Are you a beginner runner who wants to learn how to run faster? Whether you're totally new to running, you're a more experienced athlete looking to beat your personal best, or you want to qualify for the Boston Marathon or another important event, being able to get faster is a goal most runners eventually set for themselves.
In this post, we'll cover some simple but effective expert tips that can help you get faster at running. We'll start by assessing your current running ability in terms of paces and heart rates. Then we'll discuss how to incorporate low heart rate running, interval training, strength training, and proper running technique into your routine.
We'll also talk about the importance of rest and recovery in helping you increase your running speed. By following these running tips and techniques, you'll be well on your way to leaving your sluggish days behind becoming a faster, stronger runner.
Here’s an outline of what you’ll find in this article, you'll need all of the following to build speed:
- Calculate Your Current Run Training Zones
- Add Low Heart Rate Running Into Your Plan
- Add Interval Workouts To Improve Your Speed
- Strengthen Your Muscles
- Capitalize On Proper Run Technique
- Don’t Skimp on Your Rest
STEP 1: Calculate Run Training Zones
Before you start your journey to becoming faster, it's essential to assess your current running ability -- specifically, figuring out your paces and heart rate zones. This will give you a baseline to work from and help you create a structured run training plan.
Calculate Your Running Paces
To begin, you'll need to perform a running time trial to measure your current speed. The time trial can be as short as 1.5-2 miles (2-3 km). We recommend keeping the time trial short to minimize how much recovery you'll need after, so don't run longer than necessary for this test. To measure your time accurately, use something reliable like a GPS running watch or go to a track with a pace clock.
This is an example time trial athletes use in our app (this is in our marathon training plan):
Once you have your time, enter it into the pace calculator below to determine your run training paces. While it may be tempting to set your paces based on a goal time, it's crucial to train based on where you are now rather than where you want to be. This will make sure your training paces are set correctly for your current fitness level and provide just enough challenge to make progress.
Calculate Your Running Heart Rate
On top of measuring your speed, it's also critical to evaluate your heart rate training zones. To do this, we recommend using the Karvonen Method, which is nearly as accurate as lab testing for establishing heart rate training zones.
You'll need to know your maximum heart rate and resting heart rate to use the Karvonen calculator. So, on a different day than you do your running time trial, perform a max heart rate running test (preferably on a track or a smooth, paved path/street) to determine your maximum heart rate.
You'll also need your resting heart rate number, which you can take first thing in the morning just after you've woken up.
Here is the Maximum Heart Rate test we prescribe to the athletes using our app:
Now that you have your maximum and resting heart rate numbers, you can enter them into the calculator below to get your personalized heart rate training zones.
By knowing your current paces and heart rates, you'll be able to set realistic goals and track your progress as you work towards building speed. Remember, it's essential to be honest with yourself about your current ability and to set achievable goals that will help you progress steadily and safely.
STEP 2: Low Heart Rate Running
Low heart rate running is a type of training involving running at a low intensity for an extended period of time. The goal is to keep your heart rate at a certain level, typically around 50-70% of your maximum heart rate, to improve your overall endurance and efficiency as a runner.
Low heart rate running should make up approximately 80% of your total training time. You might wonder how an easy run could possibly make you faster. By running at a low intensity, you're allowing your body to build up its mitochondria (the energy producers of your muscles). With more mitochondria, your muscles can produce more energy, allowing you to run faster and for longer periods of time.
Make Your Weekly Long Run A Low Heart Rate Run
One of the main runs of the week for low heart rate training is the long run. This is a vital component of any training plan, as it helps to build endurance and improve overall running performance. By keeping the intensity low and going at a slower pace (also known as your Zone 2 or Maffetone heart rate zone), you'll be able to go for a longer distance without overexerting yourself, which will pay off in the long term.
STEP 3: Interval Workouts
Interval workouts are one of the best ways to run faster; they involve alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. Incorporating speed workouts is the main way to improve your speed and performance.
Most of these sessions will be done at moderate to high-intensity levels. These levels are required because while low-intensity/low heart rate runs help build mitochondria, running at a faster pace teaches your mitochondria how to create energy really well.
By pushing yourself to run fast in short bursts, you're challenging your body to improve energy production and efficiency, ultimately making you a faster runner.
Here are a couple of examples of speed workouts from marathon training plans in our app:
Fuel Your Intense Workouts Properly To Get Faster
It's important to fuel properly before intense run workouts. A carb-based meal will help to boost your blood glucose levels and give your muscles the fuel they need to fire at a high level. Without the proper fuel, you may be unable to push yourself to your full potential during these hard and fast sessions.
A carb-based meal could be something like oatmeal, toast, fruit, or a bagel.
In our app, we provide specific guidance for our athletes in every single workout on what type of fuel and how many calories to consume to get the very best results from every session.
Here's an example of the nutrition recommendations for a fast workout from our app (the recommendations are personalized to athletes based on pace, gender, and weight).
