When we think of running races, the quality that comes immediately to mind is speed. You have to be the fastest to win. While this isn’t necessarily true, as you need a combination of qualities in order to cross the finish line first, speed is undoubtedly an important factor. Improving our times is often a huge goal!
So how does a runner improve their time? How do you get faster?
The path to becoming a faster marathon runner may not look like what you imagine.
4 Ways Endurance Runner Improve Their Speed
1) Prioritize Strength Training
Strength training doesn’t seem like it would go hand-in-hand with running, but it does. Strength training with weights and resistance exercises can radically improve your speed. When it comes to strength training, especially the lower body, you improve your speed by actively strengthening not only key running muscles but in improving your overall muscular coordination and power.
Obviously, stronger muscles mean more enduring muscles. You will have the strength to make that final sprint if you’ve done adequate strength training. By the same token, focusing on training specific muscles familiarizes our neural pathways with our muscles. This improves the smoothness of your stride, your efficiency, and running economy (how much energy your body expends to run). Not only that, but strength training reduces your chance of injury.
Strength-training isn’t really a matter of cross-training. It’s a matter of being the best runner you can be.
2) Run Up That Hill
Ever exercised wearing ankle weights? You know that taking them off makes you feel lighter, faster, and freer. Think of a hill as your ankle weight. Doing short sprints up hills not only builds strength, but it provides that level of resistance that, when removed, shows us speed gains.
Sprint up a hill and use a jog down as your cooldown. By upping the intensity of your workout, you can improve everyday strength, endurance, and speed.
3) Change Your Tempo
As endurance runners, we’re not so accustomed to fast workouts. We know that there is infinite value in pacing oneself, conserving energy, and making the most of our running economy. This may be a sound distance-running strategy, but improving speed takes, well. Doing things fast!
Take a page from sprinters. They utilize a massive number of muscle fibers to do their work in just a few minutes—even seconds—of sprinting. Everything is running on all cylinders. Sprint workouts improve the efficiency of your run as well as your form. Because sprints recruit your fast-twitch muscle fibers, you will find yourself being able to push at the last mile, when your slow-twitch fibers are depleted from your endurance running.
Most runners recruit slow-twitch fibers first because they are most suitable for long-distance. It takes them time to lose steam. However, when they do, the body switches over to fast-twitch fibers. These fibers demand more energy and more oxygen to give the same results as the slow-twitch fibers.
If then, you do sprint exercises—exercises that focus on these fast-twitch fibers—you will find your running to be more efficient and easy, especially in the eleventh hour of a run.
Sprinting, too, is just one way to work these fibers. Explosive aerobic exercises reap many of the same rewards. Incorporating different kinds of speed-training—besides running—can do wonders for your time.
4) Interval Workouts
Interval workouts have long been used to increase endurance and speed. You’ve likely heard of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Essentially, your training hinges on the back-and-forth between high-intensity bursts of speed intermingled with slower recovery phases.
Interval training follows the principle of adaption—that is, the body’s ability to adapt to fluctuating physical demands. When we target this through interval training and cross-training, we are preparing our bodies to operate more efficiently when doing repetitive motions.
The thought is that these bouts of high-intensity prepare the body to better adapt to and burn lactic acid during exercise. This, in turn, allows runners to run harder and faster before fatigue sets in. Plus, interval training burns more calories than a run-of-the-mill run.
Increasing speed is a worthwhile goal. However, endurance runners benefit not from focusing on individual qualities like speed or distance alone, but from viewing their bodies and performance holistically. Varying our training accomplishes this holistic mindset—by honing more skills and strengths than endurance running alone, you are able to achieve more when you do run with endurance in mind.
Gaining speed as an endurance runner means switching up your strategies. If you hope to get faster, you have to break your routine running mold.
What helps you improve your running times? Share your strategies in the comments.