muscles and better endurance. The benefits of doing tempo runs will allow you to get more comfortable running at a faster pace for a longer period of time. Tempo runs are also great to build up more confidence and they can make you mentally stronger as well. Mental strength and confidence in your ability to run fast for longer distance are important because running long distance is as much mental as physical and when your physical abilities decrease your mental toughness is needed to push you so that you can finish your run or race.
Patience and Persistence
Your goal of running faster will take time and a lot of discipline and persistence if you want to succeed. It is not something that will happen overnight or a few weeks. We’re talking months and eventually years to reach your full potential. It is definitely easier to improve your pace if you have a long-time history of being a runner. Newbie runners will need more time to build up distance and speed accordingly. Age plays an important role as well because it takes longer to recover from intense training sessions and so you have to play it by feel. I mentioned earlier that I did high-intensity interval workouts on a treadmill and it totally threw me off. I was heavily fatigued for 2 days and had to add unexpected rest to my schedule. Then I discovered that the bootcamp style workout I have been doing is actually working great in my favor and I see it as a one to one replacement for interval or speed training. My improved pace over the last 6 months is proof enough for me that I am doing the right things, but again keep in mind that we’re all different and what works for me might not work for you.