How to Run Faster and Improve Race Times

After you've been running for a little while and improved 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:

Be Prepared for a Little Discomfort

Woman stretching during run in a forest.
CAP/Photographer's Choice

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.

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 pace 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. 

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 400m (one lap around the track) repeats. After a five- to 10-minute warm-up, alternate between running one 400m at your 5K pace and jogging one slow, easy recovery lap. Start with two or three 400m 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.

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. 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. 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.

Try Some Hill Training

Running Uphill
John Kelly

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 3 to 4 repeats once a week, and gradually work your way up to 6 to 7 repeats.

Lose Weight

Man Weighing Himself on Scale
Photo by James Darell

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

Don't Forget About Rest Days

Runner lying on the couch
Steve Cole

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. So, if you run every day without taking days off, you won't see much improvement.

Be a Smart Racer

Runners in race
Yellow Dog Productions

It's possible to shave some seconds or maybe even minutes off your finishing time with smart racing strategies, such as making sure you don't start out too fast. Try some of these strategies for running faster races.

Also see: 4 Ways to Get Faster
How Beginners Can Run a Faster 5K
How Experienced Runners Can Run a Faster 5K