If you’re a non-competitive runner look away. Some people are able to run purely for enjoyment. For the rest of us hunker down for the ins and outs of “How to run faster“.
Most runners will agree racing is fun. It may be Type 2 fun, where the pleasure comes from completing the race, not the lung-bursting effort out on the course. But often the latest race is tinged with regret: “If only I could run faster”.
It could be beating a fellow club runner, ranking higher in your age group, or achieving a Boston Marathon Qualifying Time. Everyone has different incentives to improve their running times.
Tips On How To Run Faster
- Evaluate your training – where can you improve?
- Build a solid running base
- Add speedwork – intervals, hill repetitions, fartlek
- Get stronger – core work and strength training
- Find some competition
- Work on your flexibility
- Improve your diet – fuel those runs
- Focus on recovery
- Stay motivated – speed doesn’t improve overnight
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What Type Of Runner Are You?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all training plan for running faster. Everyone is at different starting points with varying abilities.
Of course, this is obvious but it’s easy to get the wrong idea. Launch into speedwork when your body isn’t ready, and you can set your training back months with an unwanted injury.
Work your way through these next sections and be honest with yourself. There’s no point kidding on you’re a regular runner if your training runs never last beyond the first week in January!
Are You A Beginner Runner?
You’ve just started running and you’re oozing with enthusiasm. Maybe you’ve just completed your first 5K race and next time you’d love to move up the results list.
I hate to curb all that positive energy but we need to put the brakes on.
Learning how to run faster involves playing the waiting game. Much of the advice in this post will be too much too soon for a new runner.
As a beginner runner, the first step is to build your base. Here the focus is on building a solid running habit over your first 6 to 12 months.
At this stage of your running, the goal is to run further. Train for a 10K race by running 3 to 4 times a week and gradually increasing the length of your weekly long run until you can comfortably run 6 -7 miles without stopping.
The golden rule is no more than 10% extra mileage per week. You’re aiming for a strong runner’s body resilient to injury.
Gradually add a few hills and work on your core strength. A strong core will improve your running form and help your running speed. These exercises are a good place to start.
Do You Run Regularly?
Let’s be realistic here – there’s no point talking about how to run faster if you’re not putting in the training. To be a faster runner, you need a good running base.
The number of miles you run per week largely depends on your running goals. I’m a big believer in less is more if you want to stay injury-free.
However, running faster will never happen off a sporadic amount of training. It’s important to develop a regular training schedule and everyone’s schedule will look different. It could be running 3 times a week for a 5 to 10K runner or up to 6 times a week for someone tackling a marathon.
While cross-training can ease the load on your legs and help prevent injury, you still need a regular running habit if you want to run faster.
Be honest with yourself. If you’re serious about how to run faster, you need to make a regular commitment to your running.
What Are Your Goals?
Are you an ultra-runner? Or a track athlete? Looking to run a fast marathon, or nail a sub-25 minute 5K? Your target running speed will depend on your running history, gender, age, and typical running distance.
Most runners will benefit from running a mile faster. If you have the ability to run a mile at a good pace, running a slower pace for longer runs will seem easier.
Your approach to running faster depends on the end goal. Targeting a fast marathon and a typical training schedule adds in tempo runs and 800m intervals. Working on your 5K time, strides, fartlek sessions, and 400m repeats are more appropriate.
Are All Your Runs At The Same Pace?
I get it. It’s a lot easier to just “go for a run”. Lace-up those trainers and head off at a comfortable pace. It’s a safe bet that the majority of runners take this approach to their training.
Many runners will vary their running distance and route, but all their runs are at the same pace.
This approach has its place. I’ve used it at times when I’m when struggling to run AT ALL. I’ve even adopted running 5 miles a day to get out of a motivational rut.
It’s just that steady-paced running has its limitations. You can only improve your running speed by trying to run faster.
If all your runs are “steady”, it’s time to start mixing things up. Start by adding one speed session a week. It could be running hills, interval repeats, or a fartlek session.
Fartlek is an unstructured speed session. The word is Swedish for speed play and that’s your approach to the session. You play with your speed mixing up bursts of fast running with running at a slower recovery pace.
The idea is to keep running continuously and run to feel. Run faster when your body feels ready and slower when your burst of speed runs out of steam. It feels good to run a fartlek session on undulating trails.
Try not to get carried away when you start adding speed sessions to your training plan. It’s very easy to get injured. It can be a good idea to have a solid strength-building regime in place before you start running hill repeats and intervals.
How Strong Are You?
Running isn’t just about running. At least not if you want to be a faster runner. The hard sessions needed to up your speed will take a toll on your body unless you’re strong.
I can’t say it enough that speed sessions run the risk of injury. You can mitigate this by increasing repetitions and intensity gradually – and by strength training.
Most injuries stem from muscle imbalance. Causes vary – typically it’s strong quad muscles but weak glutes and hamstrings, tight hip flexors, or having one dominant and one weaker leg.
Before you check into your local gym, note that strength training needs to be running specific.
Yoga is an excellent help but to be sure you’re targeting all the right areas, add strength training sessions designed for runners into your training program.
✅ Now in its third edition, this is the best training plan I’ve found for turning you into a stronger, faster runner. Includes strength training exercises appropriate for runners of all ages.
