How to Become a Faster Runner – 7 tips
No doubt, you want to become a faster runner. The good news is there are things every athlete can do to do just that. In podcast #15, we talked about 7 things that can make an athlete faster. Those points are summarized below.
Warning – not all of these are appropriate for everyone. Check with your coach or medical physician before doing them.
7 Strategies for Becoming a Faster Runner
- Improve your form
- Lose weight
- Aerobic Training
- Strength Training
- VO2 Max Training
- Lactate Threshold Training
Improve your form
Maybe the easiest thing you can do to improve your speed is improve your form. Things like how you strike the ground, how well you keep your feet below your hips, and your use of elasticity to propel you forward all play a role in how hard you are working. The more efficient you are, the less effort you have to put forward, which contributes to faster overall running. A great book for learning good run form is The Triathlete’s Guide to Run Training. Don’t let the title fool you – it isn’t just for triathletes
Lose some weight
I can hear you saying, “duh”. Even so, lessening the weight that you have to carry can have a big effect on your speed. And it’s easier said than done, but it’s something to focus on for more than just speed. In fact, a better goal is to focus on what you put in your mouth and make sure it’s providing your body value. A side effect of doing that will be losing weight. Check out our blog entry Take 9 Steps to Lose that Stubborn Weight! for some tips.
I know what you’re thinking – “how can running slow make me fast?” Building your base is really important to be able to then take full advantage of quality workouts. Aerobic training builds a foundation for the faster workouts. By training your aerobic system, you:
- Increase cardiac output
- Develop blood vessel density
- Improve the ability to remove waste from cells/muscles
- Train your aerobic (oxidative) energy system – train your body to favor burning fat
Your body will be more efficient and ready to go faster once you’ve gotten these things accomplished.
Having stronger muscles means having a stronger engine. Just like a car, the bigger your engine the faster you can go. If you train your strength system right, you can keep yourself from wearing out in the middle of the race. Here are a couple ways to build your engine. As mentioned above, make sure this is appropriate for you first.
Example: Run up a moderate hill for 1 min at 5-10k race pace, then jog/walk back to the starting point. Repeat x 5 times.
Strength Training: (I prefer movements that support real life movements like the following)
- Calf Extensions
- Core work (see 11 Core Training Exercises for Runners)
VO2 Max training
VO2 max training is advanced and should not be done by less experienced athletes. VO2 max is basically the maximum volume of oxygen you can actually use out of the air. The air we breathe contains oxygen, we breathe it in, and then your body utilizes as much as it can. Your VO2 max is the potential amount you can actually use during exercise.
VO2 max isn’t really that trainable. It is highly determined by your genetics, gender, and age. Even though you can’t make large gains, training your VO2 max can tweak your speed ability.
VO2 Max Repeats: (again, not for everyone)
Example: Run at your 1-2 mile race pace for 3 minutes. Completely recover for 3 minutes. Repeat x 2.
Lactate Threshold Training
When you exercise, your body needs energy. When you do harder running, like a tempo run for example, a byproduct of energy production is lactic acid (or lactate). When lactic acid is produced, your body is able to process it and actually utilize it for further energy use.
However, the harder you run, the more lactic acid you produce. There comes a point at which more lactic acid accumulates in your blood than you can clear out. The point where you can clear exactly as much lactate as you are producing is your lactate threshold.
Think about a faucet and sink. The drain of the sink, how open it is, is your ability to clear lactate (or water in this case). If the water comes out of the drain at a slow rate (like a slow run), the water goes right down the drain, and doesn’t pool in the sink. If you turn the water up faster (like a faster run), there comes a point at which the water drains exactly as fast as it’s coming in, and stays at the same level (your lactate threshold). Turn the water up even more, and the water starts to creep up the sink bowl because it can’t drain fast enough. The accumulation of lactate is associated with exhaustion and wearing down, slowing down, in a race.
Training your lactate threshold is like opening your sink drain. It means you can turn the water up faster (or run faster) without too much accumulation of water (lacate). In other words, by training your lactate threshold, you can fun faster without exhaustion (drain the lactate better).
Tempo runs and Tempo intervals are the gold standard for training your lactate threshold. Like other harder workouts, these are not appropriate for athletes of all levels, so make sure it’s appropriate for you before doing them.
Example: Run 5 minutes, gradually going from easy pace to moderate pace. Then, run 10 minutes just below your lactate threshold pace, followed by 5 minutes gradually going back to an easy pace.
Creating explosive power can help make you fast on race day. A good way to do that is by doing plyometrics. Plyometrics are exercises that emphasize explosive power, such as jumping straight up in the air.
HOWEVER, plyometrics can increase your risk of injury. If not done correctly, you can injure yourself and put yourself right out of contention. Like some of the other workouts in this article, check with your coach or medical physician before attempting plyometrics.
If they are appropriate for you, here are a few you could try. Google them for more detail, or check back soon for an entire blog on plyometric exercises. Try to do them on a soft floor to help reduce the impact:
- Box Jump
- Rocket Jumps
- Split Squats
- High Skips
- Long Jump
USAT Level 1 Coach