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How to run faster: 7 ways I increased my running speed and broke all my PRs

Want to know how to run faster? Get seven tips to increase your running speed and evaluate where you may be limiting your potential.

My first ever race was the Moab Half Marathon in 2005, which I ran in 1 hour, 57 minutes.

My next race was a Ragnar Relay and then a 5K, which I ran in 25:56.

When I ran my first marathon in 2009, took me 4 hours, 6 minutes.

Since my first race, 14 years and 50+ races later, my current PRs are:

  • 1:30:38 half marathon
  • 3:17:50 marathon
  • 20:12.9 5K

That means, I’ve dropped the following time off my races:

  • 27 minutes in the half
  • 49 minutes in the marathon
  • 5+ minutes in the 5K

I wrote in my journal when I was 20 that I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon but never remotely believed I actually could, and I’ve since run it twice. I’ve placed in my age group at multiple races, won a couple in the women’s division and even outright won a race once, beating all the men. (Gotta love small races! 🙂 )

Remember, speed is ALL relative. My times may look slow to some and impossible to others. And remember that people feel the same way about YOUR running speed, regardless of what it is.

I wouldn’t say I was born naturally fast. When I started running around age 14, my training runs were in the 10-11 minute mile range and it wasn’t until I was about 25 that I started to focus on running faster. Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked very hard to reduce my race times, followed many training plans and even hired my first running coach this year.

how to run fasterBrooks running shoes | Oiselle roga shorts | Oiselle tank (old) | water bottle | visor | watch (read my review here)

How to run faster

I often get asked by new and seasoned runners, “How can I increase my running speed?” There’s not one thing you can add in to make you run faster but rather a combinations of things.

The best answer I have is to keep putting in the work consistently, for years.

It’s not completely unreasonable to expect some improvements in speed right away, especially if you’re a new runner. But it’s also not reasonable to expect huge improvements after just a couple months.

Huge improvements in running speed take years to discover. And what’s especially exciting about that is that you really don’t know how much faster you’ll get over time. If you cut 15 seconds per mile off in your first 3 months of running, that’s awesome. But you may end up cutting 2 minutes off per mile after years of work. There is so much untapped potential when you’re new since you just don’t really know your body yet.

And yes, at some point, you’ll eventually slow down. But more and more runners are continuing to tap into faster speeds later in life, both in the recreational and elite runner populations.

What foods can make you run faster?

This is a frequently asked question, and honestly, training harder has improved my speed more than anything. That being said, while there aren’t specific foods that will make you run faster, but in order to run your best, you MUST be properly fueled. And carbs should be a large portion of your diet. Read this post for more details on the importance of carbs and how the amount you eat should change as your training increases in volume and/or intensity.

When I was training for the 2019 Boston Marathon, I had my diet analyzed by a registered dietician who specializes in sports performance. He identified that I was under-fueling. While my protein intake was adequate, I wasn’t getting enough carbs to support the mileage and intensity I was putting in. Read what he suggested I change here.

How to run faster and longer

Trying to increase your speed and your distance at the same time is a recipe for injury. Focus first on building up a solid base of mileage, with easy miles. Then ease into speed work with some short strides (4-12x of 30 second pick-ups at the end of a run followed by 30-60 seconds easy jogging or walking).

Once you are running your base weekly distance for 4-6 weeks, then you can start to add in more structured speed work.

Your workouts – both in distance and pace – should be tailored to your goals. If you’re trying to break your 5K PR, that will look dramatically different than a marathon training plan. A good training plan should incorporate speed workouts specific to your race distance.

runner wearing nike vaporfly 4 flyknit at the boston marathon

Nike Vaporfly shoes (read my review here) | Senita shorts | Oiselle Flyout tank (similar)

But I can’t get faster

So what if you’ve been running for years and don’t feel like you’re getting faster? I would ask you to evaluate a few things:

  1. Do you run only steady pace miles?
  2. Are all your speed workouts the same distance and pace?
  3. How hard do you really push in your workouts?
  4. Are you taking time for recovery? How many hours do you sleep each night?
  5. What does your diet look like? What about alcohol intake?
  6. Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable?
  7. Are you consistent day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year?

