As a runner, keeping yourself motivated is very important. After you have been running for a while, you might find yourself in a comfort zone where running becomes easier but you are not really pushing yourself. You could try new routes, you might want to run further but you could also try to challenge yourself to run faster.
I must admit to a certain amount of jealousy when I look at the very best distance running times. The best athletes are able to run a whole marathon at what for me is a flat out sprinting speed. Unless you are a competitive athlete, it is unlikely that you will be targeting a sub 2 hour marathon. But whether your 5k time is 20 minutes or 45 minutes it is possible, by varying your training routines, to increase your speed and start shaving time off your runs. Remember to keep injury prevention in mind as you implement these running tips. Review some basic warm up routines here (link to start to run).
Work out your current speed
Before doing anything else, you need to find out how fast you are currently running. The best way to do this is by timing yourself over a mile run with a stopwatch. If you can use a local running track, 4 laps equates to a mile. If you don’t have access to a running track, then accurately measure out a mile on a flat, safe stretch of road and time yourself there. If you prefer to run indoors, you can time your mile speed on a treadmill. For outdoor runners without a track, GPS and tracking watches can be a great help here.
Set a schedule
I know from experience that increasing your running speed is hard work and requires a great deal of discipline. If you really want to see improvements in your running speed, you need to establish a realistic schedule and stick to it as closely as possible. You should be running at least 4 times a week with variations in distance and intensity. Besides varying your running schedule, try to find time for some other muscle strengthening exercises. Yoga can help with your flexibility and benefit running form. You could try some spinning classes or skipping, both of which will improve your cardiovascular ability and get you moving faster.
Work on your cadence (stride turnover)
If you increase your cadence then you will move faster. It sounds simple enough, but it really works and is something that I have focused on quite hard as I have gained more running experience. You can do this by running at your normal cadence for 60 seconds and counting the number of times your feet hit the floor. Set yourself a target number higher than your normal turnover and try to achieve this by taking quicker, lighter steps. Imagine that you are running over thorns or hot coals and see if you can reach your target turnover.
Don’t let the funny sounding name of this training method put you off. Fartlek is a Swedish term which means ‘speed play’ and is an increasingly popular and successful way for runners to increase their speed. This training method basically involves varying your running speed at random points during your run. Fartlek training is flexible but an example would be to jog for a mile and then sprint for a minute before returning to your normal jogging pace.
You don’t need to be precise with fartlek training; you can simply choose to increase your pace at certain points during your run using roadside landmarks as your target. How far you choose to sprint is up to you and your abilities but if you add some fartlek training into your daily runs, you will soon notice a difference in your times.
Variety is the spice of life and another great way to pick up your running speed is to do interval workouts. This method involves varying your speed throughout your run. If you are using a track, you could run 400m at your full jogging speed followed by a slow recovery lap. Continue to alternate between lap speeds for as long as your abilities allow.
If you are running on the road, you can measure out your interval distance or use landmarks such as houses or telephone poles to mark out the intervals.
Hit the Hills
If you are serious about picking up your pace, then hill training is an effective method to build up your running strength and power. Try incorporating several short hills into your run at least once a week. If you are used to running on flat surfaces then hill running will be difficult to begin with. After a while you will notice your leg and lung strength improving which will eventually convert into faster times on level surfaces.
To really increase the intensity of your training, you could incorporate hill sprints into your running routine. Find a relatively steep hill around 100 meters in length and run hard to the top and then jogging back down. Try doing 3 repeat hill sprints once a week to begin with and aim to work your way up to 6 or 7 repeats.
It stands to reason that if you are carrying less weight that you will be able to run faster but did you know just how much faster? Research has shown that runners can expect to run an average of 2 seconds a mile faster for each pound they lose. A ten pound weight loss would equate to taking around a minute off your 5k time…now that’s incentive.
Look straight ahead
It sounds obvious but simply keeping your head up with your eyes looking straight ahead could help you to increase your speed and drop your personal best times. Many runners spend a lot of time looking at their feet and I’m personally inclined to find myself taking in the sites when I’m out jogging, which is fine if you don’t have speed in mind. Looking straight ahead some 30 or so meters in front of you will help you to maintain good form and run a little quicker.
Maintain good notes
I must admit that I find note keeping a bit of a chore at the best of times but keeping a running log will really help keep track of your progress and also provide additional motivation, which is never a bad thing. Following each run, be sure to make notes about the distances you covered and your average speed. It is also helpful to log the route you took, the weather conditions and how you felt during the run. A detailed log should help you find out how certain conditions affect your times and also prevent injury and burnout. Fitness devices like Nike + are useful in that you can upload data after your run, track data and set goals. If you don’t mind manual entry there are numerous free options as well.
Make sure you are well fueled
As you increase your speed and your distances, it is vitally important to ensure you are well hydrated and properly fueled up before embarking on your run. The ability to run faster and get fitter depends on being well energized.
Make sure that you stay well hydrated during the day and during your runs. Dehydration will decrease the oxygen supply to your muscles causing you to slow down. You should be drinking around half your body weight in fluid ounces each day. For example if you weigh 160 pounds, aim to drink 80 fluid ounces of water or other calorie-free liquids a day.
If you are on a long run, be sure to take water with you but don’t swig away at it constantly; research suggests that you should only take a drink when you are feeling thirsty.
You can refuel during a long run with energy gels or candy to keep you properly energized. You are recommended to consume between 30 and 60 grams of carbs per hour during your run to prevent you from ‘crashing’ on the road.
Increasing your running speed is a big challenge but whether you are looking to shave seconds or minutes off your best time, it is a challenge worth taking.