A lot of people (definitely including myself) want to become a faster runners. Elite marathoners and sprinters work hard year round to be as fast as they are, but they are also genetically gifted. No matter how hard I train, I just do not think I will ever be able to run 26 5-minute miles, and I am okay with that. However, with that being said, I would like to increase my speed.
Good news is there are many things you can do to increase your running speed!
Run hills. By running hills you are increasing you strength and stamina, which directly help to increase speed. The difficulty of running hills helps to increase cardiovascular fitness and your VO2max (amount of oxygen uptake and usage). Try adding a hill workout once a week.
Speed workouts. I love speed workouts! They are quick workouts that help to increase speed. There are many different speed workouts such as: fartleks, striding, and intervals.
- Fartleks– funny word; means “speed play” in Swedish. Essentially, fartleks are short bursts of speed during a run. For example, the other day I ran 7 miles, with 8 90-second fartleks throughout my run. For those 90 seconds I ran at a much faster pace that I normally would. For beginners, try running a 400 meter fartlek, or 30 seconds. Farleks increase speed by pushing your anaerobic threshold. I run fartleks 1-2 times per week.
- Strides- Strides are short, gradual bursts of speeds done at the end of a run. Why at the end? If you have eve ran a race, you normally want to sprint across the finish line. That is where strides come in- they get you conditioned to sprint at the end of a lengthy run. I do strides once a week. Last week for example I ran 6 miles, and then did 6 400-meter strides at the end of my run. For each stride you gradually increase your speed, and by mid-way you are sprinting at maximum effort. Walk around for 60-90 seconds in between each stride.
- Intervals- Interval training can be a great way to burn calories and increase speed. Why you may ask? First off, interval training is meant to be intense; therefore your heart rate will be higher. Secondly, the combination of fast and slower segments will cause your heart rate to increase, decrease, increase, and so on. This extra work is helping to burn calories, as well as helping with speed. The length of this workout is solely dependent upon you, and how much time you have allowed for the workout. If you are doing intense, fast sprints followed by a slow jog it will be much shorter. (I usually do fast sprints after a 3-5 mile run). If you are using this workout for jogging/walking you should allow more time. The basic rule for sprints or intervals are 1:2. An example would be: Jog 30 seconds, followed by 60 second of fast walking. However, if you are doing full out, maximum intensity sprints, you should not sprint longer than 10-15 seconds (solely my opinion). I will then follow each sprint with 60 seconds of slow jogging. This breaks the 1:2 rule. But if you try follow that rule and sprint 10 seconds, jog 20 seconds, and repeat you will find that you are completely exhausted an most likely will not be able to finish.
Tempo Runs. Maintaining a specific speed for a duration of time or distance is the most common definition of a tempo run. An example would be running 3 miles at a specific pace (9 minute miles) for the whole 3 miles. Tempo runs can be challenging, and the purpose is to run at a faster pace, or your race pace (the pace you wish to have during the race). Tempo runs can be in the middle of a run as well. Here are a few examples:
- 5 mile run, with mile 2-4 being a tempo run
- 2 mile run, being a tempo the whole time
More Miles. Increasing mileage per week is a great way to increase speed. The more your body runs, the easier it becomes. However, make sure to increase mileage slowly. Too much too soon can lead to injury. The rule of thumb is to increase mileage by 10-15% each week.
Consistency. In order to become a more efficient runner you must be consistent. Going days/weeks without running will not lead to positive gains and can actually set you back. The more you stay on schedule, the more you body becomes use to running.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is vital when training. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night. You simply do not perform as well on lower amounts of sleep. When I marathon train I try to get 9-10 hours of sleep following a long run. Your muscles repair themselves during sleep, and if you are not getting enough sleep, your muscles cannot fully repair.
The most important thing is to have patience. It has taken me a long time to get to a pace that I am finally happy with. It is also important to listen to your body. You do not want to do too much too soon. My rule for myself is that if it hurts (in a painful way, not muscle soreness) STOP immediately, R.I.C.E., and try again later.