Go through that list, honestly answer each and evaluate it. Yes, there will be periods where an injury or life causes a setback or limits your training. Factor that into your goals as well. But a long, healthy running career is consistent, even through life’s inconsistencies.

Sometimes consistency is being really diligent with PT to recover from an injury. Other times, it’s recognizing that you’re in a period of life where it’s not reasonable to put in consistent training and manage your own expectations.

 

7 tips to increase your running speed

Looking at the self assessment questions above, here are seven tips to improve on each point.

1. Do you run only steady pace miles? –> Run intervals

You won’t get faster if you don’t practice running faster and really push yourself (more on that in #3). I first started running intervals on the treadmill mostly because I kept getting bored on the treadmill. And then I noticed how much my “fast” speed on the treadmill started improving and it motivated me to keep pushing the pace.

I don’t do anything formal in the beginning: just warmed up for about a mile and then started alternating between running fast for 30-60 seconds and running slower for 30-90 seconds. I also tried I increase my speed one notch with each fast interval. My fast pace was anywhere from 5:45 – 6:30 min/mile and recovery around 8:30-8:45 min/mile.

track speed workAdidas running shoes (review here)

2. Are all your speed workouts the same distance and pace? –> Vary your workouts

Now my speed work is much more structured and much more specific for whatever goal race is next on the calendar. I may do some short intervals, tempo runs, long runs with pace changes. Lots of variety creates different stimulus, which drives change and improvement.

3. How hard do you really push? –> Run with runners who are faster than you. 

I never really set out to improve my running speed or race times. It was fun when it happened, but when I started seeing big improvements in pace and race times is when I started running with people much faster than me.

And yes, a lot of the time, it sucked running with them. I was frustrated that their “easy” pace was killer for me and embarrassed when I had to ask them to slow down or just go on without me.

But my ego is such that I worked my butt off to keep up as best I could and, eventually, my easy pace re-calibrated. My easy pace used to be a 9:30 – 11:00 min/mile and now my easy pace for longer runs is around 8:15-8:30 min/mile. (If I’m marathon training, my recovery runs will still tip into 9 and 10 minute miles.)

4. How well do you recover? –>  Stop getting injured

If you are constantly battling an injury, it’s going to be hard to push yourself while running. And if you can’t push yourself, it’ll be hard to make improvements. While I still struggle with injuries from time to time (plantar fasciitis most recently), I’ve learned to address aches/pains sooner than later.

I try to be proactive and somewhat regular with yoga, dry needling, chiropractic adjustments, strength training (particularly core and hip work), and massage. Read more tips for how I keep injuries at bay here.

And don’t forget to get some sleep. Runners need 7-9 hours per night. More and more research is showing that sleep is the MOST important recovery tool out there.

5. What does your diet look like? What about alcohol intake? –> Evaluate your diet.

I used to not think much about what I ate before and after a run. I always had something, but I wasn’t very intentional about it. While I try not to obsess over food, I am very intentional with my diet to fuel my running goals — particularly right before and after a run.

When I’m training for a big goal, I don’t drink alcohol. You can read more about how I balance alcohol with living life and marathon training here. Even when I’m not in training mode, I rarely have more than 1-2 glasses a week. If I drink more than that (in terms of number of days or glasses at one time), I really feel it on my runs and I’m significantly more tired throughout the day. So it’s just not worth it to me.

Over the years my weight  has fluctuated. But, the moral of the story is if you aren’t at a healthy weight — either too heavy or too thin — it may limit your potential. Find a healthy weight where you feel good and makes sense for your body type. Lighter does NOT always equal faster. It can also equal injuries and more serious problems as it relates to your relationship with food.

6. Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable? –> Learn to embrace discomfort

I used to have the motto that I run because I enjoy it and if I push too hard, I won’t enjoy it. And that motto was fine for a time.

