Run Faster: How to pick up your pace

Whether you are a beginning runner or an experienced marathoner, a lot of us want to be able to run faster.  Despite what many other pundits may say there is only one sure fire way to become a faster runner. It’s a secret so you might not want to share it with your nemesis that you have been trying to beat at the local 5k.  Are you ready for it? Here it is:

You have to run fast to get fast.

This may seem oversimplified and seem like a joke, but it is the stone cold truth.  Many runners out there dutifully put in the mileage in their weekly training plans for years without making breakthrough gains in their speed and quickness.  The main reason for this is because most recreational runners never incorporate any form of speed work into their training plans.


Why should I do speed work if I want to run long distance events like marathons and half marathons?

There are many benefits to incorporating speed work into your weekly training routine besides just getting to the finish line in less time.  Here are a few:

  • Improved Running Form

Any kind of speed work requires you to pay better attention to your form.  You have to be engaged, yet remain relaxed and focus on your breathing much more when putting out 90-95% effort versus rolling out 8-10 minute miles forever.

  • Increased VO2 Capacity

This is your body’s ability to take in greater amounts of oxygen and more efficiently deliver them to your muscles for better running performance and efficiency.  High intensity burst training that is common with most speed training techniques will increase your top-end oxygen capacity.

  • Better Metabolism and Energy Efficiency

Your metabolic engine and fat-burning capabilities will increase significantly with speed work.  Struggling to lose those last 5-10 pounds despite running 20-30 miles per week for the last year?  High intensity efforts will stoke your metabolic fire and burn more fat!

  • Break up the Boredom

Once you have gone through several 12-16 week training cycles getting ready for events, things can get a bit monotonous.  Speed work is an entirely different game and can give you new motivation to improve your running.


4 ways to incorporate speed work into your training:

1. Strides

This is the perfect place to start for a runner with little to no experience with speed work.  Strides should be done after completing a 30-40 minute tempo run at easy pace. Find a flat stretch of road or track and finish your run with 4-6 20-second strides.

Each stride is comprised of 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 40 seconds of gentle recovery jogging.  Use the recovery time to get back to your starting point and be ready to blast out the next stride. It will be difficult at first and you may think you want to die, but after a few weeks you will see significant improvement.  

Don’t forget to stretch afterwards!

Related link:  Essential Stretches for Runners


2. Fartleks

Did you giggle just a bit while reading that word?  We are not describing a form of potty humor. Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speedplay”.  This speed training technique can be executed like a game while out on a training run. It is even more fun with a training buddy.  

Fartleks are simply an increase in pace during your run followed by a recovery interval.  Out on the road you can use telephone poles or mailboxes as your targets for the increased pace periods.  You can also use your watch and decide that every 2-3 minutes you are going to do a 30 second fartlek followed by 2-3 minutes of recovery.  You can really do them anyway you want that allows you to push the effort level and have some fun! Fartlek!


3. Hill Repeats

Many say that running hills is speed work in disguise.  This is especially true when you do them as a series of repeats on a regular basis.  

After a 5-10 minute warm up, find a moderately steep hill that will take you at least 30 seconds to climb.  You can make your interval up the hill as much as 60 seconds. Push the pace up the hill like on the fartleks and strides.  Focus on your form and breath with powerful strides. Engage your core by slightly tucking your tailbone and leading with your hips.  

When you get to the top gently walk or jog back down to the bottom.  Rinse and repeat! Shoot for at least 6-8 repeats. Over time you can increase the steepness of the hill or the amount of time up the grade.  


4. Track Workouts

This is the classic place and way to work on speed.  Mentally preparing yourself by going to the track sets a different tone for your workout before you even take one step.  Here is an oldie but goodie to get your heart pounding:

Start with 1-2 miles of easy running around the track.  Next, you will do 4-6 sets of strides to signal your fast-twitch muscles that it is time to get to work!

You will complete 8 sets of sprints.  Each set is 1 lap around the track at your 5k or 10k race pace.  After each lap you will recover for 2 minutes before starting the next sprint.  Keep moving during recover in an active way so your body knows that there is more to come.  Take a few small sips of water if needed. 

Finish the work out with a 1-2 mile cool down followed by stretching.  

Only do speed work once a week and pay attention to the additional stresses this type of workload has on your body.  The week of an important race or event you probably want to skip your speed workout and do an easy recovery run. This allows your body to be in optimal recovery mode to crank out a big effort on race day!

So now you are on your way to elite status and the Olympic trials are now within reach, right?  Nope! But if you are consistent you might find yourself a bit more competitive at your local beer mile!

Do you have any other tips for our community? Comment below, we’d love to hear from you:)

Comment List

  • Joe 25 / 06 / 2019

    Love this post!!! I have been trying my best to get my half marathon time down to 2:45. Thank you I will try these suggestions.

    • admin 25 / 06 / 2019

      Thanks for connecting, Joseph! Best of luck getting to 2:45 – hope to see you at a race some day!:) -Katie


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