Keep Your Workouts Interesting with Different Types of Intervals
There are many different types of interval workouts that you can incorporate into your speed training. Some examples include 15-60 second sprints (short bursts of all-out effort followed by periods of rest), run hills with interval repeats or hill sprints (running up and down a hill for a set number of repetitions), and fartleks (a more unstructured form of interval training that involves incorporating bursts of faster running into a regular run).
As a general guideline, you should build from short, very intense intervals with a large amount of rest when you begin your training to longer intervals with shorter rest. For example, a person in the Northern Hemisphere could use these guidelines for their speed work:
STEP 4: Strength Training for Runners
It's a common question: if running is a cardiovascular exercise, what does building muscle have to do with it? Many studies have shown that incorporating strength training into your plan can improve your run performance and make you a faster, more efficient runner.
For example, one study showed that strength training improved athletes' running economy in swimming, cycling, and running, regardless of their experience level. Improving your running economy will help you run faster with less energy.
Strong Muscles Make Your Body More Durable
You're putting a lot of stress on your structure when you run. Strong muscles can help you better handle that stress and reduce your risk of injury. Strong muscles are also more efficient at producing force, which means you'll be able to run faster with less effort.
Better Run Form Means Faster Run Paces
Lifting weights can also improve your running form and technique. By working on your core stability and lower body strength, you'll be better able to maintain good posture and proper form while running, which can help you to run more efficiently and faster.
We provide guided video strength workouts in our app to complement our endurance workouts. This is an example of a speed-building exercise from the guided strength workouts in our app:
STEP 5: Beginner Run Technique
We mentioned proper running form and technique briefly in the last section, but it's important enough to warrant its own section. Proper running technique is crucial for any runner looking to pick up the pace. Your form can significantly impact how well you run, and minor changes to your technique can make a big difference in how fast you're able to go.
Having perfect form isn't your goal, everyone has their own unique running style. Just try to make small adjustments to your technique and be mindful of how your body moves.
Head Up, Back Straight, and Other Posture Tips for Free Speed
One of the keys to good running form is maintaining good posture. Important posture cues to keep in mind while you run are:
Your Cadence Impacts Your Run Speed
Another critical aspect of proper running technique is your foot strike on the ground. Your running cadence is the speed of your foot turnover. Studies show that if experienced runners take as few as 3% more strides per minute and 8% more for new runners, they will run faster while using the same amount of energy.
When running, try to land as softly as possible (don't "stomp down") with each foot strike. This will help you to conserve energy and reduce your risk of injury, while also allowing you to move more quickly.
STEP 6: Running Recovery
As a runner, it's vital to remember rest is just as important as your actual workouts. Your body needs time to recover after hard workouts to progress and get stronger.
It can be tempting to want to work harder and think that's what you need to do to run faster. You might even ask, "How on earth can I get faster by lying around?!" But it's important to remember this:
Stress + Rest = Growth.
Your speed will only increase if you allow your body the proper time to rest and recover from the workouts you do.
How To Incorporate Rest & Recovery To Gain Speed
Scheduling regular rest days for yourself (and sticking to them!) is one of the best and easiest ways to ensure you're giving your body the recovery time it needs after strenuous workouts.
We know taking time off can be challenging for disciplined people to do, but your body will thank you with consistent improvements in your performance. You'll be better able to handle the demands of your training workouts when you're adequately rested.
Sometimes rest can be a 20-30 minute very easy jog on an "off-day," which falls into the category of "active recovery." But sometimes rest means actually taking a planned, or even unplanned, day off when the body is telling us it needs some time off. It's always important to listen to your body for cues that it needs some time to chill out.
In our app, we only expect people to complete 80% of their scheduled workouts; life and your body will get in the way, and missing a few workouts is a normal (even positive) part of following a training schedule.
Sleep Is Part of Proper Rest
Rest isn't just about taking a day off every week. It's important to make sure you're getting enough sleep at night too – aim for at least 7.5 hours per night. If one of our athletes reports hitting a plateau in their training, we always ask about their sleep habits first. Often, people who feel stuck in their training will report getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night; as soon as they commit to more sleep, they often find their progress picks back up.
If you have a particularly stressful life schedule, whether work-related or due to family demands, it may be necessary to cut back on your training to allow your body the recovery time it needs.
In this blog post, we discussed several strategies you can use to increase your speed when running. Here are the steps every runner can use to get faster at running:
If you want to become a faster runner, it's important to be consistent and patient in your training. It takes time and dedication, and staying committed is essential to see results.
It can be easy to get discouraged when you do not see immediate improvements, but progress takes time. Don't get frustrated if you do not see the results you want right away – keep pushing yourself, stay committed to your training, and you'll start to see progress.
Having a proper run training plan can make all the difference in your performance and enjoyment of running. We have run training plans for 5k and 10k races, half-marathons, marathons, 50 kilometer, 50 mile, and ultramarathon trail runs. Check them out here.