But then I wanted to get faster and that motto can’t apply when working on speed. I had to learn to deal with discomfort from pushing the pace and also know the difference between discomfort and pain. Now, I almost always prefer a workout to a steady state run.

Running a race will also help you learn to embrace discomfort. You’ll push yourself harder in a race than you will on a regular training run so this is especially helpful if you just don’t like pushing yourself. Plus, you’ll be energized by the running community, which helps you stay motivated and excited about running.

I often run tune-up races leading up to a goal race to practice pushing myself when I’m tired and to practice logistics before the big race, which helps with nerves.

And when I inevitably start to fatigue, here’s what helps me cope during extra hard workouts or races:

  • visualizing how good it feels when I beat my PR
  • channeling any stress I have into the pain
  • reminding myself that it SHOULD feel hard, that the paces should NOT come easily
  • repeating mantras

My favorite training mantra is “This is what you’re here for.” For race day, I like “I trained for this feeling.” and “The faster I run, the sooner I’m done.”

7. Are you consistent? –> Recognize and celebrate improvements along the way

If you aren’t consistent, it’s going to be hard to see those big breakthroughs. But, it’s hard to realize that you are working towards a big breakthrough when you’re just doing the day to day things without seeing how it’s building over weeks, months and years.

That’s where having a long-term perspective can be helpful and where recognizing improvements along the way will help you stay motivated before those big throughs.

You may drop big chunks of time off your races in the beginning. Or your may not. You may be at the point where even 3 seconds faster is a win. Or maybe the win on any given day is remembering to stretch after every workout. You may run significantly slower in the heat but you still get out there and run in it. (And you WILL run slower in the heat – don’t let it discourage you! Read more about that here.) Don’t let summer running discourage you!

Part of the key to staying motivated long-term is to remember WHY you started running in the first place and celebrating along the way, not only at big breakthroughs.

marathon training plan

Running leggings | shoes | Patagonia jacket | Lululemon long-sleeved shirt | socks

A final thought on what else has helped my speed: age + wisdom

I got older. I’ve read before that women reach their peak in running from about 28-38. It might be a coincidence since I’ve also starting training harder as I’ve gotten older, but it seems to be happening.

But more importantly, I’ve gotten wiser (most of the time) and listen to my body when it really needs more recovery or more fuel — or to be pushed a little harder.

It’s taken years of hard work but I still believe I have more speed in me. And that’s exciting. And you probably have more in you too.

summer running ideas

What have you done to increase your speed? Which of these seven things do you could work on?

 

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  • Clare @ Fitting It All In
    at

    Love this! Motivation for me to push it. I want to PR in my halfs this spring!

  • BroccoliHut
    at

    Great tips! I’ll definitely have to give treadmill intervals a try–I’d love to flatten my tummy a bit.
    I also had never heard that about a woman’s running peak. I’m glad to hear it, as I thought my speedy days were behind me–now I have something to look forward to, perhaps?

  • Lauren
    at

    I know speed is an area of my running I could afford to work on. Distance is no problem, but it only goes so far (no pun intended). I know the things I need to do, but I always seem to comfortable with my steady, long pace. Time to bust out some intervals. And maybe a new running partner? 🙂

  • Anne
    at

    Those are wonderful tips!
    #1 did wonders for me, and #5 is very powerful and something I definately can work on!

  • Meghan
    at

    Love this! I always thought fast running was something out of my reach, but you make it sound a little more approachable!! I also think #5 is a big one for me and #1 has always intimidated me.

  • J @ semplicemente .... J
    at

    … Oh my I am 44 yikes past my running prime. :). Great post. For me, I really need to start dealing with the discomfort.

  • Sharla
    at

    Thank you for these tips. My first 5K was 24:08 and now I want to train for a 1/2. My pace has slowed and I think it’s mainly due to the opposite of 2 & 5 – I gained weight and I haven’t really been pushing myself! Ha! Hoping my new Garmin will be inspiration, but I’m definitely going to start doing some interval training again. Any other tips for increasing mileage?

