The key to running faster is really about running smarter. Anyone can learn to run faster, but knowing how to get there safely is the real trick. When we shock the body to build more running speed, we increase the likeness of injuries, so it’s imperative that we are smart about becoming fast.
There are three essential keys to running fast,
It comes down to fixing form breaks, adding jumps, and getting the body ready to run fast. Let's break each one of these bullet points down into easy to follow details.
BIOMECHANICS OF RUNNING
An efficient runner is a smooth runner. To run fast, think of the body like a bike where all of the components must work together. Starting from the head and working down, let’s go through the running technique checkmarks to see where we can improve the form breaks that are slowing us down.
HOW TO ASSESS YOUR CURRENT RUNNING FORM
- Setup a video camera to record the last 100 meters of a three-mile run. Be sure to sprint the last 100 meters.
- Sprint this 100 meters on a track or hard surface. We do not want to factor in uneven terrain when evaluating your current running form.
- The Head: Your head should be perfectly still, with no side-to-side, or up and down head movement. Head movements slow you down. If you see this form break, you can fix it by focusing your eyes on a spot in front of you and imagine there is a book on top of your head.
- The Face: Your face should not be tight. Your eyes and mouth should be slightly open, and your cheeks should be flopping.
- The Chin: Your chin should NOT be up in the air. If your chin is up in the air, you are fighting through pain, and this will slow you down. Cast your chin slightly down and never back when you are at the end of your run.
- The Shoulders: Shoulders should be down and not up by your ears. Running with high shoulders will cause a tight neck and back, causing more pain not less. Work to keep the shoulders loose and down.
- The Arms: Your arms should be working hard at the end of the race. The arm position should be at a 90-degree angle, with the hands coming up just under your chin, and your elbows are going straight back. Wild arms will cause a tired body to move all over the place.
- The Hands: Your hands and fingers should be loose, no clenching of a fist or creating stiff straight fingers. Stiff hands and fingers will cause slow arms. We need the arms to pump fast to help the body move faster through the finish line.
- The Body Lean: Your body should NOT be leaning back. If you lean back, you are fighting against yourself through the finish line. Instead, work to keep a slight forward lean and this will cause the legs to move and propel you through the end of the race.
- The Hips: Your hips should be up and not sinking. If you are sinking, lift your chest up, and that will naturally pull your hips into a better running position.
- The Feet: Your feet should be hitting the ground in a position under your hips. You do not want the feet to reach the ground too far out in front of your hips because it slows you down. Every last step needs to be efficient. The foot position is key to getting the leverage you need to claw the ground backward and propel the next foot position forward.
- The Toes: You should be running on your toes at the end of the race and not hitting the ground flat-footed. Hitting flat-footed causes jarring of the body, this not only makes you slower but can cause knee pain, shin splints, and back pain just to name a few.
From your video, look for the following form breaks:
It helps to look at the body like a perfect clothes hanger. The hook is our head. The top of the hanger represents our shoulders, and the bottom of the hanger represents our hips. At the end of the race, the head is up, shoulder down, and hips up under your shoulders. This technique is the proper form to run faster, but the other component that affects our speed is relaxation.
Remember no one is feeling particularly great at the end of a good race. Do not focus on any pain in your body, focus on good running form and cast the eyes three feet from the finish line. Too many runners get passed at the end of a race because they are decelerating too soon. Relax, and give it everything you have through the finish line.
PLYOMETRIC AND TRAINING INTERVALS
Plyometric exercises will give you the power you need to be faster and track workouts give you the speed you need to run faster for a longer period of time. You should only add these workouts if you have a solid six-week running base and have no lingering injuries.
Plyometrics are simply skipping, hopping and jumping like we did when we were kids. Little did we know that these exercises help to improve the functions of muscles, tendons, and nerves that help to run faster times. Plyometric exercises, also known as “plyos,” give our muscles an intense shock that ultimately increases muscle power and quickness. By adding box jumps, fast skips, and one-leg hops to your workouts, you will gain that explosive impulse step needed for uphill runs and the end-of-race strength.
