How to Run Faster: 5 Tips For Improving Speed

FastEthiopian runners tacking a hill session in Sendafa, Addis Ababa

FastEthiopian runners tacking a hill session in Sendafa, Addis Ababa

There's not a runner on earth who doesn’t want to run faster. From those gunning for a 10k PB, to those looking to wipe the smile off John from Accounts’ face, and those who are just trying get the whole damn thing over with- we all could do with being a bit faster!

In reality the notion of ‘speed’ differs from event to event and ‘speedwork’ can be difficult to define. However all runners, regardless of experience and distance training for, would benefit from improving their Basic Speed.

All elite level runners from 5k to the Marathon will touch on basic speed in their training. It is more specific that just running intervals, you need to practise running fast, really fast! Be ready to embrace the lactic burn.

Short Speed training will help you be a more efficient runner. Faster running makes use of the largest number of muscle groups; improve the neural pathways and the efficiency of muscle contractions. It will also teach you to tolerate and buffer lactic acid, a key skill, allowing you to run further and faster without break down.

If you can improve basic speed your normal running speed will feel a doddle.

How to include;

  • Run Strides.

Strides’ are a staple of elite runners, and they are really easy to integrate into your training. After a short easy paced run, find a nice flat uninterrupted path or area of park roughly 80-100 metres long. Run fast and smooth to the end of the course. Don’t go ‘eye balls’ out, aim for 85- 90% effort. Focus on smooth, fast relaxation- the training benefit we are looking for is neuromuscular, training the brain to fire the muscles quickly. Fatigue just muddies the water. Aim to run 6 to 8 with a slow jog or walk back to your starting position after each one. Don’t wear a rucksack, or headphones- concentrate on looking smooth like Usain.

  • Think about your technique.

One major benefit of Strides is they give you an opportunity to practise good running technique. Good technique is vitally important to improving speed at all distances. There are a few key principles you should follow at all distances;

  1. Posture. Stall tall by holding your hips high, and leaning forward slightly from your toes. You should be able to draw a straight line through your ears, shoulders, and hips.

  2. Minimise lateral movement at shoulders and hips. Imagine there is a set of headlight on your hips focusing on keeping them flush preventing the beams straight. Minimise torso movement by drop shoulders and driving arms backwards from the shoulder joint.

  3. Keep high turnover of steps. Your goal here is to spend less time in contact with the ground and to prevent overstriding. Long loping, heavy strides are bad, shorter faster strides, focusing on a short fast contact with the ground are better.

  • Run some Hills. Up and Down.

Hills are the simplest form of speedwork. They’re easy to plan, hurt like hell and are over before you know it. Most people know all about Uphill Sessions. They are a great workout for the glutes, and challenge your bodies ability to cope with and process lactic acid- a key factor in improving speed. In this instance choose a steep hill, run for 30-45 secs up, fast, and walk back down before starting the next one. Try 6-10.

Downhill sessions are a hidden gem. Kenyan Runners often use downhill sessions to improve turnover. To prevent heavy jarring you really get the legs spinning to prevent overstriding. Choose a slight incline, stand tall and lean forward with the hill. Really focus on picking the heels up quickly and employing short fast steps making contact with the ground soft, light and fast. Try 6-10 x 30 sec runs with a jog back to the top after each one.

  • Run Fast.

To improve you need to run fast. Short, fast interval sessions are hard but will make a huge difference. Intervals should be no longer than 90 secs (30-60sec is ample) and you need to run these at 85% effort or faster. To begin with you should rest between each interval for 3-4 times as long as the interval duration. It might feel like a lot but we want to maximise the quality of each repetition. 10 x 40 sec’s would be a good start, building number and length of reps over time. If you start to slow down significantly, stop, we want quality running not shuffling to finish.

Expect lactic build up, that’s a goal of the session. The better you are at tolerating lactic acid the quicker you’ll run. Make sure you are totally warmed up before running speed sessions and don’t run on a busy pavement. We are aiming for quality, so give the session some proper attention. 

  • Drills and Plyometrics

Spending a bit of time in the gym will benefit running speed. Having said that you should take shorter strides you can and should try to increase the distance travelled at each step by improving Power. We will improve speed by improving the efficiency of ‘spring’ at ground contact, not by consciously taking longer steps.

On top of any strength training you are already doing you could include some simple running drills or plyometric exercises in your routine. These exercises target the stretch-shorten cycle; the process muscles in the lower leg undergo when striking and pushing off the ground. We can train this process, improving elasticity to capture and use potential energy more effectively. Skips, hops, and jumps are all useful, but get some proper advice on the drills that would be helpful to you.