23 Ways to Run Faster and Improve Race Times

After you've been running for a little while you've built an endurance base, you may want to focus on a new goal—running faster. There are different ways to improve your pace during training runs and during races.

Use these 23 tips tips to learn how to improve your race times and train faster when you run.

As you follow these strategies and your times improve, use our pace calculator to track your progress.

1

Prepare for 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 push yourself during speed training, expect to get breathless and feel your leg muscles burning. It may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, but you'll get accustomed to the sensation and start to anticipate (and maybe even enjoy) it.

2

Run More Often

In many cases, increasing your weekly mileage will help you to improve your overall speed.

For example, if run once each week but you participate in workout classes most other days of the week, you may see improvement by switching a few of your workout class days to running days.

Some runners run every day. While that may work for you (keeping in mind that you should vary the distance and intensity of your workouts), you'll probably need at least one rest day each week.

Bottom line: if your goal is to increase your running pace, try to run at least 2–3 days each week.

3

Perfect Your Form

Proper running form can shave valuable seconds or even minutes off your pace or finish time at races. Making small adjustments to your posture and your gait helps your body to move with less effort. The result is that you have more energy to fuel a faster pace.

Make sure that you relax your shoulders and allow your arms to swing naturally as you run.

4

Count Your Strides

If you can increase your stride turnover, you'll probably run faster. To determine your stride turnover, run at your 5K race pace (a speed that you can sustain for three miles) for 30 seconds and count each time your right foot hits the ground. Double the number to get your stride turnover rate.

Many runners target a turnover rate of about 180. The number is highly variable, but in general, new runners tend to have a stride rate that is too low. So, you'll likely benefit from improving your number.

To increase stride turnover, start by running for 30 seconds at your current rate. 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. Repeat 5–8 times, trying to increase your rate each time.

Eventually, a faster turnover rate will feel natural during longer runs.

5

Schedule Tempo Runs

Tempo runs help you develop your anaerobic threshold, which is critical for running faster. Many fast runners schedule at least one tempo run each week.

The anaerobic threshold is the exertion at which your body switches from aerobic metabolism to anaerobic metabolism. Your ability to maintain effort while using anaerobic systems is limited. By improving your fitness with tempo runs, you won't hit this point as easily.

To do a tempo run, start your run with 5-10 minutes of easy running, then continue with 15–20 minutes of running at about 10 seconds slower than your 10K pace (a pace you could sustain for 6 miles). Finish with 5-10 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.

6

Do Sprint Training

Not surprisingly, speed training is one of the smartest ways to improve your pace. One way to do speed workouts is to practice structured intervals.

For example, you can 400-meter repeats at a track. After a warmup of 5-10 minutes, 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.

To achieve the best results with speed work, it helps to run at the specific pace that you'll be running during your next race. Try doing a 5K-specific speed workout once a week.

There are other workouts that you can rotate into your training. They can be done on a track or treadmill so you're able to accurately track the distance.
800m (half-mile) Repeats
10-minute warm-up
800m at 5K race pace
1-minute easy recovery
Repeat 800m @ 5K race pace/1 minute recovery 4 more times
5-minute cool-down
Mile Repeats
10-minute warm-up
1 mile at 5K race pace
1-minute easy recovery
Repeat 1 mile at 5K race pace/1 minute easy recovery 2 more times
5-minute cool-down
If you don't have access to a track or treadmill, here's another one to try (a running watch or another timing device is required):
10-minute warm-up
6 minutes at 5K race pace
1-minute easy recovery
Repeat 6 minutes at 5K race pace/1 minute easy recovery 2 more times
5-minute cool-down

7

Practice Fartleks

If you don't have access to a track or another measured space to run specific intervals, that doesn't mean you shouldn't challenge your pace. Instead, you can use fartlek training.

Fartleks are simple quick bursts of speed that vary in distance. Fartlek is a Swedish work that means "speed play". There are simple ways to incorporate fartleks into your runs to help you run faster.

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.

Or if you are running listening to music, sprint for the duration of the chorus of your favorite song. If you're running in your neighborhood, sprint past ten mailboxes, then recover for another ten.

These speed "pick-ups" help you to learn how to get comfortable with running faster.

8

Incorporate Hill Training

Running hills helps improve your running economy and efficiency, which will translate into faster running. Specifically, hill repeats are a great way to help you pick up the pace. You should incorporate hill training into your running program after you've built an endurance base.

Try to work a hill repeat session into your training once a week. Start with a 10-15 minute warm-up of easy running. Find a hill with a moderate slope that's about 100–200 meters long. Run up the hill at a hard effort. Keep your effort consistent and don't let your running form fall apart. Turn around and recover by walking or jogging down the hill at an easy pace.

Start with 5-6 hill repeats and add one repeat each week, with a maximum of ten repeats. You can also combine hill repeats with a tempo run.

9

Run on a Treadmill

While training on the open road is preferred by most runners, you can also use a treadmill to help improve your speed.

In general, treadmill running is easier than running outside. On a mechanized treadmill, the belt moves on its own underneath your feet. So less effort is required from you. Also, there are no obstacles such as wind or variations in terrain to challenge you.