Add “plyos,” track and uphill running interval training to your workout with one-day rest between each of these training sessions. Incorporating these workouts will kick the body into gear to move quicker and run faster. Interval training shocks the body by working the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Long runs work the slow muscle fibers, but to a sprint we need fast muscle fibers to fire first.
By adding treadmill and track interval running we get the legs to turnover quicker so we can run faster. The next component to help increase foot speed is adding steep hill workouts. Uphill running workouts will help gain the strength you need to increase your overall speed and endurance.
To lower your 5k time, plan ahead. It is important that we plan your workouts so that you are peaking on the day of your race and tapering off, so the body starts to crave a good race, and not dread one more 5k.
Remember quality is more important than quantity when working to run faster. If you train smart, and run with the correct biomechanics, your next 5k race will be a breeze. One more tip, on race day, stay relaxed, be confident, and enjoy passing the runners in front of you. You will notice more runners coming in behind you at the end of the race, so enjoy running through the finish line with that faster 5k time you just earned.
11 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR RUNNING SPEED
The ability to run faster comes naturally as your physical fitness increases, but if you want to accelerate the process, there are many ways to do so. To run faster, the most important thing you can do is avoid repeating the same run over and over. Running fitness is determined by the combined distance and intensity of running you do each week, and a week of training in which hard and easy runs are alternated will make you fitter and faster than a week of running in which every run is moderately challenging.
Your typical race training week should include six days of running, and one day of rest. Those six days should be split into three designated “hard” runs that include speed workouts and alternated by three slow, easy runs. This combination will help you run faster over time. The good news is that there are things you can do on both hard and easy days to improve your speed. Try these first five on your “hard days.”
Interval Workouts or “Fartleks”
- Interval training, also known by the Swedish term “Fartleks” is the simple practice of alternating between fast and slow. The simplest way to do this is to alternate between running at a sprinting pace for 30 to 60 seconds and then at a jogging pace for two to three minutes. You can also do a mid range interval workout, where you run at a tempo pace for 3-4 minutes, then at a jogging pace for 7-8 minutes. Intervals can be done on a track, a treadmill, or on pretty much any route using a stopwatch.
- While distance runners don’t typically sprint during a race or competition, including a little sprinting in your training will make you a faster distance runner overall. Unlike an interval workout, a sprint workout should alternate between as-fast-as-you-possibly-can running, to a rest period of standing or walking. Sprints can be done by time or distance. The easiest way to do a sprint workout is to do a pyramid style. For example:
- 100 meter sprint – 100 meter walk
- 200 m. sprint – 200 m. walk
- 400m. sprint – 400m. walk
- 200m. sprint – 200m. walk
- 100 m. sprint – 100m. walk
- Running on hills is an easy way to add intensity to your workout, and a great way to get faster. Specifically, running uphill develops aerobic capacity, endurance and leg strength, while running downhill improves leg “stiffness” and running economy. The best way to utilize hills as a speed workout, is to run up them as fast as you can, and jog back down. You can also incorporate hill running on your easy days, by simply running on a hilly course. No matter where you incorporate hills, adding them to your weekly schedule will help you become a stronger and faster runner over time.
- RunnersWorld.com put together a really handy list of five different types of hill workouts.
- Stair running is a lot like hill running, but harder. Stairs force you to work against gravity, building strength and power in your legs and core simultaneously, helping you become faster, faster. Any staircase will do, but the longer the better. An empty stadium or a parking garage make perfect places for a stair workout. We go into further depth of the benefits of running stairs here.
- Tempo runs are a great way to work on increasing your speed. A “tempo pace” is a pace that is faster than you feel comfortable at, but still able to sustain for a long period of time. Some people call this “race pace,” the point is to challenge and pace yourself simultaneously. You should be breathing hard enough that holding a full conversation is difficult (if not impossible), and you should feel tired and out of breath by the end.
- The idea behind a tempo run is to condition your body to perform past its lactate threshold (the point where it begins to fatigue); by doing so, you are training your body to perform faster for longer distances. When starting out, try a 10-minute tempo run, and over time, allow yourself to build up to 20 minutes; aim to incorporate a tempo run into your routine every seven to 10 days.
