There is one question that burns in the heart of many a runner, whether they are just starting out or have been running for decades.
How can I run faster?
The short (and smartarsey) answer is this: you run faster.
If you just keep going and doing whatever running you do, it is almost inevitable that eventually you will get a bit quicker. Just like if you pick your feet up a bit more and push yourself harder, you will be running faster.
But that doesn’t necessarily help those of us who like to see the numbers change on our Garmins, and who chase PB’s like they’re drenched in maple syrup.
Luckily there are a number of things you can do to help pick up the pace. Add one or two of these to your weekly runs, give it a few weeks and see what happens.
Three ways to improve your pace.
1. Incorporate fartlek or interval sessions.
Fartlek literally means speed play and is an easy way to add some interval training (bursts of faster running followed by a recovery period) to your running session.
If you run without a GPS or tracking app, fartlek is perfect for you. You might run easy for ten minutes or so to warm up, then identify a point in the distance and run your hardest until you reach it. At that point, you can walk or jog slowly until your heart rate comes down a bit then identify another landmark in the distance and run hard again. Repeat as often as you like, finish with an easy run to cool down a bit and don’t forget to stretch.
If you do use a GPS watch or tracking app you might like to try more structured interval sessions. Depending on how long you have been running and your level of ability you can run either for distance (2km easy warm up, 500m sprint + 300m recovery x 4, 2km easy cool down for example) or time (such as a 10 minute warm up, 3 minute sprint + 2 minute recovery x 5, 10 minute cool down).
Including an interval training session in your weekly running schedule is a sure fire way to improve your overall running pace and can be loads of fun as well. If fun for you is getting out of breath and red faced and sweaty that is.
2. Get hilly with it.
Hills are a great way to build strength and endurance, which in turn translates to faster runs on the flat. You’ll work out pretty quickly whether you love or loathe them, but even if you are in team loathe it is well worth adding some hill runs to your repertoire.
You can deal with hills any number of ways, but there are two key ways to train on them in general.
The first is called hill repeats. In a hill repeat, you do a warm up run then find a hill of around 200-300m with a decent incline. The repeat bit? That is because you need to run up the hill as hard and fast as you can, then slowly slowly back down to recover before bolting back up again. Starting with 3-5 repeats then a slow cool down run, and adding an extra repeat or two each hill session, is a great way to keep track of your progress and improve your pace.
Alternatively you might prefer the long slow ascent. It’s a great idea to identify a run that includes a number of hills in it near you of a distance that you know you can complete, and use that same route once a week over a few weeks. Doing so gives you a clear indication when you are adapting to the hills as you’ll find the ascents easier and hopefully not need to slow to a walk after a few weeks. You’ll also notice that the entire run gets quicker as you get stronger. For these runs you want to push yourself up the inclines, but keep it at a controlled maintainable pace rather than a sprint. Once you get to the top you want to really pick up the pace and get down them as fast as you can before starting the next climb.
Uphill running is fantastic because it is almost impossible to run uphill with bad form. Note how your footstrike is firmly at the forefoot, your are leaning into the hill and your chest opens up. Really focus on that form and try to replicate it on the flats as well.
Including a hill session in your running routines is a great way to get faster, and you might just find you love it! There is a great satisfaction that comes from completing a really hilly run without needing to walk, just you wait and see.
3. Up the Cadence
You may have seen the term and wondered what it means. When you get your head around cadence, it can be one of the quickest ways to improve your running form and get faster without even really trying!
Your cadence is the amount of times your feet strike the ground when you run. A great way to figure this out is to run a stopwatch and count your foot strikes over 15 seconds then multiply by four.
The ideal cadence is 180. Yes really.
If you are like me, the first time you counted you came in around 120 – 140 and could not even fathom moving your feet fast enough to hit that magic 180. It sounds so fast right?!
We do have a few tricks you can try to help get you a little closer though.
The key thing is to make sure you keep your upper body relaxed, shoulders down and really focus on turning your feet over fast, landing lightly on your forefoot. If you visualise riding a unicycle and mimic that circular action with your feet, that is the motion you are looking for. The first few times you will feel like a total idiot. That is okay, we all did too.
A couple of ways you can help train yourself to catch that 180 or get back up to it if you have been flagging are to download a metronome app to your smartphone and set it at 180bpm, then set it to play as you run. That’s the less fun but more scientific method.
Alternatively check out your playlists and find some of the faster paced songs, and google to get an idea of their BPM. You don’t have to be spot on 180, but anything with a faster beat will help lift you up if you are trying to increase your turnover. A great thing about this is that you might find a tempo tune that really gets your feet moving, and few months down the track when you listen to it you will realise that it is too slow for you to run in time with any more. Those realisations are always a huge boost!
Do you track your pace over time? What has helped you run faster?