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      My Garmin really helped inspire me to pick up the pace. For increasing mileage, I found that running with friends helped a lot because I wasn’t so focused on how long I had been out there and just enjoyed my time with them.

  • christina
    at

    28 must be the magic age, bc I’ve been kicking ass this year too. I attribute my faster speeds to intervals, running more often, half marathon training, and apparently age! 🙂

  • Brittany @ Proteinandpumps
    at

    I think running intervals definitely helps! They helped me prepare or my first 5k.

  • Ashley
    at

    I definitely got faster when I got more and more bored on the treadmill and started doing intervals. And when I learned that I could survive running at an uncomfortable pace. That part was hard. But beating PRs really is such a boost. Not near as fast as you though! My 5k PR is 24:48.

  • Michelle @ Eat Move Balance
    at

    I agree with you on the intervals. They have always helped me build a bit more speed, and they’re fun when working out on a treadmill!

  • [email protected]
    at

    These are such great tips! I really need to start doing some interval training and speed training. I’ve been “enjoying” running for a few months, but it’s time to kick it in gear with a marathon coming up that I’d like to race in.

  • Mrs Type A
    at

    Interesting tips. I’m far, FAR slower than you (my PR is more than 10 minutes slower than you!) so of course, I’d like to get faster. I’ve ran intervals on the treadmill many times before but it doesn’t seem to make me faster for longer than that interval. When I go to do a longer, more steady run I still have to slow down to my normal pace in order to go for any distance. Maybe if I do it more consistently??

    • Rebecca @ cakeinacrockpot
      at

      I found that doing intervals regularly, about 2x a week, really helped my speed & stamina. How do you do your interval training? My sessions last 30 min and i generally do 1 min @ easy pace then 1 min “sprint” and repeat. So basically I’ll run at a 10min pace then an 8 min pace and repeat. Or if I’m feeling energetic I might try a faster pace for my sprints.

      I hope that helps a little 🙂

  • Rebecca @ cakeinacrockpot
    at

    ThiS is a great list! I have also found that running with others and learning to push thru disconfort has helped me immensely with my running (and with other fitness pursuits). Nike got it right with Just Do It, and be open to how far your body will take you!

  • Dawn
    at

    Thanks for the tips! These are awesome and timely for me right now as I am prepping for May races! I have noticed that intervals on the track and on the hills and stairs, where I push my heart rate up for periods at a time, are what are making me stronger and faster. It certainly makes logical sense that dropping some pounds will increase one’s speed….although I hadn’t thought of that in awhile! Thanks for the post! Happy running in 2013 and thanks for the motivating energy!

  • Addie Ohrn
    at

    I loved this post not because I’m trying to be a fast runner but because I think in general there are just good work out tips in here. I would love to see what one of your treadmill interval training looks like. Maybe you could email me? 🙂

  • Kim 2s4o
    at

    Great suggestions! One of my 2013 goals is to PR in a race (not pinpointing what distance) so these are really helpful ideas 🙂

  • Sadie
    at

    You read my mind! One of my fitness goals for the year is to become a faster runner. I’ve been toying with intervals on the treadmill, but after seeing that note on the belly fat, I’ll definitely be more diligent about it!

  • Nicole
    at

    I agree with #1 for sure. I hate intervals mostly because of #5… So maybe that’s a sign? 🙂 thanks for sharing!

  • Laura @Fit Running Mama
    at

    I totally agree about age making you faster– I’m 32 and I’ve noticed my speed increasing over the years! This is a great post

  • Claire @ Health Nut Claire
    at

    Great tips! After being a long distance runner all through high school I definitely agree with you. Now if I could just beat my PR’s from high school…oy.

  • Gules
    at

    when I started running I got discouraged running with people faster than me,but I can see how that can help. I’m just getting back into running ( my last race was 2 years ago) and so I’m going to focus on #2 and #5 for sure. I think I stopped running because I felt I was slow and it wasn’t enjoyable ( bad excuse! ) so these tips are perfect for me as I start my journey again! Thanks!

