How to Run Faster and Improve Race Times

After you've been running for a little while and improve your endurance, you may want to focus on a new goal—running faster. Here are some eight simple things you can do to pick up the pace and improve your race times:

1
Be Prepared for a Little Discomfort

Woman stretching during run in a forest.
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Some beginners have difficulty running faster because they're afraid of feeling uncomfortable. But one of the first steps to getting faster is to learn what it feels like to pick up the pace. When you're pushing yourself during speed training, expect to get out of breath and feel your leg muscles burning. It may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but you'll start to get used to that sensation and eventually start to anticipate (and enjoy!) it.

2
Work on Your Turnover

Runners feet
John Foxx

If you can increase your stride turnover, you'll run faster. Start by running at about your 5K race pace (one you could sustain for 3 miles) for 30 seconds and counting every time your right foot hits the ground. Then jog for a minute to recover and run for 30 seconds again, this time trying to increase the count. Focus on taking quick, light, short steps—as if you're stepping on hot coals.

3
Try Interval Workouts

Runner on track
Cavan Images

Interval workouts are a fun way to work on your speed. You can do track workouts, such as 400-meter (one lap around the track) repeats. After a five- to 10-minute warm-up, alternate between running one 400-meter lap at your 5K pace and jogging one slow, easy recovery lap. Start with two or three 400-meter repeats (with a recovery lap in between each), and try to work your way up to five or six. Or, if you're running on the road, you can use lamp posts or telephone poles to mark intervals. After warming up, try sprinting for two lamp posts, then recover for two, and keep repeating the pattern until you've covered a mile.

4
Do a Tempo Run Once a Week

Woman running
John P Kelly

Tempo runs help you develop your anaerobic threshold, which is critical for running faster. The anaerobic threshold is the exertion at which your body switches from aerobic processes to the processes that produce lactic acid, leading to burning muscles. By improving your fitness with tempo runs, you won't hit this point as easily.

To do a tempo run, start your run with 5 to 10 minutes of easy running, then continue with 15 to 20 minutes of running at about 10 seconds slower than your 10K pace (a pace you could sustain for 6 miles). Finish with 5 to 10 minutes of cooling down. If you're not sure what your 10K pace is, run at a pace that feels "comfortably hard." You shouldn't be gasping for air, but you also shouldn't be able to carry on a conversation.

5
Try Some Hill Training

Young man speed running up riverbank
Tony Garcia/Getty Images 

Hill repeats are an efficient way to build running strength. Find a fairly steep hill that's about 100 meters long. Run hard to the top of the hill, and slowly jog back down. Start with three to four repeats once a week, and gradually work your way up to six to seven repeats.

6
Lose Weight

Midsection Of Man Holding Measuring Tape Against Beige Background
Jirapatch Iamkate / EyeEm/Getty Images 

If you're already trying to shed some pounds, here's more incentive: Some estimates say that, on average, runners get two seconds per mile faster for every pound they lose. For example, a 10-pound weight loss would shave about one minute off your 5K race time.

7
Don't Forget About Rest Days

Resting at home in the first cold days relaxing with blanket and watching television.
 Artur Debat/Getty Images

Don't assume that running hard every day will make you faster. Rest is critical to your recovery and injury prevention efforts, so don't forget to take at least one day off completely each week. Your muscles actually build and repair themselves during your rest days. If you run every day without taking days off, you won't see much improvement.

8
Be a Smart Racer

Focused female runner stretching arm on urban street
 Hero Images/Getty Images

It's possible to shave some seconds or maybe even minutes off your finishing time with smart strategies for running faster races, such as making sure you don't start out too fast. Know the course and where you can expect hills or cruise down the inclines. Run the tangents on curves. Learn to run through the water stops rather than pausing.