The first goal of many beginner runners is to achieve a new distance. Once that’s accomplished, tackling the challenge of running that same distance faster should become your priority. Chasing PRs (aka, personal records) has fueled the spirits of every runner to add on more miles, seek out a training program, and take a closer look at how they can improve. This basic guide is a simple starting point that will teach you how to run faster.
How to Improve Your Running Form
Becoming a faster runner demands that you hone in on your form. Focusing on good running form and mechanics will help you avoid injuries so that you keep progressing in your training. There are numerous resources to learn from, but they can often be technically daunting and hard to grasp as a new runner. Here’s what you need to know.
The basics every runner should understand is that you need to lift your knees, drive your arms, and stand tall with good posture. Keep your arms pumping forward and back so that you avoid crossing the vertical centerline of your upper body with your arms as you swing them. Below the waist, you want to avoid a kicking motion and focus on landing mid-foot underneath yourself. The vilified heel strike is a result of accelerating your lower leg in front of you as if you’re trying to stop a cartoon foot-propelled car. This momentary braking and absorption of ground reaction forces is the root cause of numerous injuries.
Places to Focus:
- Lift your knees and pump your arms.
- Avoid crossing the vertical centerline of your upper body with your arms. Pump them forward and back at your sides.
- Try to land your feet underneath your hips so that you’re ready to push off. This minimizes the amount of time you’re in contact with the ground.
- Take videos of yourself. This gives you a better viewpoint so that you can judge your form more objectively.
- Work your cadence up over a period of weeks. The industry standard is 180 steps per minute, but this rhythm takes time and practice.
- Don’t try to implement all of this at once. Focus on one part of your body at a time so that you nail one particular aspect of your form before moving on to the next.
- If you’re curious about diving deeper into running form you can learn more here, here, and here.
How to Find the Right Running Shoe
Carbon racing shoes are expensive but they offer free speed, right? Yes, but only if you have the mechanics and strength to take full advantage of them. New runners, on the other hand, are going through a period of adaptation where their body has to get up to speed with their new training routine. For this reason, I urge my new athletes to stick with basic road and trail trainers.
Running shoes are your connection to the ground and are designed to protect your foot and to correct minor foot mechanic errors. As you build mileage and more regularly integrate speed work, the need for different kinds of shoes will grow. If you are just starting, then choose a shoe based first on comfort. Budget 60-90 minutes for a trip to your running specialty store to get a good fit. Consult an expert and spend good money on shoes — you can expect to pay over $100 for a quality pair of running shoes that will last for 500-750 miles. Don’t forget a great pair of technical socks – they are a lifesaver! You should look at these shoes as training tools, so avoid wearing them around town in order to prevent unnecessary wear and tear.
The Perfect Shoe:
- Shoes should fit snugly, but with no tight spots.
- Make sure your heels don’t slip — blisters and hot spots indicate improper fit.
- Keep a good bit of room in the front of the shoe. A standard thumb width gives you enough room to splay your toes and allow for just enough foot movement during downhills.
- Look for a shoe that is a good mix of cushion and ground “feel”. You want to avoid feeling like you’re on mini-stilts or running on 2x4s. That Goldilocks shoe might take trying on between eight and ten pairs to get it just right!
- Here is a resource to learn more about running shoe terms and types.
How a Training Plan Can Help You Run Faster
Running harder and faster more often will get me results sooner, right? This is a huge part of my work as a coach. If you played team or contact sports as a kid, then you most likely grew up seeing running as a source of pain, discomfort, sweat, and a slightly queasy feeling. That is not how you train every day for running races — every day is not a race in which you need to finish your goal mileage in record-setting time. The mentality of a distance runner is one of long-term sustainability that builds towards a regular schedule and rhythm.
Your basic mantra for distance running should be easy days easy, hard days hard. This means that there is very little room for “medium days”, and that you must balance hard days with easy days. The goal is sustainability from the start, so if you make your easy days active and keep the recovery enjoyable, then you have banked your energy for the hard days. Your hard days should have an intention, focus, and direction. Each week you should focus on increasing volume, intensity, or duration.
You should follow a training plan for the same reason you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day. As humans, our bodies crave rhythm, and the same goes for running. This is why following a schedule that you stick to is important. Running hard on back-to-back days can beat you down, lead to injury, and hold you back from achieving your goals efficiently. A great rule of thumb is building your mileage and minutes of intensity by no more than 10% per week for 3 continuous weeks before you take a down week of lower mileage and intensity. Here’s a look at how to structure your training.
*Workout = Intervals, Tempo, Progression Run
*XT (Cross-Training) = Swimming, Cycling, Strength Training
If you’ve just jumped into running, going out every day isn’t a sustainable practice until you’ve built up your fitness. The chart above details a basic guideline of how to structure your training for 3, 4, or 5 days a week of running. The XT or cross-training days can be used for strength training, swimming, or cycling. If you’re looking to add mileage or add a day of running, add another short run into the schedule and slowly use your weekend to add in a slightly longer run. Traditionally, you shouldn’t run more than 25% of your weekly mileage in your long run.
This chart gives you some basic parameters for setting up a training plan, but in order to get to the next level, you have to complete a threshold test so that you can set your training zones. This will help guide you in defining how long and how difficult your easy runs, long runs, workouts, and cross-training should be. If you’re looking for a great plan to get you moving in the right direction, here are three plans to help you conquer a 5K, 10K, or Half-Marathon:
How to Become a Faster Runner
As you get started, you’ll find resources that say you need to change your nutrition and add strength training and speedwork to your program. These are all important parts of training but can overcomplicate the simple idea of running when you’re first getting started. You should first look to master your form and mechanics, make sure you’ve got your equipment dialed in, and slowly increase your training load. Everything else can come into play after you have these three things nailed down.
Getting faster as a runner is ultimately about having a long-term view of your training. You will initially make big jumps in your fitness that are exciting and very motivating, but the process of building your body into a running machine takes time. Finding an invaluable resource like a coach or a top-notch training plan can help you get there faster. Just remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and to have fun along the way.