You’re finally running, actually running all the way, you’re running regularly and fairly often. You’re on top of the world; in fact if you’re honest you’re feeling downright epic these days. Stronger, healthier, a more awesome version of you. Just a few months ago you could barely walk up a flight of stairs without heaving like an elephant. Enjoy that feeling for a second, because now it’s time to move on… to running faster.
You know it’s true, either your heading forwards, making progress, or you’re falling backwards and losing ground. There’s no such thing as standing still. Plus, to keep things interesting you have to keep pushing (not punishing!) yourself. And if you’re looking to lose weight you’ve got to maintain those intensity levels to keep on losing.
If you’re still relatively new to running, practice a little patience. Before you run fast, you should be able to run far. It’s important that you give yourself time to strengthen your leg muscles and connective tissue, which will prepare your body to handle the intensity of more advanced training later. The main goal as a runner is to run regularly and to run injury free. Push too hard, too early and you risk being sidelined by injury. Being out of the game so early on in your running career comes with the super high risk that you’ll ditch running altogether. So, go slow, push a little, progress, get better, get stronger. Remember, the goal is to get there. Try to get there fast, and you’ll probably take longer than had you paced yourself and practiced patience.
Just because you’re not ready to speed up with advanced training techniques, doesn’t mean you can’t enter races. In fact, entering races, such as a 5K, is a great way to gain experience without any pressure. Not only do you learn about organized and competitive running, you also gain an understanding of your race pace and get to join in the fun and spirit of running.
There are a few tips that can help runners of all levels run faster without stressing the body – in fact quite the opposite.
RUN FASTER: TIPS FOR EVERYONE
1. FOCUS ON FORM
Taking the time to learn how to run with proper form is an investment you won’t regret. Running with good form not only cuts the risk of injury, but also pays off when it comes to speed. Running efficiently and economically means you have more energy to run faster. An easy way to correct a multitude of running form no-no’s is to “run tall” and to run relaxed. This will instantly vanquish a whole host of common running issues. See this article and infographic on how to run.
2. LOSE WEIGHT
Again, super simple. The less you weigh (at least to a point), the less you have to carry, the faster you can run. That applies to any weight – whether it be the spare tire you’re carrying or heavy running gear. If you’re looking to lose weight, this is extra incentive! Research shows that for every pound of weight lost, a runner speeds up by an average of 2 seconds per mile. So a weight loss of 10lbs can save 20 seconds per mile. For a 5K that adds up to finishing 1 minute faster, for a marathon almost 9 minutes quicker.
3. REST & RECOVER
Running everyday won’t make you faster. Resting is as important as running, since it’s during your rest days that your body is able to repair and rebuild muscle and strengthen tendons and ligaments. So, skipping out on rest days that are vital for recovery and injury prevention means you’re unlikely to see the gains in speed you’re looking for. Take home message? Make sure you take at least a day of from running.
4. GET STRONG
Running might be a predominantly cardiovascular exercise. However, running does call for strength if you want to run well, and if you want to run fast. Don’t think The Terminator kind-of-strong, think Karate Kid/ Mr. Miyagi strong – low-key, whole body, stabilizing, balance-on-one-leg kind-of-strong. After all, you’re only as strong as your weakest point.
Your core is one such point, often neglected by runners; a weak core is associated with injuries and poor running performance. A strong and stable core, on the other hand means your pelvis is more likely to be aligned properly, you’re more solid when you hit the ground, you’re less prone to injury and you run more economically. Basically, your body is zen. It’s not fighting the road. It’s strong, it’s aligned, it’s centered. End result? You’re running smoother, faster and bonus – you’ve got abs!
Next up, legs. Research shows that regular strength training can significantly improve how efficiently the body uses oxygen. Basically, stronger legs translate into improved running economy, speed, muscle endurance and, of course, strength, as well as reduced risk of injury.
You might have thought this was easy, since you’d been doing it for a while, but as you may have noticed it isn’t as simple as you might have liked. Yes, you’ve known how to breathe since you were born, but you have also, in all probability, lost some skills since then.
Truth be told, a lot of runner’s struggle with breathing, which not only impacts on performance, but also on motivation. Thus, in addition to training your heart and legs, you also need to train your lungs. In the end, your heart can only pump as much oxygen to your legs as you can breathe in, no matter how strong or efficient either may be.
