How to Run Faster: The 2 Main Strategies Running Coaches Rely On
Running isn't all about speed—it's often about getting in that zone after a long day and leaving it all out there on the road. Whether you only have time for a couple of miles or you're heading out for a long run, sometimes, you may not be looking at your pace at all. It is, however, a factor, and if you've been training for a while, sometimes it can feel like you've hit a plateau when it comes to speed. Whether you're interested in learning how to run faster to break a personal record, win a race, or you have another goal in mind, there are a few tried-and-true ways to increase your speed, according to experts.
How do I learn to run faster?
There are many techniques for learning to run faster and it's critical that you choose the ones that feel best for your body. As a general rule, Meghan Kennihan, NASM-CPT, an RRCA- and USATF-certified run coach, tells Health that you should aim to take 180 steps per minute or 85 to 90 beats per foot. And while this may sound complicated, there are ways to stay on track that don't involve tediously counting. There are plenty of fitness devices that can help you keep track of your steps.
Additionally, there are many playlists available that can help. Searching "180 bpm" (beats per minute) in Spotify, for example, brings up a variety of playlists filled with songs in line with this speed. "Also, keep in mind your form, chest up, run tall, arms bent at 90 degrees or a little higher and landing underneath your body," she says. Listening to music with 180 beats per minute can help you hit this.
However, it's also important to find the right cadence for you—you can always build on where you are, and there's nothing wrong with starting your quest to run faster at a slower pace.
With those points in mind, here's how to run faster, according to experts.
Amanda Brooks, CPT, an HUESCA-certified running coach, and author of Run To The Finish: The Everyday Runner's Guide to Avoiding Injury, Ignoring the Clock and Loving the Run, tells Health she recommends any runner start with hill sprints. "At the end of an easy run adding in five to 20 seconds hard uphill will result in more power in their stride and translates into faster runner speeds," she explains. This will help to increase your muscular endurance, or the ability of your muscles to handle repeating resistance.
Hill sprints help to ensure runners learn good form before moving faster. Runners must naturally lean against the hill while feet fall directly under the body, says Brooks. This positioning is the preferred form for runners.
Bonnie Frankel, elite runner and sports activist, is also an advocate of hill sprints for their tendency to build muscle. She explains there are a few ways to use them to your advantage. One option is challenging yourself to pick up endurance speed up a large hill. Alternatively, you can do interval training by repeatedly going up a short hill.
Interval and tempo training, as well as speed play, can all help increase your pace. For interval training, Kennihan recommends easing into things with a 10-minute jog and then spending 30 seconds to two minutes increasing your speed to the point where speaking a complete sentence becomes impossible. Afterward, recover at a light pace for two minutes before repeating the cycle four to six times—or less if you're uncomfortable. Finish with another 10-minute cool-down jog.
Brooks has an important tip: "Once we start adding in speed work, it's better to think about a quick foot turnover rather than a long stride. That will help reduce injuries and make running faster feel easier."
Unlike intervals, tempo training is all about finding a challenging but maintainable pace to run. Try keeping the speed for 20 to 30 minutes. In this case, you should be able to speak a full sentence but not share an entire story, says Kennihan. Again, stick to the 180 steps per minute or 85 to 90 beats per foot rule so as not to overextend yourself.
One more option to try for increasing your pace is speed play. Also known as the Swedish word "fartlek," this technique involves picking arbitrary, close stops along your run to sprint to, such as a stop sign. Once you've reached that point, slow down to recover and then choose a new point to sprint to.
Are there disadvantages to increasing your speed?
There is a risk of injury as you work to increase your running speed. "Running faster can put more stress on your musculoskeletal system and should be approached with diligence and patience," Dylan Bowman, a professional ultra runner and co-founder of Pyllars, an app centered around running and mental health, tells Health.
Brooks associates this risk, in part, with people attempting to move too fast too soon.
"There is an increased risk of injury because it is a higher impact, which is why you need to start slow and build up to full track or interval sessions," adds Kennihan. She recommends starting with 15 to 20-minute sessions one or two times a week and never increasing beyond three high-intensity sessions a week.
While you can do additional runs at a more comfortable pace, paying your body attention and taking things at your own pace is critical.
Seeking advice from a coach or healthcare professional can help ensure you don't severely injure yourself. This is especially critical for anyone with a heart condition, says Frankel. "Always listen to your body because it will let you know if you are on the right track," she says. "Be safe, not sorry." With this said, speak with a doctor before starting any new workout routine and monitor your heart rate before and after a run.
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