Need for Speed: 5 Ways to Run Faster

Boom! Just like that we’re heading into the fall racing season. If your calendar looks anything like mine, I wish your friends and family the very best in their pursuit of scheduling weekend time with you. So. Many. Races.

If setting a new race PR is on your autumn to-do list, it might be time for you to start shifting your focus away from “just running” to “training.” But if you’re worried about complicating your beloved stress-reducing pastime, have no fear! Speed training doesn’t have to be so tedious or unpleasant.

How exactly does one train to run fast? Of course, you could always hit the track and run some intervals. But what if you don’t have access? Or what if you, like me, can’t stand the idea of running around in circles?

What follows is some of my favorite ways to incorporate speedwork into my already-busy schedule.

5 Ways to Run Fast

1. Hill repeats. It’s been said that hills are speedwork in disguise. I know what you’re thinking — who wants to run hills repeatedly? But seriously, they’re the fastest and safest way to build the strength necessary to increase your speed. Not only that, practicing running well on hills makes running on anything that’s flat, or at least less hilly, feel like a breeze in comparison.  Here’s how you do it:

  • After a 10- to 15-minute easy run to warm up, set the incline on your treadmill or find a uphill stretch that’s approximately a 6 percent to 7 percent incline and run (don’t sprint) up it at a consistent speed for a full 60 seconds. Your pace should be fast enough that you’re cooked at the end of each hill repeat but not so fast that you can’t keep your pace consistent all the way to the end of each repeat.
  • Then, walk back down the hill or set the incline to zero and walk for 2 to 3 minutes to recover.
  • Repeat for a total of five to eight times with rest intervals between. Cool down with 10 to 15 minutes of easy running.

2. Fartlek run. Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play” and it’s a form of interval work — alternating between moderate-to-hard effort running with easy recovery periods throughout. Unlike track intervals, Fartlek intervals aren’t set in stone — you just sorta wing it. It’ll turn your workout into more of a game (they don’t call it “speed play” for nothin’) and teach you how to change gears quickly, run at different paces and recover on the run. There’s so many ways you can slice and dice this workout but here’s my favorite way of doing it:

  • After a warm-up, scan the road ahead of you for a random landmark — like a tree, stop sign or park bench — and run quickly to it then drop your pace back and recover until the next random landmark along your route.
  • Continue running from landmark to landmark, alternating between fast running and easy running for 15-30 minutes then cool down.

3. Strength training. Runners often think that all they need to do to get stronger as a runner is to run. But it’s important to understand that endurance isn’t the same as strength. Endurance will let you keep going but strength will make you super efficient, fast and, perhaps more importantly, help prevent injury. And let’s be real, nothing slows you down and derails your training faster than having a hitch in your giddy-up. With strength also comes better form, breathing and impact absorption, so your lower back doesn’t have to suffer. Seriously, grab some weights and get busy strengthening your quads, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, hip flexors and core — think squats, lunges, dead-lifts, slider mountain climbers, clamshells, floor bridges, planks, Russian twists and Supermans. Just 20 to 30 minutes, two to three times a week can make a world of difference.

4. Plyometrics. Nothing builds explosive power like plyo work. Some of my all-time favorites are broad jumps, squat jumps and box jumps. But I can’t stress enough the importance of including some single-leg hops since, during running, each leg must be able to independently stabilize your body weight and generate some force. I love to add plyometrics to my strength-training workouts, right after the warm-up and before the heavy lifting.

5. Rest. To really reap the benefits of the hard work you do during training, you have to get enough rest. When you work out, you stress your body (mostly in a good way), and it needs time to adapt and recover. If you go with this process and get adequate rest, your body will bounce back, get stronger and rise to the next challenge. If you don’t, then your poor body, which is still trying to heal from the last round, won’t be able to deal with the new stress. As a result, instead of getting stronger, your body begins to break down, and that is no bueno, my friends.

What are your running goals this fall? Who else wants to run fast? —Alison

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