Becoming a better runner doesn’t have to mean running faster. But let’s face it, setting a goal to shave seconds or minutes off of your race time and seeing the clock when you cross the finish line feels good—like, “hold your arms over your head and make a goofy face for the camera” good!
If you’re a newer runner, focus first on building your base and perfecting your form before moving on to speed training. If you’re running 15-18 miles per week with a long run of at least five miles, making a few small changes to your routine can help you run faster and stronger.
1. Practice Running Faster
It’s simple, but not easy: If you want to run faster, practice running faster! Once a week, do speed work like tempo runs (20 minutes of steady running at 20-30 seconds slower than your current 5k pace), mile repeats, hill repeats, or fartleks (short bursts of speed with recovery intervals). These workouts push you out of your physical and mental comfort zones and train your body to work harder. And if you’re a tech geek with a GPS watch, you can see (and share on social media) your faster-than-usual paces to keep yourself motivated and supported!
2. Lose Weight
Joanna Golub, nutrition editor at Runner’s World magazine, says that for every pound you lose, you can cut about two seconds off of your mile time. Over longer distances, that can add up to minutes. Golub cautions against drastically cutting calories though, as it can affect performance and may lead to injury. Aim to lose body fat by making small, sustainable changes to your diet.
3. Strength Train
Runners tend to think “I run all the time, so I have strong legs.” Not necessarily. Running can improve cardiovascular fitness, but the repetitive motion does not stress the muscles to adapt, causing runners to often have weak glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles. Add one or two short strength training sessions per week, focusing on the hips and core. These leg exercises from Anytime Fitness blogger Luke Andrus are a great option. Strength training can improve your form so you will run more efficiently and avoid injury.
4. Pick Your Own Path
It can get overwhelming searching the internet or asking friends for running advice. Like many things, there is not one tried-and-true approach to running faster, and what works for one person may not lead to improvements for you. Do some research and select a method, then put it into practice! If you don’t see results over time, try something else. Whatever you do, keep running toward your goal!