In 2014 nearly 19 million people in the U.S. completed a road race. If you are reading this, you are likely one of those 19 million. Do you want to complete that race next year a little faster? Push yourself a little harder? Determining what to do to run faster can leave you feeling really confused. You come across complicated workouts, programs that guarantee better results after just a few weeks, and often conflicting training theories. Running should be a simple activity, but, for the reasons listed and many others, it often feels incredibly complicated. You want a straight forward answer for how to run faster. There are two incredibly simple solutions.
How to run faster
If you want to be good at something you have to practice. If you want to improve you have to deliberately practice… a lot! Want to be a better writer? Write everyday. Want to learn a new language? Speak it everyday. It takes time and consistent effort to get better at things. Running is no different.
Consistency will mean something different for everyone. Ultimately, it means you run on more days than you don’t. You have to get out the door and run more than you have before. You cannot take weeks and months off between runs. You cannot decide to start running a few weeks before a race every year. Not if you want to get FASTER!
With consistency comes VOLUME. How much running are you doing? The more consistent you are the more running you are going to do. More days running means more miles run. Generally speaking the more you run the faster you will get. If you have gotten to the point where you are running 5-7 days per week then consider running a bit more. Seriously, unless you are running over 100 mile per week you will likely improve just by running more.
The only way to be consistent is to avoid injuries. Everyone is going to get injured from time to time, it’s the nature of the game and there are some things you can’t control. The best way to not get injured is to become totally in tune with your body. You have to listen to what it’s telling you. Does something not feel right for a few days? Stop running. Do a different activity that doesn’t hurt or take some time off. The earlier you catch a problem the faster you can deal with it and the sooner you will be running pain free again.
Staying healthy is where adequate sleep, proper diet, improved strength, and living a healthy lifestyle all come into play. These things are important but not the most important thing to becoming a faster runner. They all play a part that leads to consistent running. Whatever you have to do to consistently run most days and stay healthy is what YOU have to figure out. It is the most important piece to running faster.
Everyone is different. Maybe to stay healthy you find out you need to spend a few days a week doing something running-like – something that gets your heart rate up like running and for a similar amount of time. Things like biking, swimming or elliptical-ing are all activities that can mimic the aerobic effort of running and people have used to improve as a runner while lowering the risk of injury!
Another key to consistency is PATIENCE. Runners have a difficult time thinking long-term. When you are in the moment, each run feels like it’s the most important run of all-time. Taking a few days off of running or even a week or two is a better option than missing 8-12 weeks with a serious injury because you weren’t patient and didn’t listen to your body.
Think about it. Running is cumulative. It is a lot like investing. A long-term approach has been the tried and true method of the brightest and wealthiest investors. Running is no different. Each run you complete builds on the last, each week of consistent running builds on the weeks before that and each year of consistent running builds on the years before. It’s cumulative. Consider running like compounding interest.
Warren Buffett said, “My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” Einstein called compound interest the 8th wonder of the world. Without diving too much into a financial lesson, compound interest is the “interest on your interest” and it is how you really start to build wealth. Well running is the same way. If you consistently put miles in the “bank” your fitness will grow and grow over time. The more often you put money in the bank the faster your fitness can grow. Yes, you will slow down as you get older whereas with compounding interest you will continue to get wealthier as your money grows, but the depth of your fitness will continue to grow and you will reap the rewards of the years of “miles in the bank” just the same.
Just like how get rich schemes are nearly always too good to be true running is the same. If someone tells you, you can become a better, faster runner by running a few minutes a day a few times a week all red flags should go up. It takes time and a lot of practice to become a faster runner. It’s a long, often times hard path to running faster and getting the most out of yourself. But just remember, all things that are worthwhile take work.
Ok, so you are consistently running and your volume is more than you have done before. You are well on your way to becoming a faster runner and simply running more consistently might do the trick, but there is one more thing to do to take your running MUCH farther – Variation.
If you are running everyday (or most days) but all your runs are at the same pace for the same distance how can you expect to ever run faster than that pace? The key is variation. Every run you do can and should be something different than the last one.
Some days you should run fast. This can be fast for an extended period of time, or short bursts of fast. Some days, when you are tired, you should run slow. Some days you should run long. Some days you should run short – again when you’re tired. Some days you should sprint after or during the run. It’s good to sprint sometimes! I’m not going to dive into specific workouts you can do because for 95% of you out there simply varying the running you do will be enough. You will be amazed at how effective this is.
Actually, I’ll give you two “workouts” that will make you faster over time. Most of you will be disappointed. I’m sorry. Not really though.
- Workout #1 – You feel good today so run at an easy to moderate pace for 10-20 minutes then at your choosing run hard for a few minutes (1-5 min), then slow down and recover for a few minutes (1-5 min), when you feel ready, repeat – run hard for a few minutes (1-5 min) easy for a few minutes (1-5 min). Continue this until you are pleasantly tired. Then run easy for 10-20 minutes. Many of you will recognize this a fartlek, Swedish for “Speed Play.” You can call it whatever you like. Doing this will hit a lot of different paces and gives you a lot of variety.
- Workout #2 – You are feeling good and decide to run 10 miles. For the first 5 miles you run easy – moderate. When you hit the turnaround point or halfway mark start picking it up and run to the barn (home). Just run at a pace that is pleasantly hard, a pace that will leave you wanting more but a bit out of breath. Some of you might call this a tempo run. Again, it is a change of pace than your normal, easy run.
If you want to run your next race at a specific pace, then unsurprisingly you will have to do some running at that pace. This is called SPECIFICITY.
I know most of this sounds too simple, but it’s what training to run faster boils down to. Okay, so you ask, what about the 5 sets of 4×400 with 1 minute between intervals and 5 minutes between sets or 1600, 1200, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 with 2-minute rest between each interval or (insert complicated sounding workout here)? All that stuff is great,but think about what you are actually doing. You are likely running at a pace close to your goal race pace. Plus, aren’t all of those kind of like the first workout I described. Run hard for a few minutes then easy for a few minutes and repeat?
I’ve overly simplified this stuff for a reason. Why? Because running is simple. For most runners, you can get better and faster by running more often (CONSISTENCY) and running at different paces on a day to day basis (VARIATION). There are obviously more intricacies to training and much research has been done to find optimal training, but again, for most people, this is what will work.
What do you think is most important to become a faster runner? Write an article to help other runners or comment below.