Want to Run Faster?

Since the dawn of time, mankind has been trying to find ways to run faster…initially for survival and then for sport. Modern medicine and the information-age have opened up a wealth of data and studies on ways to improve running performance and optimize our training plans.

The era of the daily run-till-you-drop workouts are long gone, and with good reason. Science has helped us understand not only the importance of hard workouts, but the importance of corresponding rest. The equation for running improvement now-a-days seems to widely accepted as: Stress + Rest = Our Best.

If someone runs 10-20 miles a week at the same intensity month after month, he or she can expect a stagnation of performance and little, if any, improvement over time. To run faster, we need to look at all of the performance factors that we can control, and how we can safely improve these components in our running workouts. These factors are:

  • VO2 Max
    Also called maximal oxygen uptake, VO2 Max is the highest volume of oxygen that a person can consume during exercise. VO2 Max has been a measure of human performance for the past several years, and a key factor when looking to run faster. The intensity level for a VO2 Max workout should be slightly faster than your 5k race pace. If you haven’t run a 5k recently, try going to the track and doing a 2-mile time trial. This is approximately equal to 100% of your VO2 Max pace. You can use this pace for your intervals. For example, if your 2-mile time is 12 minutes (6-minute mile), you’ll want to try doing 800m intervals at 3:00 each for an effective VO2 Max workout. Be sure to include a walk / jog recovery period between intervals that’s 3-4 minutes long. The VO2 Max page goes more in-depth into the background and workout plans.
  • Lactate Threshold
    As running performance became a more popular field of study, scientists wanted to better define that red line of a distance runner’s performance ability. They noticed that as a marathon runner approached this threshold, the acidity level in their blood quickly jumped up. This rate where the muscles generated lactic acid (waste) faster than they could remove it is called the lactate threshold. A good indicator for this pace is your 10k race pace, or 30-40 seconds slower than your 5k race pace. By running tempo runs and intervals at our lactate threshold we can increase our ability to process lactate acid and push back this threshold, which will us to run faster for a longer period of time.
  • Willpower – Mental Strength
    A large focus of this website is motivation…that mental strength which propels us to succeed. A runner that has visualized success and wants to achieve their goal will be much more likely to work through pain and discomfort than the next competitor. You can strengthen this aspect by refining your goal…making it realistic…and mentally envisioning the successful attainment of your goal. This may sound silly and a waste of time, but this positive and optimistic mental strength has pulled out some victories for athletes with lower lactate thresholds and VO2 Max levels than those that finished with lower times. Mental strength is a key factor to running faster…nurture & strengthen it.
  • Running Efficiency
    Running form can be a very individual thing. From the mechanics of our foot roll to the gait and turnover of our legs, there are many movements in the running motions. If we want to run faster, we need not change our form completely, but we should look at some of the more common inefficiencies that we can improve upon. For example, many runners will swing their arms across their body especially when they get tired. This movement takes away from our forward momentum. If our arms swing forward that momentum adds to our forward motion, speed, and saves us energy. If arm arms swing side-to-side, it slows us down. Another way to increase our efficiency is to keep a steady breathing pattern. This can accomplish 2 things: One it keeps us going at a consistent pace; and Two, it can develop into an almost hypnotic rhythm that can divert our mind from the pain and discomfort.
  • The topic of running faster can definitely get overcomplicated by some of the science above…so let me simplify it: If you gradually increase the intensity and volume of your training, you will become a better runner. I doubt very much that the elite Kenyan runners sit around and compare their VO2 Max levels…but they do have a very solid training program that includes tempo runs, intervals, hills, and long slow distance running which has enabled them to run faster than most of their fellow competitors around the world.

    Once you’ve progressed your running to the point where completing the distance isn’t enough and you want to run faster, look at your workout routine to see where you can benefit from some added intensity and volume in your workouts. These gradual training changes will have a positive impact on your performance and make you a better runner.

    Related pages:

    Interval Training
    Improve VO2 Max

    Tempo Runs

    Increase your Lactate Threshold

    Running Songs for Speed!

    The Benefits of Cross Training

    Running Hills: A Superb Strength Workout

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