How to Get Faster at Running
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Whether you’re a seasoned marathon runner or working your way up to your first 5K, every runner strives to get faster. However, the goal can be elusive, even for frequent runners. When you throw in life’s daily demands and the obstacles of growing older, many runners find themselves settling for their regular running pace.
Kristopher J. Paultre, M.D., a family medicine and primary care sports medicine specialist with the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute, says that speed is a realistic and achievable goal for everyone, not just elite athletes. With some professional guidance and simple changes to your daily running routine, you can transform it into an effective speed-building regimen.
If you’re getting more serious about running, step one is to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist.
Many PTs are running experts, so he recommends finding one that mentions that as one of their specialties.
“With one visit, a good PT can do so much to help you with your running,” he says. “They can analyze your running form, provide a good training plan to help you build speed and prevent injuries, and also tell you how to cross-train to become a better runner.”
Mix it up
Cross-training with strength workouts or other exercises can be one of the keys to getting faster.
“With the right exercises, you can build running-specific muscles to get faster,” Dr. Paultre says. “It also gives you a break from running to help you avoid injuries and not overdo it.’
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) agrees.
Their weekly workout regimen for building speed includes two days of high-intensity runs alternated with a day of strength training, two days of active recovery, one day of endurance running, and finally, a rest day. They say that this approach helps you build speed safely while at the same time reducing the risk of injury.
Increase your mileage slowly
Depending on the distance, building a base of mileage is key to completing it successfully. The National Institute for Fitness and Sport (NIFS) says you should work your way into increased mileage gradually with just an extra mile or two or an extra day of running each week.
Once you progress a bit in your running, the American Council on Exercise recommends an approach called “non-linear periodization” for building speed. This involves increasing mileage by around 10 to 15% for two to three weeks in a row and then decreasing mileage by 10 to 20% in week 4. This approach can be helpful for more seasoned runners who want to build speed but lower injury risk.
Speed-specific workouts are key to running faster.
The two approaches that the NIFS recommends are run strides and run intervals. Run strides are very short (around 100 meters) runs where you gradually increase your speed, hit peak speed for a few seconds about ¾ of the way into the run, and then slow back down to finish. They recommend adding four run strides to the end of an easy run each week to get started and then working up to six to eight strides once or twice a week.
Interval training involves running a specified distance at a race pace and then resting a bit before repeating the interval. For a faster 5K, the NIFS suggests doing four 800-meter runs at race pace, with two minutes of rest between each. They recommend doing this once a week, gradually building up to six intervals with one minute of rest between each.
“I’m a big fan of interval training,” says Dr. Paultre. “It pushes your body a bit more than just a standard run, and it can really help improve your heart rate and help you get faster over time.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.