How Badly Do You Want To Be A Faster Runner?
Running fast isn’t easy. Now all runners, especially beginners, can get a little faster just by putting in the training. But at some point, just doing the training sessions won’t be enough to be a faster runner.
It takes guts.
- Showing up for races when you know you’re going to be at the back of the pack or even last.
- Training with runners who are better than you and having to work really hard to keep up.
- Having the will and mindset to keep on pushing both in your speed training sessions and in the later stages of a race.
Do you want to know how to be a faster runner? It’s easy enough to become an authority on the subject – learn all the theories about running faster. But you’re the one who has to do it.
Maximum effort in a race can feel euphoric, but it also hurts!
Improve Your Flexibility
I almost added maybe to this.
The idea of runners stretching has taken a hammering over the years. Runners used to be encouraged to stretch and hold positions before they started running – not anymore.
These days it’s widely accepted that static stretching before you run is harmful. Instead, the focus is on good warm-up routines with dynamic movements to engage the main muscle groups before you start to run.
That doesn’t mean you can ignore flexibility. Runners need to ensure their range of motion isn’t hampering their running.
The problem is not so much running. It’s that we spend a lot of time sitting and possibly wearing footwear that does nothing for our mobility. Activities that are bad news for any runner.
Add in the problems of aging, which certainly will make you less flexible, and static stretching becomes important to maintain good running form.
✅ The exercises in this book will help you maintain flexibility and become a fit and healthy lifelong runner.
Fuel Your Body To Run Faster
Most articles about how to run faster start by talking about weight loss.
Of course, there’s a relationship between weight and your ability to run fast. It’s just not an automatic “lose 5lb – run faster” correlation.
The issue is your BMI is a very rough guide to what is a healthy weight. The weight range is huge. I’m 5 foot 6 inches and my “healthy weight” can be anything from 115 lb to 156 lb.
I know that at 156 lb I’d feel “heavy” when running. I’d be carrying a lot of body fat that’s just dead weight. But at 126 lb or less, I doubt I’d be able to run. I’d be verging on anorexic.
(My weight has never been anywhere near that low – not even breaking records running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu when I was a half-starved 130 lb from a prolonged bout of Giardia.)
Some of the racing weights for runners suggested on other websites are both shocking and dangerous. Apparently, my racing weight is 120 lb – I don’t think so…
Runners need to be strong and muscle weight is heavy. Work on fuelling your body with healthy food for maximum performance. Getting the right nutrients to help your body work at its best can make all the difference. Runners need their carbs.
Don’t be a slave to chasing numbers on a scale. It ends in tears. Just listen to Allie Kieffer who came 5th in the 2017 NYC Marathon when she stopped trying to lose weight.
It can be tempting to do another race, add in an extra training session… and forget all about recovery. Over-training is a great way to get injured. Not giving your body time to recover from the latest hard session is the best way to miss targets in your next race.
Train hard but not so hard your body doesn’t have a chance to recover before the next session.
Make sure your rest days are proper rest days. Nurture your body – don’t keep pushing and pushing until something gives.
Watch out for niggles and get advice before they turn into something more serious. Getting injured will always derail your training plans. Taking an extra rest day might keep your training on track.
And don’t forget to prioritize your sleep. You need those Zzzs!
Stay Motivated To Run Faster
When you first start running don’t worry too much about time. Instead, follow these tips to find the right pace. The aim is just to get moving. As your body adapts to running, your running times will consistently improve.
For the long term, you need two things – consistency and motivation.
Showing up for training sessions month after month, year after year is hard. Even when you love running!
Having a tough time at work? Starting a family? Distracted by friends? It’s all too easy to let things slip. That’s okay. You just need to decide what you want from running.
Maybe you’re happy being a social runner, enjoying the release running provides from the stresses of everyday life. Or maybe you want to run one good marathon and giving it your best shot over 20 weeks will get you there.
But if you want to see major improvements to your running, you need to find your long-term motivation. Be able to prioritize your running through the distractions. Consistently pushing for those marginal increases in speed.
And one day you’ll be a faster runner.
If you’ve found this post helpful, you may enjoy my other running-related articles:
- 5K To 10K Training Plan: Beginner Running Schedule
- How Far Is 10K In Miles? 10K Training Plan And Average Times
- 20 Tips For Running Your First 10K
- How To Start Running At 50: Tips From An Older Runner
- Running 5 Miles A Day. Is It A Good Idea?
- How To Carry Your Phone While Running? (Can’t Run Without It!)
- Is Running Good For You? (12 Science-Backed Health Benefits)
- How Running Changes Your Body (Most Of It’s Good)
A plan for running faster depends on your starting point. If you’re a new runner work on gradually increasing the length of your long run. Aim to run 6 to 7 miles without stopping. Once you achieve this and you’ve been running for at least 6 months add a speed session to your weekly training. This can be tempo runs, fartlek, intervals, or hill sessions. Add running-specific strength training to help avoid injury, ensure you have good mobility, and fuel your body correctly. Excess weight will slow you down but if you’re underweight, you’ll lack the strength to run fast – so make sure you’re eating enough nutritious food and carbohydrates to fuel your runs. Lastly, don’t neglect your recovery.