I’ve never been a super fast runner. That’s not to say that I was slow, but there were always peers that were way faster than me. I moved swiftly on the soccer field throughout my youth, but when I started running track, I had to accept that I was no longer the only Speedy Gonzalez of the group. I’ve kept some of that speed though and often include workouts to make sure I keep my fast-twitch muscle fibers alive and well. The old adage is very true when it comes to fast-twitch muscle fibers: use it or lose it.
Sophomore year in HS.
I read an article yesterday that was actually about this very same topic: running fast. Instead of just directing you to that article though, I decided to write my own version.The author focused solely on altering and improving mechanics of running to help one become a faster and runner and while mechanics (think: running form, foot steps per minute, arm swings, etc.) are certainly important, they don’t make up nearly the whole picture. Sure, if you are a track runner and or short distance runner then mechanics are probably the main area you want and need to make sure you focus on to ensure your moving your body forward as efficiently and quickly as possible. However, for most runners who want to run faster, but not necessarily be a fast runner, a mix of mechanics and workouts will help you accomplish your goals.
The following 5 steps are what I’ve incorporated to lower my times and paces for any given race. There’s no guarantee they’ll work for everyone to achieve their goals, but if done smartly and consistently, they are likely to improve your running speed.
So here are my…
5 WAYS TO RUN FASTER
There are three ways a foot strikes the ground when running. There’s the heel-strike. This motion is how most people walk hen walking normally. The heel hits first and then the rest of the foot makes contact with the ground afterward. Many people run this way as well and while I am no foot doctor or running specialist, I do know that changing my footstrike almost 4 years ago has certainly improved my running. I was a class heelstriker but now I don’t think my body could run that way if I tried. My long runs are run entirely midfoot and my tempo runs and speed workouts are almost entirely done while forefoot striking and I’ve definitely noticed the difference. I feel more springy when I run which allows me to move forward quicker. Also, I don’t have to wear shoes that are cushioned heavily in the heel because by running forefoot, my quads and calves act as most of my cushion. Running mid or forefoot allows me to wear a lighter shoe and that can–and has for me–help improve your speed.
This is a great video in which Sage Canaday is featured talking about foot strikes.
…are incredibly helpful for running faster. Running inclines and declines naturally builds strength in your leg muscles and I’d even argue that, if run with proper form, this will strengthen your back as well. When I run hills, I focus on my form. I’ve found that running hills fast kind of forces me to run with proper form. Running inclines fast has also helped me run on flat ground much faster as well. If I can move my body quickly up a hill, I should be able to move it even quicker on a flat route. Makes sense, right? Hopefully it works for you too. I think it will.
Try it: You can either add hills into your regular route or go seek a hill with a moderate incline that takes you at least 10-30 seconds to run up. A weekly or biweekly workout of or ending with 5-10 hill climbs (faster pace/harder effort; up and down =1) is a great way to build strength and get faster. Again, form is important when running hills.
If you don’t think about your arms as a way to get your legs to move faster, start doing just that. I tell my track athletes all the time to “pump those arms” as they’re sprinting around the track or even running at a pace just slower than a sprint. Why do I advise this? I’ve learned through experience that when you swing your arms fully and possibly at a quicker pace, your legs are able to move faster. If you are running a moderate pace, but want to speed up, it is likely that a short or restricted arm swing is going to limit how fast you are able to go.
During my first triathlon finish, I’m making the mistake of keeping my arms too close to my body. Keep those arms open and swinging to take some of the stress off your legs and allow them to faster.
Try it: Next time you are running, consciously try to speed up for 15-20 seconds at least twice. The first time should involve your arms swinging at the same rate they were when you were running moderately. The second time, a minute or so later in the run, you should try swinging your arms like a pendulum (don’t exaggerate). My guess is that you will notice the greater speed during that second attempt.
Hills are great for building leg strength, but they aren’t the only strengthtraining you should rely on. Being a healthier, faster runner means your entire body is capable of sustaining your runs with reduced risk of stress and/or pain. Strengthtraining should involve strengthening your arms, legs, and back at the very least. I say, “[A]t the very least,” because your glutes and other more specific parts of your body should also be strengthened, but focusing on the three named is a good starter.
Ways to strengthen the arms? Pushups, pullups, dumbbell curls, kettlebell workouts, etc. The legs are worked out every time you run, so who needs to work them out even more, right? Wrong! If you want to be a faster runner, adding squats, lunges, bounds, calf raises, etc. are excellent ways to strengthen muscles that will sustain your desired quicker paces.
Try it: Squat jumps are a great way to build leg strength. On a cross-training/strengthtrainign day or post-run, do 10-20 squat jumps and repeat 3-4 times with 1 minute break in between. For a greater challenge, reduce the break time or do one-legged squat jumps.
Okay, so here it is. The actual speedwork. You didn’t expect to get faster without actually doing any speedwork did you? I suppose it is possibly, but I think you’ll see more improvement with the speedy stuff incorporated. So just what am I talking about? Tempo runs. Fartleks (moderate run with self-selected time or distances where you speed up your pace and then go back to your moderate pace and repeat for however long you want; what you put in is what you’ll get out). Track intervals (e.g. 4×100 or 200 meters on the track after an easy-moderate run). Enhanced fartleks (explained below). These are just some of the workouts you can do. I incorporate all of these workouts when training for a race.
Try it: Tempo runs weekly or bi-weekly (depending on your fitness and how often you run a week) could work for you. A tempo run could look like this: 1-2 miles warm-up/easy pace, 2-4 miles at harder effort (e.g. 15-30 seconds slower than your 5k pace), 1-2 mile cool-down. Of course you can make the tempo much longer and faster if you wanted too. Another workout I love involve what I call “enhanced fartleks.” Instead of running 30 seconds, for example, at a faster pace and then back down to moderate, I run something like this: 1 mile warm-up/moderate pace, 2-3 miles 20-40 seconds above 5k pace, 1 mile moderate, 2-3 faster pace, and last 1 mile at moderate to easy pace.
There you have it! My secret recipe. Bah! I wish it was something that good. If you want to figure out how you could modify or incorporate some of these workouts into your existing running routine or training plan, please feel free to post in the comments or contact me via Facebook.
What do you do to run faster? Have you tried some of these ideas? What did you think? Let’s talk in the comments!