How to Run Faster!

Would you like to learn how to run faster? Want improve your speed, pace, or time? Let’s dive into that subject.

I’ve been working with athletes and runners of all ages and abilities for over 35 years. I really enjoy engaging with these folks on various health, fitness, and peak performance projects. By far the most common request shared by these clients is to get faster. That’s their #1 goal. Sure, some need to get rid of chronic pain or recover from injury. Many want to improve their endurance and go farther. But almost all of them eventually wind up at the place where they want to go faster. This is a natural human — or animal of any kind for that matter — desire.

In this week’s podcast PK & I had the opportunity to explore the topic of getting faster in a unique way. We had received some very insightful questions about running performance from a podcast listener, and we dissected each question with an explanation in our discussion. This runner eventually became an online coaching client and he gave us permission to share his story on the show. We presented each of his questions, covered some of the scientific rationale behind training, and shared the story of how we worked together in a coaching relationship toward a personal best performance for this runner. Check out Episode 49 if you’d like to take a deep dive into faster running.

I’m going to provide a few tips and suggestions that can help you to run faster this year. These are known as evidence-based practices, as they are well supported by current research. Before we get to the secrets of faster running, we need to make a few clarifications. Maximum speed, or velocity, as represented by an all-out sprint, can only be sustained for about 5-7 seconds in most humans. This correlates with the 40-yard dash on grass, the 60-meter dash on the indoor track, and the 100-meter dash on the outdoor track (for the most part, although even elite sprinters tend to decelerate in the final meters of the 100m). Maximum speed development for athletes in all sports is a specific focus in training, and that’s why I am conducting Speed Camp this year, for those so inclined. However, most runners are running distances further than short sprints and are motivated to get faster over longer distances from the 5k to the ultramarathon. That’s where the following brief recommendations will focus.

Improve your running mechanics so that your form is optimally efficient. Consider having your gait analyzed by a professional (I do this all the time via online video analysis) in order to identify any restrictions, deviations, or suboptimal patterns which may exist in your technique. Improve your footstrike, stance and swing mechanics, and posture with specific exercises and a variety of running drills. This decreases wear and tear on your body and makes your power transfer ideal. Having a highly efficient, finely tuned running machine (body) gives you free speed.

Personalize your training program to best fit your body type, conditioning level, and goals. Gain an understanding of how your bone structure, connective tissue and joint mobility, and muscle fiber type can determine what type of workouts will get you the best results. Make your training appropriate for your current level of fitness and coax yourself along toward a challenging but reasonable goal. Take a look at the specific physiologic requirements of your goal distance and bias your training to reflect that data. An example would be looking at the 5k, which is approximately 84% aerobic (related to lower intensity, longer duration workouts) and 16% anaerobic (developed with high intensity, interval-based sessions) in terms of energy demands. Consequently, depending on your body type and preferences, aligning your training workload to match up with your event can be very productive.

Maximize your base of aerobic fitness before you emphasize anaerobic workouts. Science indicates that developing the aerobic system has great value for any runner going beyond short sprints as a race goal. Obviously, the longer the target distance, the more this becomes true. Ironically, speed (pace) over distance becomes more a factor of aerobic efficiency and endurance than pure, flat-out sprint speed. Building your aerobic fitness will make you faster at every distance because you become more economical in fuel utilization. Using that 5k example from the preceding paragraph, you can get a lot more performance from maximizing the major (84%) requirement of aerobic fitness than concentrating heavily on the lesser component. Max out your aerobic fitness (or at least get close to it) and then add the polish of anaerobic conditioning.

Use cross-training strategically. Cross-training (XT) is alternative-mode conditioning, and for runners this means cycling, swimming, nordic skiing, rowing, etc. While not as specific to the neuromuscular system as running, you can “backfill” some of your training needs with XT. This is especially beneficial when you want to decrease pounding on your legs and recover from hard workouts. It’s also very useful for heavier runners or those with hypermobile (flexible) joints, as these individuals generate more impact and/or shear forces per run than others.

Employ resistance training in tactical fashion. Everyone needs to do resistance training. Lifting weights and other forms of strength training are essential for long-term health in the maintenance of lean body mass and metabolic function. Runners at every level and distance can improve propulsion, stability, and injury prevention with just a few exercises done a couple times per week. It’s reasonable to state that since running is your goal you should make your lifting secondary, or supplemental, to your running workouts. A healthier, stronger runner is a faster one.

Avoid injury with intelligent workload application. Discover how the training variables of intensity, frequency, duration, and volume work for you. Appreciate that weekly volume (total amount of training) X average intensity = Workload. Don’t progress this more than 20% per week (10% might be better) and don’t do that too many weeks in a row. Have some planned plateaus and regressions in your training cycles so that your body can absorb all the training you are doing. Don’t let exhaustion or injury dictate your deloading or down cycles. Stay ahead of that with proper workload adjustment.

Don’t forget to have fun. That goes without saying. You already have a job. Don’t make running faster feel like a chore. Keep the joy alive in what you are doing. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t beat yourself up. Run faster like the natural, free, beast that lives within you.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions, comments, or are interested in setting up a coaching relationship. I appreciate your reading and I hope you have a great, faster running experience this year!

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