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 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.
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:
- Do you run only steady pace miles?
- Are all your speed workouts the same distance and pace?
- How hard do you really push in your workouts?
- Are you taking time for recovery? How many hours do you sleep each night?
- What does your diet look like? What about alcohol intake?
- Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable?
- 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.
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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.
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.
What have you done to increase your speed? Which of these seven things do you could work on?
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