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How To Improve Your Running Time

03 October 2022

So you want to know how to run faster? Some runners simply enjoy their runs as is and have no desire to chase down a time cut. But for those of you who want to consistently beat your best, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to train and set goals when you want to improve your running time.


Goals tend to go unmet if your “why” is an unfounded, “just because.” Do you want to qualify for a certain event? Are you working your way toward breaking a 2-hour half-marathon? Are you training to tone up or lose weight and using a faster time as a marker for your progress? Are you driven to beat your best time by a little friendly competition within your running group? Training to improve your running time will take hard work and dedication, and having a goal to work toward will make it easier to stay focused not only on the everyday training rituals, but also on the final result. Make a journal entry about why you’re driven to snag a faster time on the clock and keep regular track of your progress so you can see how far you’ve come.



Sometimes it can help to set smaller stepping stones on the way to a larger goal. If your current required a lot of effort, you probably won’t break it in three weeks of training. Set yourself up for success by picking a goal race that is close enough to drum up excitement, but far enough away that your body can adapt to training. Between 12 weeks and six months is generally ideal. Then, set steps to meet along the way – improve your turnover, shave 30 seconds off your 5k time, lower your mile time, set PRs on your favorite running routes, increase your agility or your lung capacity – whatever you need to do to get to your ultimate goal.



Goals need intention and forethought. Find a structured training program to give you direction (i.e. a 4-month 10k plan). You’re going to need to add speedwork and cross-training to your existing program if you haven’t yet. You may also want to consider hiring a coach if you feel like you’ve trained as much as you can under your own knowledge. Sometimes when we plateau, all we need is someone else’s expertise or encouragement to push us to beat our best. If you’re serious about learning how to run faster, approach your PR as you would any other project or deadline, by allocating the proper time and resources to it.



The biggest secret to improving your running time? Speedwork. Just going out and running faster or farther won’t get you to beat your personal best. Incorporating speedwork into your runs improves your turnover and response time, strengthens secondary muscles (recruiting those fast-twitch muscle fibers to work for you on distance runs), adjusts your anaerobic threshold, and gets your metabolism amped up. If you’ve never done speedwork before, start with Strides once to twice a week and gently transition to having one Fartlek workout and one run with hill repeats each week over the course of your training plan.

  • Strides: At the end of your run, find a straight stretch of road, track or a flat, level field (without any ankle-rolling holes!). Start at your normal pace then accelerate up to sprinting speed, but don’t maintain your sprint. Instead slowly decelerate back down to your jog. Your acceleration should take you approximately 20 seconds. Repeat 4-5 times.
  • Fartleks: Fartleks are a chance to get creative and have fun with sprint intervals. The interval speed and length are up to you, and so is the recovery period. Plus, you don’t have to stay on a track for them – you can do them wherever your trail takes you. Maybe you do a short burst for one, then 30 seconds later hold a zippy but sustainable pace for 90 seconds. Make sure you warm up before starting your Fartlek. Increase the speed and length of your sprint intervals over the duration of your training plan.
  • Hill Repeats: Hills force you to focus on good form. Find a hill, be it a grass park or an inclined road, that will take you 30 seconds to 1 minute to cover at an energized pace. Keep your feet underneath you, take short, quick strides, keep your chest up, and use your arms. Recover on the way back down the hill, hit the bottom and start again. Begin with just 3-4 repeats, and work your way up to 10-12.


Ready for some sports science? Your body does not adapt (i.e. learn to run faster and get fitter) during training. Your body adapts while you are resting and recovering from training. If you’re wondering how to run faster, the most important thing you can do is take care of yourself and prioritize recovery. This means eating well, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule with appropriate amounts of sleep and making stretching, recovery yoga, foam rolling, and or massage a regular part of your program. Cross-training can also help by keeping up your endurance while giving your core running muscle groups a chance to recuperate. Try swimming, power yoga, hiking or biking twice a week or a little variety in your training. When you’re trying to beat your best, these things are just as important as your running workouts.



Go into race day confident. Regardless of any rollercoasters and road bumps you may have had during training, treat race day as a clean slate. As Kara Goucher says, “Erase from your mind that your preparation must be perfect. Hard work dedication = a shot at your dreams. Keep believing.”


IMAGES: Peter Bernik, Kzenon, LuckyImages, Dudarev Mikhail, bikeriderlondon, Aliwak, Blazej Lyjak


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