How to run faster – Speed workouts

A new year sees new goals for a lot of runners. If you’re looking to improve your pace and learn how to run faster, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re progressing through your first Couch to 5k or preparing for your next big race or virtual event, these simple and adaptable tips can help secure your next PB. 

The warm-up

Firstly, we mustn’t overlook the importance of a good warm up; it is essential to prepare our body for the work we’re about to put it through. Begin any warm up with an activity that will increase heart rate (jogging, skipping or stationary cycling) – this should take between 15-30 minutes. Incorporating dynamic stretches and mobility drills like walking lunges and high knees will help mobilise a greater range of muscles whilst reducing the overall risk of injury. It is crucial to always take our time with any warm up – it is the foundation of any good training session!

A selection of these 8 running drills to improve your running form could be incorporated into the warm up.

Through running at various speeds, our body is able to adapt to running faster for longer. 

The sessions

When it comes to choosing your session, the good news is that there is a significant range that will contribute to improving your speed – including techniques that involve no running whatsoever. Consider including the following sessions in your next training block.

Calculating training paces

The sprint and HIIT sessions below suggest running at speeds as a percentage of your maximum speed. It can be tricky to hit the right training pace at first. There are online calculators that provide training paces according to your 5k time, check out the Run Fast Coach. You simply need to enter your race time in the ‘Race Information’ tab first and then check the ‘Training Paces’ tab for the pace you should aim. This is a good resource to use to know what pace you should run at, from easy to speed. For instance, sprints should be run at VO2 Max pace (in the grid, use 200m time as a reference). 

The more often you attempt these types of sessions, the easier it will be to hit the training pace that suits your level of fitness.

Strides & Sprints

It’s no surprise that in order to get faster, we have to run faster. Strides and sprints over a distance of 50m-200m allow us to focus on our form and open up our stride. Our main focuses during these sessions should be the driving of our arms, lifting of our knees and controlling our breathing.

Benefits: Strides (accelerations) and sprints are about building comfort at higher speed. They’re key in your training – whether you’re going for a 5k, 10k, half marathon or marathon. Don’t forget that consistency is the cornerstone of any training plan, so make sure you include strides and sprints in your weekly training. They can also be included at the end of a long run.

Trial out one of these sessions in your next block.

Session 1

  • Warm-up for 20-30mn (gradually increase your heart rate) 
  • 8x100m sprints at 80% maximum speed. 2 minute walk recovery
  • 15-20mn cool-down (easy jog to bring the heart rate down)

Session 2

  • Warm-up for 20-30mn (gradually increase your heart rate) 
  • 2 sets of 6x60m sprints at 90% maximum speed. 1 minute walk recovery between reps, and 5 minutes recovery between sets.
  • 15-20mn cool-down (easy jog to bring the heart rate down)

Session 3

  • Warm-up for 20-30mn (gradually increase your heart rate) 
  • 5x200m strides at 65% maximum speed. 2 minutes walk recovery. 
  • 15-20mn cool-down (easy jog to bring the heart rate down)
Photo by HOKA

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT training is one of the most relied on training methods for many athletes; maintaining a relatively high heart rate whilst incorporating an active recovery time allows for our bodies to work closer to our ‘lactic threshold’ – something we need to get familiar with when focusing on speed. 

Benefits: this type of session builds stamina, strength and mental toughness. If you’re training for longer distances (half marathon and marathon) you should aim for longer sessions – though shorter ones will be beneficial for all sorts of distances.  

An example of this would be as follows.

Session 1

  • 2 minutes of running at 60-70% maximum speed, followed by 60 seconds active recovery (slow walk or jog). Aim for 8-10 reps at first, or adjust to suit your ability. 

Session 2

  • 30 seconds controlled sprinting at 70% maximum speed, 30 seconds walk/jog recovery. Repeat for 15-20 mins or adjust to your ability. 

Strides and sprints over a distance of 50m-200m allow us to focus on our form and open up our stride.

Weight Training

Lifting weights might not seem relevant to running, but when you’re looking to improve your speed, the benefits of this strength training are endless. Prioritising 1-2 hours a week to a good weight lifting program will help condition your body in ways that will translate to speed.  

Deadlifts, squats and bench press

These are the most important movements to incorporate into your program. Building strength in your glutes, back, core and shoulders will improve overall technique and speed.

  • Try 4 sets of 6-8 reps for each exercise at first and choose a weight you’re comfortable with; from here, focus on form and add more weight when you feel ready. No gym? No problem! These exercises can be done at home with a kettlebell!

Abs

An ab focused circuit at the end of any session will strengthen your core, resulting in faster runs.

  • Try 4 rounds of the following exercises with 30 seconds rest between:
    • Russian Twists for 20 seconds
    • Plank for 20 seconds
    • Leg Raises for 20 seconds
Photo by New Balance

Fartlek Training

Derived from the Swedish term ‘speed play’, this method of training involves running and various paces to increase speed endurance. Through running at various speeds, our body is able to adapt to running faster for longer. 

Benefits: fartlek sessions can be done differently if you wish to improve your speed or if you want to improve your endurance or both at the same time. If you want to solely focus on speed, you should run the slower segments at a slightly faster pace. Over time, you should be able to run them closer to the speed of your faster segments. 

Consider the following sessions in your next block of training.

Session 1

  • 3 minutes moderate running, 5 minutes jogging, 1 minute hard running, 3 minutes moderate running. 

Session 2

  • Sprint the length of 3 lamp posts, walk for 1, jog for 2, sprint for 3. Repeat for a length of time that you feel comfortable with, and adjust intensity accordingly. 

The cool-down

With sprinting (or any type of training) we must remember the importance of a good cool down. It is essential to allow for muscle recovery and growth. When possible, layer up after your session and go for a relaxed 15-20 minute walk or jog. Afterwards, set aside some time to perform various static stretches. Your body will be relying on you to re-fuel and rest up after a tough workout; prioritise restoring key macros and nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins and electrolytes. Where possible, ensure at least 8 hours sleep to maximise your body’s ability to recover. 

Photo by HOKAl

Stick with it

Improving our speed is a timely process that requires patience above anything else; stick to a program that works for you and don’t expect results overnight. Setting realistic goals in a time frame that suits your schedule is a great way to stay motivated and improve at a sustainable rate. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Mandy shares her tips on How to set effective running goals to get you started.