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      good luck as you start again! don’t let being “slow” deter you – everyone’s pace is different. what matters is what feels good and right to you!

  • Michelle (The Runner's Plate)
    at

    I ran more mileage than I ever have (peaking at 105 miles in a week) and broke all my PRs this summer! (As a disclaimer: I am NOT saying that everyone should do this!) But I do strongly believe in running as many miles as your body can tolerate.

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      that’s a good point. sometimes you really do need to up your mileage so your body learns to handle longer distances, higher discomfort and then subsequently improve in all other areas, like speed and efficiency. i still am in awe you ran that much!!

  • Ashley M. [at] (never home)maker
    at

    Great job with bringing down your times, girl! Your PRs are right around my goals for this year. I definitely think they are within reach. I just need to get used to the discomfort again! Being pregnant made me a baby 🙂

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      haha. I think having a baby would make me a baby. 🙂 Good luck with your PRs!! you and your husband are so motivating at making me want to push myself in running more!

  • Norman Cole
    at

    If you really want to Increase running speed you should check out the workouts and drills at King Sports Training. They have a bunch of things that can help you become faster, as well as more agile. They have really been a big help to me.

  • [email protected]
    at

    This is so helpful, because I feel like running is finally starting to click, after beginning in 2010. Injury after injury and waking up that weight loss is going to be a key component helped me to get back to basics; start watching what I eat, blog to stay committed to the cause, and keep up with my training. Thanks!

  • Eva
    at

    Hi Teri, thanks for directing me to this post. I can relate to #5. up until now, my mantra has pretty much been “run because you like it”. but now i want to take it more seriously and that requires tougher goals. i think the biggest hurdle will be shifting perspective to channel that competitive edge and learn to run through the discomfort. thanks for the inspiration!

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      I understand – it was a big shift for me too! Now I have to remind myself that not every run needs to be hard and I should have “just for fun” runs too. 🙂

  • Annie
    at

    I love this post, and I’ve come back and re-read it several times! I am not a fast runner – but would like to start shaving some minutes off my PRs – I think #5 is the hardest! It’s so motivating to see my pace decrease, though!

  • Harparamjot
    at

    Nice will follow.

  • Rachel
    at

    GREAT post! I am going to be the intervals and running with faster people are the two main things that have attributed to your speed. I did a program a couple of years ago through a sports performance center where I live and everything was based on my hart rate zones, but the jist was I had some run days with intervals, and some where I ran at tempo speed (i.e. the days where you are running with faster people), plus having more rest days (turns out, running less is good!). Congrats! It’s kind of addicting once you realize how much you can improve, isn’t it?!

  • Dale Magnin
    at

    Did you reach your goals?
    I am using your ideas at age 62 (M) to try and regain speed that I lost from casual running. I used to run 2:34. Thanks for your ideas.

  • Lauren
    at

    These are such great tips!

    xx
    Lauren Elizabeth
    Petite in Pearls

  • Mina
    at

    I once read read something that said women peak 7 years after starting to seriously run. I ran on treadmills in my 30s and ran my first half at 40. Since then Ive avoided treadmills like the plague, lol, multiple halfs (PRd at 46 with 1:37), two fulls , NYC and then Boston this year where I got another BQ. I’ll be 50 in 6 months. I’m really looking forward to this new age group but also really need to shift my mindset. I still want to run well, and think I can still win/place in my age group, but my PR days may be over. I think, who knows. Recovery is really hard for me. Really hard. But I think that’s going to be key for me continuing to run strong at my advanced age lol

    • Teri [a foodie stays fit]
      at

      I really love learning more about your running journey! It’s so inspiring since you seem to keep improving as you age! I mean, 1:37 half at age 46?!?!!? AMAZING.

      And why is recovery so hard for us? 😉

      thanks for always reading and commenting Mina!
      xo