Improve running speed does not have to take a long time!
Got your training schedule cleverly designed in advance but still can’t fit it all in?
Life keeps throwing unexpected demands on you?
Funnily enough the two fastest and best ways to improve running speed can actually save you time as well
So try at least one of these this week!
I have worked with a lot of runners at recreational level, club level and national level. I have worked with them on the:
• Performance coach side (training performance gains)
• Physical therapist side (treating their injuries)
• Biomechanics side (analyzing their gait on video and making subtle but important corrections)
If I were to summarize in one sentence what my biggest insight is to improve running speed, it would have to be “less is more”.
Most runners get all sorts of problems trying to improve running speed by doing too much training.
• They often get over use injuries from constantly increasing volume
• They might experience frequent colds and flu from pushing their body when it actually needs to recover
• They might experience plateaus in performance as they keep doing the same training instead of introducing variety and mixing it up a bit.
In triathlon of course, the nature of our sport is that we do mix it up which makes us more resilient to injury and more well balanced athletes ☺
We still face the challenge though of how do we get three sports to the level we need to get them, without burning out or getting injured.
Intensity is the key to success here: To improve running speed we need to stimulate rapid training adaptations in the muscles and the aerobic system
I only have limited time to train and something has to give!
When it comes to improving running speed, add a hill session and speed/fartlek session each week. (Depending how close to a race I am, I will add in a steady state run or two or differing distances- could be 10k or above)
The beauty of it is both these hill and speed workouts take less time than a long steady state 2-3 hour run but paying enormous dividends in improving your running speed.
Why don’t more people do them?
They are killer workouts!
Most people would rather avoid the pain than get improved running speed.
Which gives you and I a massive advantage!!
(If we choose to do the training)
I know a lot of marathon runners who are dedicated to their sport and run great distances 4-5 times a week. When I have invited them to join me in a 5km race- they shudder at the thought of it and say “Oh no- I could not do that- 5km is just too hard”.
Say no more…
On a hill there is no switching your mind off and blissfully zoning out when you are facing hill repeats.
There is no enjoyment (except when it’s over)!
There is no hiding.
As soon as you ease up a bit- it’s over-you’ve stopped.
Hill training quickly gives you gains to improve running speed.
You get to practice the high knee lift, the power drive from the arms- moving forward and back (not across your body like a lot of amateurs), landing on the ball of your foot and hopefully the feeling of generating a lot of power from your gluteal muscles (buttocks).
Try to “feel’ these sensations and movement patterns as you are running and aim to mimic them when doing your flat running.
Try to find different hills to train on over the season.
• Short steep hills
• Long, never ending windy hills with gentle gradients
• Some nice trail runs, with undulating gradients which include some juicy hill work
Physiological benefits of hill training
Hill work develops:
• Intense power
• Great neuromuscular connections
• Resilient strength
• Superior aerobic capacity
• Superior fat burning
• Improved lactate threshold
• Massive gains in mental toughness
All of these translate into faster speeds on the flat, better form-especially when you are fatigued, stronger mindset for racing and (bonus!) gives you more time back in your week.
Think of hill sessions as a time saver rather than an extra session you have to squeeze in somewhere.
For most triathletes who have a good baseline running fitness anyway, you will get much more out of doing a 30-40 minute hill repeat session than another 2 hour steady state run.
What should the training session look like to improve running speed?
Depending on the distance of the event you are training for and the length of your chosen hill, here is a suggestion to be adapted by you.
10 minute steady state warm up.
6-10 hill repeats- hard but steady pace up.
So make sure you don’t burst out of the gate at top speed then find yourself limping up at a slow shuffle for the last 1/3 of the hill.
The aim is to learn your pace where you can maintain a roughly constant pace up the hill.
But remember this session should not be easy.
To improve running speed, this session should not be “mildly” unpleasant.
When you get to the top- you need to be gasping for air and thinking your legs are about to give way.
You need to hate and fear this session to get maximum results.
Jog down to the bottom of the hill and start again.
You will be surprised when you get to the bottom, you will feel fresh again, heart rate will have recovered and you will be ready to go again.
Take care- when you are jogging down the hill to still maintain good running form. Do not allow yourself to have sloppy form.
Make sure you still land on the ball of your foot, chest out, shoulders back and a slight lean forward.
If you land on your heel and lean your body backwards- you will get a lot of unnecessary ground reaction force shunted up through your Achilles tendon and leg.
Many people get injuries and sore muscles from running down hill- so either walk down, or jog down nice and easy with good form and you will have no problems.
Of course, after you have done your tenth rep- you will absolutely love this session- feel amazing afterwards and gradually notice at your club runs or races that you are now doing personal best times or beating people who used to be out in front of you.
If there are any hills in the race- this is usually where the race is won or lost- most people do not do hill sessions regularly and come unstuck!
Speed sessions are awesome for getting in a brutal workout –again with the physiological changes I spoke about earlier- in super fast times. Plus you get the neuromuscular changes with respect to speed.
If you want to run fast- you must run fast!
No -this is not a misprint!
The best way to learn how to get the legs spinning faster and improve running speed is to run fast.
There is a LOT of research into this.
Even to the point of training ultra marathon runners to run huge distances with predominantly 400 meter sprint training.
They got the aerobic changes they desired, they got lactate threshold training, they got mental toughness and they got incredible results in the race by training predominantly short, fast distances.
Of course they let the athletes do some longer steady state runs, but no where near the mileage you would think necessary to run over 50 miles.
For our purposes, look for a track or a length of parkland or the beach.
Warm up 10 minutes.
Use your stopwatch: run 90 seconds flat out as fast as you can, then ease up, jog for 30 seconds then repeat.
Do this 4-6 times.
Warm down and stretch
Keys to the session- maintain good form, good posture, engage the core.
If you feel yourself losing form-either shorten the distance of the effort or ease up on pace. Be careful with injury on these sessions- they are short- but they are intense- do not skip your warm up.
To improve running speed:
Your runs must be maximal effort.
You can play with the times of the effort.
You may do 1 minute bursts or you may prefer to use a distance, like 400 meters or 1 kilometer- depending on your training goals and your current fitness.
So if you do not currently do either of these sessions in your program, I highly advise trying them out.
Perhaps pick one at first, get used to that then switch to the other or add in the other.
Look to mix up your existing running mileage with one of these sessions. The idea is not to add MORE mileage to improve running speed but to train smarter with the training you already do.
So good luck,
As always email me or comment below your results and progress,
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