The best way to get faster actually has nothing to do with speed. Just run more and you’ll gain the endurance to run faster races.
But instead of standing on my soapbox yelling about high mileage all the time (my wife has warned me to keep my voice down), I’m going to share several types of workouts that can help increase your speed so you can race faster.
You may have noticed that I focus my writing on fundamentals like mileage, speed development, and strength workouts so that you know what to improve. Yes, I actively avoid writing about specific running workouts!
There are too many factors that may make certain workouts inappropriate for some runners: training age, goal race, fitness level, injury status or susceptibility, and a host of others. It wouldn’t be right to exclude many of you who aren’t ready for lactate-clearance runs, long VO2 Max repetitions, or other more advanced workouts.
But no matter what race you’re training for or your fitness level, there are many universal training strategies that can help you get faster.
These are excerpts from my book 101 Simple Ways to be a Runner that’s available for the Kindle.
Don’t have a Kindle? Get it as an instant PDF download here.
These workouts and training strategies build the speed and overall strength that’s necessary to run a new PR – as long as they’re part of a well-rounded program.
Run Barefoot Strides
For more foot and lower leg strength, you can run some or all of your strides barefoot. Before you do, make sure that you have a good place to run them; you can’t do them anywhere.
Barefoot strides are best done on a well-manicured or synthetic turf field where you know the surface is smooth and free of small rocks, sticks, or glass. Start by doing 1-2 strides barefoot and then take a few days to see how your feet feel. The next time you can increase to 2-4 strides.
Running strides barefoot not only helps you develop lower leg strength, but you’re also improving your running economy and developing more efficient form. Win-win!
[Read more about strides!]
Hill Workouts Don’t Have to be Repetitions
Every coach I know encourages a good hill workout. And for good reason – they build leg strength, help prevent injuries when done correctly, and give you a great aerobic stimulus (i.e., help you develop endurance). But they shouldn’t be the only hills you’re running.
In addition to a hill repetition workout, you can also run 1-2 “rollercoaster runs” throughout the week. These are simply easy or moderate paced distance runs that are run on hilly terrain. Don’t run fast on the uphills and downhills; just keep your effort constant for the entire run.
Including 2-8 (or more!) hills of different lengths and grades during a typical run will help you build resilience and improve your running economy. Just limit your hilly days to 2-3 per week to ensure you’re recovering properly.
Run a Race You’ve Never Run Before
Too often we get stuck in a rut of only running 5k’s or 10k’s. It’s time to break out and discover other races! Less common distances like 8k (about 5 miles) and 10 miles can help you break out of a funk – plus, if you’ve never run these distances you’ll automatically get a shiny new PR!
Distance isn’t the only variable you can play with – try running a track or cross country race to get off the road and try something really new. The speed of the track or the strength required by a cross country race can help you discover what you’re good at.
And if you’re truly bored with “just” a running race, then try a race with obstacles like a Warrior Dash or Tough Mudder. Make sure you’re also doing enough strength exercises to be able to confidently complete the many obstacles you’ll be faced with during the race!
Run Workouts That Have More Than 2 Paces
Common workouts among runners include a set of intervals at a predetermined pace like your current 5k or half-marathon pace. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these workouts – in fact, they can be great during the specific phase of your training period.
But including 2-3 different paces in your workout can help you learn to run faster when tired, boost your fitness, and improve your finishing kick. So instead of your next 3 x mile at 10k pace, try the following:
2 x mile at your goal 10k pace with 3 minutes jog recovery, then 2 x 800m at your 5k pace with 2 minutes jog recovery.
This workout has you running at a faster pace at the end with the same overall volume. Hopefully this workout will help you negative split your 10k race!
Practice Race Pace
It doesn’t matter what race you’re running, you need to practice running at your goal race pace during training if you want to achieve your time goal. Only running intervals at faster than your race pace and easy running isn’t the best way to get in ideal race shape.
Instead, plan your workouts so you’re running about the same distance as your race at your goal race pace. A good example workout is 5 x 1,000m at your goal 5k pace, with a 400m recovery jog in between each repetition.
This workout is very specific to the 5k race and will give you a good indication of your fitness level. Once you do a few of these types of workouts, you’ll know if you’re ready to run your goal pace for the entire race.
If you’re not sure how to plan your workouts, I can help with a custom training plan that’s personalized to your running history.
Hill sprints are a valuable tool in any distance runner’s toolbox. These are 8-10 second maximum intensity sprints up a steep hill, with a full 1-2 minutes of walking in between each sprint. They help you develop neuromuscular efficiency, injury resistance, better running economy, and leg power.
Start with just two reps and always do your first one at about 95% effort to warm up. You’ll initially be sore, but after 3-4 days you’ll be ready for your next session. You can increase by 1-2 reps until you reach 6-10 total.
Remember to always run easy before doing hill sprints. You need to be properly warmed up. Hill sprints are like running-specific weight lifting – perfect for developing the power you need to run fast.
96 More Training Ideas
I love actionable training ideas that you can start using in your running program immediately. Specific workouts, tweaks, and race ideas are all ways that you can get out of a rut and implement something new.
Most importantly, I want to remind you that running fast does not necessarily mean running hard. Stay relaxed, in control, and smooth.
Run fast every week and it won’t be an alien movement to you – and it’ll feel much easier on race day.