We would all like to be able to run faster; however the reality is that for most of us it not only takes a lot of hard work, but also more intelligent training. Hopefully we can help you with the more intelligent training, the hard work unfortunately is up to you! We should also state here that this article is aimed at endurance runners rather than sprinters, as that would require separate training that would be specific to sprinting and even specific to your sprint discipline.
The two pronged approach
Putting aside transient factors like body weight and diet. The key to being able to run faster comes down to two main factors:
- Your anaerobic endurance – The better this is, the more efficient you will be running outside of your aerobic zone and therefore the longer you’ll be able to keep running in that uncomfortable pain cave that occurs when you run fast.
- Your running technique – Although this breaks down into muscular flexibility, strength and technique; it’s still crucial to faster running.
How to run faster – Anaerobic Endurance
The metabolism behind anaerobic exercise is often misunderstood. Many believe that you are either working anaerobically or aerobically and so many train just over their anaerobic threshold; however in reality the body is only working a small percentage anaerobically at this point and will still be getting a lot of it’s energy aerobically. In order to really train anaerobically then you need to be working at max effort, or as close to it as possible.
Max effort training
One of the best tools a runner has in their quiver for training at max effort is sprint reps, this is where you perform a repetition of a set distance of sprinting at maximum pace alternating with a period of rest or submaximal effort running. So for example you could sprint 200 meters followed by a 200 meter walk back to the startline; that would be one rep. You can vary the reps and distances of both the sprint rep and the rest period to challenge the body. If you have a local athletics track then it makes sprint reps much easier to measure as the track is of a standardised distance. Get in touch with a local athletics coach for expert advice on exactly the sort of sprint training that will suit your ability level.
Start small. If you haven’t tried sprint training before, other than maybe the school athletics competition, start with smaller distances and longer rest periods and also try some sprint drills rather than simply sprinting alone. Here is a good video on sprint drills from Youtube:
Warm up properly. Whilst you may get away with occasionally not warming up on normal runs, you will be putting yourself at a much higher risk of injury as sprint training is a lot more explosive and shocks the muscles a lot harder. So spend a significant portion of your time warming up and performing sprint drills before moving onto full sprint reps.
Have your sprint sessions after your rest day. You want to run your sprint sessions when you are well rested and have the most energy, so ideally after your rest day/days. This will also reduce your chance of injury.
Aim for at least two sessions a month. Obviously going out and doing one sprint session won’t make you any faster. You need to include sprint sessions into your regular training, in order to give your body chance to adapt and improve. So ideally include one session a week, if not then at least every other week.
Lactate Threshold Training
So whilst sprint training is an excellent tool in activating your nervous system to make you a better runner at pace. You still need to get used to running for sustained periods of time with less oxygen than you need to run comfortably. This is where submaximal training comes in.
Race Splits – This is running at your race pace for shorter “reps” with rest intervals in between. So you could run a 5k at full 5k race pace but split into 400 meter intervals, with 400 meter rest between each interval. This has the benefit of pushing your body into it’s lactate threshold, whilst keeping it bearable enough to do it as part of your weekly training.
Tempo Runs – This is a run at your lactate threshold for a sustained period without rest. So your muscles become better adapted at dealing with the bi-products of running at a pace that causes metabolic fatigue. In order to gauge the pace you should aim to run with your heart rate at 85-90% of your maximum heart rate. Using a good heart rate monitor will make judging this very easy.
How to run faster – Running Technique
In order to run faster you need to be able to increase your cadence whilst maintaining your optimum foot strike and efficiency. Doing this comes down to increasing muscular flexibility and strength, here are a few training exercises you can focus on to achieve this:
Plyometrics – High intensity jump training will increase the explosive strength of your legs.
Resistance Training – Using weighted resistance training you can increase the overall strength of your legs which will in turn improve their ability to turn a faster cadence.
Hill Sprints – Running uphill offers a much greater degree of difficulty and the opportunity to vary the difficulty based on the length and degree of inclination.
PNF Stretching – This is a type of active stretching where you cycle between stretching the muscle and contracting the muscle and then stretching the muscle as you relax from the contraction.
For more in depth advice that is specific to your running style then consult a running coach and/or biomechanist who can look at your specific individual needs and advise what you need to work on; as the above exercises are very general and your running gait is very unique.
So if you want to run faster over distance then you both need to train your cardiovascular and nervous systems to handle running at your lactate threshold whilst simultaneously training your running style and muscles to move faster and through greater ranges of motion more efficiently. You won’t see results overnight, but with dedication and commitment to your programme you’ll be surprised at the possible results.
Do you have any stories of improving your speed over distance? If so comment below to help inspire your fellow runners.