So you see, a strong respiratory system can have a dramatic effect on your running. Better breathing, means more oxygen to your legs, which means better endurance and more speed. Research from Brunel University in England backs this up, showing that runner’s whose breathing was the most strained, were also those who had the weakest leg muscles.
This begs the question how do you breathe better? The answer is quite simple, by breathing fully. Most of us are chest breathers, breathing in small, shallow sips of air, not fully utilizing our lungs, and have been doing so most of our lives – making it a hard habit to break. But belly breathing is where’s it’s at. It’s how we were designed to breathe. Take a cue from the pros – babies. Watch any baby and you’ll see its tummy expand and contract as air enters and leaves its body. That’s how it’s done. When you breathe in your belly should blow up like a balloon, unlike chest breathing during which your shoulders rise and fall. To practice, place one hand over your belly and one on your chest. Practise taking slow, deep breaths, breathing from your belly. Feel the difference. Belly breathing means you use more air sacs in your lungs, taking in more oxygen, enabling you to provide your muscles with oxygen and beating fatigue. For a little extra help try Pilates classes. Pilates can help boost flexibility, strengthen the core, and improve breathing – all great things for any runner.
6. SMALLER, QUICKER STEPS
Run faster by taking quick, short and light steps. Beginner runners tend to take fewer, longer steps (i.e. overstride) which means you’ll spend more time in the air, elevating your body a bit higher, such that you hit the ground harder with every landing. Smaller steps also allow you to more easily land on your mid-foot and roll your foot over the ground facilitating good running form. Imagine walking on a field of raw eggs or hot coals. Light, quick, small steps can help increase pace, as well as reduce the risk of injury.
RUN FASTER: ADVANCED TECHNIQUES
If you can run 5 or 6 miles continuously, are running 20-25 miles a week regularly, you may have a need for speed. Some experts recommend waiting until you have a year of running under your belt before starting to incorporate speed workouts into your routine.
Simply running further will improve endurance, but it isn’t enough to help you run faster. The best way to run faster is to use a range of different running techniques which will not only help to increase your running pace, but also improve endurance.
7. HILL TRAINING
What is it? Running doesn’t call for a whole range of movement or power, especially running on the flat. To engage more muscles and for a greater range of movement incorporate hill training. The name explains it all. Hill training or hill running involves running uphill. Simply increase the incline on the treadmill or if you’re running outdoors find a steep hill.
How does it improve running? A better question might be – what doesn’t hill training do? Running uphill forces your muscles to contract way more powerfully than running on the flat, strengthening leg muscles and improveing cardiovascular fitness, to make you a more powerful, stronger runner. Other benefits include a quickend stride, greater stride length and better running economy. Making hill running even more awesone is how quickly it works; within just 6 short weeks you should expect significant improvement in speed – and power. Running on the flat will feel a lot easier.
8. TEMPO WORKOUT
What is it? Another fast paced workout, tempo running involves running at a challenging, but maintainable level. A level just outside your comfort zone – you’re breathing hard, but you’re not gasping for air. Tempo runs are “comfortably hard”, you’re running fast but not too fast. If you can talk easily, or can’t talk at all, you’re not in the tempo zone. When you hit the tempo zone, you’ll be able to speak, but not in full sentences.
How does it improve running? Tempo running is probably the best method of improving speed. Tempo running increases lactate threshold (it takes longer for your body to build up lactic acid – lactic acid leads to fatigue), which allows you to run faster.
9. INTERVAL TRAINING
What is it? Interval training involves alternating between running for intense, but brief periods (generally from a few seconds up to 2 minutes) and slightly longer periods of recovery during which you walk or jog.
How does it improve running? Interval training is a great way of boosting cardiovascular fitness and building stamina.
What is it? Fartek, the Swedish for “speed play”, is a fun workout that is similar to interval training, alternating moderate-to-intense bouts of running with slower paced periods of recovery. However, unlike interval training fartlek is it is unstructured and unplanned. A fartlek workout might involve running to a tree, phone box or lamppost in the distance when you feel like, and as hard you like; followed by an easy jog to recover. It’s particularly fun to do in groups where one person takes over and sets the pace/ intervals, followed by the next person in the group. It’s unpredictable and fun, with no planning or timekeeping.
How does it improve running? It will help increase make you run faster and improve your stamina.
Speed workouts are taxing and you should follow a speed day with one or two days of easy running (or rest). This will allow you to develop speed, while reducing the risk of injury. Begin with one speed workout per week. Once you’re more advanced you can add a second intense workout. Never do more than two speed sessions a week.