The following six ways can be used to help increase your running speed on easy or cross training days.
Add Weight & Resistance
- Adding weight and resistance to an easy workout can help you develop stronger muscles to run faster. You can add weight by wearing a weighted vest or tight backpack, pushing a weighted stroller, or, if you’re really serious, using a running parachute (these running parachutes are relatively inexpensive). Adding resistance is also a good way to improve muscle capacity, and is easiest to do by utilizing cross training techniques like running in deep water or using a stationary bike at a high resistance setting.
- Running is a form of jumping, and by performing other Plyometrics, or jumping exercises, you can isolate and develop the jumping element of running to make you a stronger, faster runner. After an easy run, find a straightaway that is about the length of a football field and perform a few of these exercises going down and back the straightaway:
- High Knees
- Run Backwards
- Run Sideways (criss-crossing your legs)
- Jump Rope for 5 minutes
The Athletic training crew from BYU put together these seven very simple plyometrics exercises to help build strength and increase the function of your muscles.
Strengthen Your Core
- Running doesn’t just come from your legs, and a surprising amount of the energy needed to run faster comes from your core. Core strength exercises improves running economy and performance by reducing the amount of energy that needs to be put out by your legs in order to go faster. After an easy workout, spend some time doing core exercises, aim to exercise your core at least twice a week. A session should include exercises like:
- Russian Twists
- Planks and Side Planks
- Crunches or Sit-Ups
- Leg Lifts and Reverse Crunches
- Butterfly Kicks
Focus on Running Form
- Easy runs are a good time to focus on your form. Perfecting and maintaining good form while running will ensure that your body is operating as efficiently as possible, helping you to increase your running speed, as well as helping to prevent injuries. Here are some tips to help you correct and perfect your running form:
- Keep your head up and your eyes straight. Avoid looking down at your shoes or your phone/ipod.
- Keep your arms at a loose 90 degree angle and swing them back and forth slightly, to propel your body forwards. Avoid holding them tightly against your body, and remember to relax your fists and shoulders.
- Relax muscles that aren’t being directly engaged, like your face, shoulders, fists, and core. Precious energy you are using to clench these muscles can be used much more effectively in other ways.
- Research shows that long-distance runners who take a higher number of short strides tend to run faster than those who take fewer longer strides. Try to focus on taking more shorter strides, and save the long powerful strides for the sprint at the end.
- Focus on having a “spring” in your step. Fast runners are typically light on their feet, and land each stride with their heel and midfoot, before rolling forward onto the toes to push off for the next step. If this seems like a difficult thing to do, you might consider a lighter pair of running shoes.
The folks from Rock Creek Runner put together a very simple infographic below that supports the tips I have mentioned.
Focus on Breathing
- Easy runs are also a good time to work on your breathing. Getting the most out of each breath can help to increase both your running speed and your overall stamina. Breathing correctly allows more oxygen into your bloodstream, which gives muscles more energy to keep going. Here’s how you can work on your breathing more specifically:
- Aim to breathe into your belly, rather than your chest. Most of the time when you breathe you notice a rise and fall in your chest. Belly breathing involves drawing deeper breaths, which should inflate your stomach when you breathe in, and deflate when you breathe out. When you breathe into your chest, you tend to breathe less deeply (limiting your oxygen intake) and hunch up your shoulders (wasting precious energy).
- Try breathing in through your mouth, and out through your nose. This is an age old recipe for proper breathing while running, because breathing through your mouth allows you to bring in more oxygen, hence the reason why you do it naturally as you become more and more fatigued. This technique is also known to help ward off cramps and side stitches.
- While running, try to time your breaths to the rhythm of your footfall. This helps to strengthen the diaphragm, and provide a rhythm that allows your body to work together more efficiently. To start, take one breath in for every two steps, then exhale for the next two steps. Once your diaphragm grows stronger and your breathing deepens, you can extend this to one breath for every four steps.
Stretch It Out
- It’s important to stretch before and after a run, whether it’s a hard or easy day. Having good flexibility will help you run faster and avoid injury. Remember to stretch on your days off too, or even consider doing a yoga sequence on your days off or after your easy runs.