Many people want to know how to run faster, but often do not explain in any detail what kind of running they are already doing, or how far they normally run. And let’s face it, there’s a fairly large difference between wanting to speed up your marathon running to get a personal best or beat a specific time to qualify for one of the big marathons; and wanting to leave Usain Bolt crying in your wake! If you want the latter, I wish you well and direct you over to Jamaica to find a coach mischievous enough to take you on. But if you need to know what things to do to run faster in your upcoming 5K or 10K or beyond, then some of the running tips here might be of use to you immediately – without a trip to the Caribbean (sorry).
However, before we broach the subject of speed training, the first thing to understand is that you will need to have a nice baseline of endurance already built up. Chances are, your shortest competitive runs are going to be 5K, and although that is a fast, short race, it is not necessarily a simple sprint. So first of all, don’t show up to your first 5K after a 10 year break and ‘peg it’ as fast as your legs will carry you from the start line! You will definitely be caught and overtaken, and be generally humiliated. Ideally, spend a couple of months building up your endurance with a good distance run at least once a week – I always aim to squeeze in a 15K run every week these days unless I’m tapering for a race.
Speed Endurance Training Methods
Here are some of the methods used by athletes to improve their speeds over longer distances. You should try and have a go at all of them, so that you keep that one weapon we all need to keep on training and getting faster: motivation. And being able to chop and change the old training routine is great for keeping things fresh and staying motivated.
1. Tempo Runs
First things first – whatever type of speed training you have planned for your session, always start with 5-10 minutes of warming up at a slow and steady pace, to get your muscles warmed up and your heart rate up. Then you can move into your tempo running workout. Remember to concentrate on keeping good running form, and work on your step turnover when you run.
For tempo runs, try to aim for about 10 seconds slower per mile than your normal race pace for 10K. The important things to bear in mind here are that you are running slower than your current best time for the race distance, and that you can do so for around 20 minutes. You should also run the distance at a steady, yet comfortably challenging pace. In order to do that, it is always best to avoid routes with hills, or which are too exposed to the weather, especially the wind. These will interfere with your ability to keep a steady pace and exertion.
Since tempo runs are designed to improve running at the lactate-threshold, they are of more benefit to runners who take part in longer races – for example, longer than 10K – because these are the distances where performance is dictated by the anaerobic threshold pace. A 5K is much shorter and run far faster, so that very little extra benefit will be had by use of this type of training.
Fartlek – Swedish for ‘speed play’ – is a free-style training method, loosely based on interval training, but without the draconian rules and prescriptions. It is a good way of increasing speed and endurance, and involves running random segments at a faster pace than normal. When you decide to go faster is up to you, and you can maintain the faster pace for as long as you want to, before dropping off to below normal pace for a recovery segment. Then you can pick the pace back up to normal and continue your run. Fartlek is good if you do road running rather than track, because you can select random landmarks as start and end points for your faster segments. As you get better at this style of running, you can add more faster spells to the overall workout, or increase the intensity, or increase the time spent running at higher speed.
3. Interval Training
Running intervals is a far more structured way of increasing speed and anaerobic threshold. Very often, this type of training is done at the track, so you always do the same repeats, and can measure progress over time. The simplest version on a track is to run single 400m laps at race pace, followed by a steady recovery lap, and then the next fast repeat. Continue alternating between race pace laps followed by recovery laps until you have done 6 repeats (of each). As you progress, you can also do 800m and 1200m race pace repeats, with either static recovery periods or slow jogging. Then as your fitness and endurance improve over the weeks and months, you should aim to reduce the time required for recovery.
You can do intervals using pretty much whichever metric you want, and the above example is based on distances (eg 400m, 800m, etc). You can also base your intervals on run times. A variation of this training method is called ‘pyramid’ speed interval training. In this kind of workout, you do a normal 5 minute warm up, and then run at 5K race pace for 1 minute, followed by a 1 minute easy pace recovery. Then raise the fast run to 2 minutes, followed by a 2 minute recovery jog. Then 3 minutes fast and 2 minutes slow; 4 minutes fast, 2 minutes slow; 5 minutes fast, 2 minutes slow. And then come back down the pyramid to 4 minutes fast, 2 minutes slow; 3 minutes fast, etc until you are down to 1 minute fast and finish off with a 5 minute cool down jog at easy pace. Pyramids can be a lot of fun to do, but are also very challenging.
4. Hill Running
Hill repeats are an excellent way to build strength and speed, and they tend to be dreaded by many people, so a good grounding in this type of training can often give you a serious advantage in flat races where you need to turn on the pace, or in undulating races where you can pick up the pace on the uphill sections and kill off your opponents. The basic idea is the same as for other interval training at the track. Find a ‘nice’ hill that is 100m or more long, and attack it at race pace on the uphill, and then recover by jogging or walking down. Repeat according to your fitness levels, but don’t overdo it, and if you find you are losing good running form, then that’s enough for that particular workout. you are far better getting short, but high quality sessions, than to keep on going but risk injury. Here are some great extra tips on doing hill reps.
Remember, with all of these speed building techniques, to make sure you have a thorough base of running built up beforehand. Always make sure you have a rest day after a tough speed session, and if you are just starting out with this kind of training, only do one session per week, and spend other sessions working on endurance long runs at easy pace. You should find in time, especially if you keep a running logbook, that your times in races get steadily better, and in a few months you will be staggered at how fast you have become just by including one of these routines into your weekly schedule.