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In order to run faster, you have to practice faster running. Sounds simple enough, right? So most people will go out for their usual 5-mile run, and try to complete it in less time. They’ll succeed! Well, they’ll run it ten seconds faster or something, which isn’t all that big of a success. So what do you really need to do?
Running faster requires some amount of speed development. Competitive runners will do speed development by doing some very demanding workouts that are similar to what sprinters do. One example would be to do a half dozen “30 Fly” repeats, which involve getting a running start to a 30-meter length of sprinting as fast as you can sprint. You would then walk for about 5 minutes in between each repeat. That is a very, very hard workout, and is not recommended for most casual, recreational athletes.
But here’s what you can do. Let’s say you typically run a 10k race in about an hour – you might be able to cut 5-10 minutes off of that by incorporating the following elements into your program.
Start off by doing a few (3 or 4) 50-meter strides at the end of each run. The way I describe a “stride” to newer runners is that you would use form similar to a sprinter, but you don’t really push yourself to run fast like a sprinter. When you do this, you will definitely be running faster than you usually do for that 50 meters, but you won’t be going so fast and pushing so hard that you pull a hammie or something.
After a couple of weeks of doing this, start doing a tempo run once a week. For the tempo run, instead of getting too hung up on the exact pace you should be running (and, yes, there are some very scientific ways to determine what is the right pace for different goals), run at a pace that you can’t carry on a conversation. Do that for about 10 minutes in the middle of one of your regular runs. You might find that the pace you’re running initially is about 30-90 seconds per mile faster than your slow, easy pace. Each week, add five minutes to the length of the tempo run (up to a maximum of 30 minutes), and, by the way, continue to do the strides at the end of each workout.
By the third week of tempo running, assuming your legs are still feeling good, add another kind of workout with some even faster running. For this workout, you want to run some shorter distances faster. Examples might be half-mile or 1000-meter segments, or even 400-meter segments. For these, you want to be running faster than you’re running for your tempo runs, with a pretty slow jog of about 2-3 minutes between each faster segment. You should be able to do 3 or 4 of these in each workout.
When it’s time for your race, you should be able to run at a pace that is fast enough to take a significant chunk off of that 60 minutes you’ve been hitting. Once you do that, you’ll be hungry for some more challenging workouts to lower that time even more.
About the Author: Marty Beene, owner of Be The Runner personalized running coaching, is a Level 2 USA Track & Field certified coach, as well as a certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and Senior Fitness Specialist (through the National Academy of Sports Medicine). He coaches adults of all abilities through Be The Runner, and volunteers at Alameda High School as an Assistant Coach for cross-country and track.
A graduate of Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley, Marty has been a competitive runner for over 35 years, and has been nationally ranked in outdoor age group track for the past two years. He has competed in track races from 60 meters through 5000 meters, and in road races ranging from 1 mile to the marathon.
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