However, the benefit of using a treadmill is that you can train yourself to turn your legs over quickly with greater ease. This will help you to transfer the skill to your outdoor runs.

Also, treadmills allow you to structure interval runs and hill runs with precision.

10

Recover Properly

Don't assume that running hard every day will make you faster. Rest is critical to your recovery and injury prevention efforts. You may find that you run faster when take at least one day off from the sport each week.

Your muscles build and repair themselves during your rest days. If you run every day without taking days off, you won't see much improvement.

On your recovery days, you can still participate in physical activity, but keep it easy and enjoyable. Your brain needs a break from high-intensity activities as well.

11

Follow a Training Plan

If it seems too overwhelming to think about scheduling all of the different workouts to improve strength, power, and speed, don't worry. You can simply use a training plan.

Find a plan that targets the specific distance that you want to train for. For example, if you want to run a faster 5K, use a training plan specifically designed for that distance.

You'll also find plenty of training plans for longer distances, but you should target one race at a time, starting with shorter races first. Although half marathon and marathon training will obviously prepare you to go the distance of a 5K, they won't include 5K-specific speedwork.

By following a training schedule that is specific for your designated race, you'll be more likely to get results.

12

Lose Weight

If you're trying to run faster, losing weight may help. Runners who are overweight often see a benefit when they slim down to a healthier size.

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 may shave about one minute off your 5K race time.

Of course, that doesn't mean you should cut calories excessively or deprive yourself of good nutrition to fuel your workouts. But consider cutting out empty calorie foods (candy, sweetened sodas or tea, starchy fried snacks, and baked goods) and build meals around foods such as lean proteins, leafy greens, and whole grains.

13

Improve Eating Habits

Even if you are at a healthy, stable weight, you may be able to run faster if you eat better. Are you consuming enough protein to build stronger muscles? Are you consuming the right number of carbs to provide adequate fuel for challenging workouts? Do you eat the right kind of fat to maintain healthy joints?

Evaluate your caloric intake and your macronutrient balance and see how it compares to recommended intakes. Eliminate foods that don't provide good nutrition. And invest in a session with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports performance to make sure you are getting the macro and micronutrients that you need.

14

Lighten Up

Running gear can be helpful. For example, you may find that hydration belts are handy for long runs when there are no water fountains along your route. But gear adds weight and weight slows you down.

When you're ready to start running faster, invest in technical running gear that is made out of lightweight fabrics and materials. Consider getting a pair of lighter, faster running shoes. Some runners also leave their cell phone at home when they are running in safe areas and want to decrease their overall weight.

15

Stretch Regularly

Inflexible joints can hinder a faster pace. You're not likely to move with efficiency when your body has a limited range of motion. Tight muscles can also lead to injury. If you're sidelined by an injury, your pace is probably going to pay the price.

Try to stretch after every workout. You don't have to spend a huge chunk of time doing a wide variety of exercises, but simply spending 5–10 minutes after each workout doing simple calf, hip flexor, and quadriceps stretches will help to keep your body happy and your speed goals on track.

16

Work Your Core

Believe it or not, the state of your core muscles can affect your running pace. A strong, lean midsection helps to improve your running posture for more efficient breathing and also frees up your legs to work harder.

Try adding a few core exercises to your daily routine. Spend one minute or more in a plank position. Or add abdominal curls, bicycles exercises, or hip bridges to the end of your runs.

17

Get Enough Sleep

Fast runners are usually well-rested runners. So, one of the smartest ways to improve your running performance is to take your slumber seriously.

Practice smart sleep hygiene. Try to go to bed at the same time each night. Get rid of electronic devices in your bedroom (move your phone charger and maybe even your television to another room) and decrease the temperature slightly to get a better night's rest.

18

Lift Weights

Sometimes the best running workout you can do does not include running. In fact, lifting weights can help you build stronger muscles that will help you improve your speed and overall performance. It can also help you to build a more balanced body to reduce your risk of injury.

Try to schedule one or two short strength training workouts each week. If you don't have access to a gym or health club, no problem. Simply do bodyweight exercises, like push-ups, lunges, or squats to build more muscle.

19

Experiment with Resistance

Workout tools and gadgets such as an anti-gravity treadmill, a running parachute, or speed bands can be used for increased power and performance. Of course, these tools take some practice and some require you to get a partner to use them.

For example, running bands provide resistance to your stride. The bands can be attached to a stationary object or to another training partner so that you have to pull away as you run forward. Some runners also attach bands to their legs and run in place against resistance to improve speed.

If you choose to try one of these options, get help from a qualified trainer to make sure you use them properly.

20

Crosstrain

While running exercises are designed specifically to improve your pace, sometimes the best way to run faster is to take a short break from the sport.

Participating in other activities, like spinning, CrossFit, swimming, or sports like soccer, can help you to develop your cardiovascular endurance. Additionally, crosstraining can help to increase flexibility and range of motion in your joints, build mental toughness, and increase your overall strength.

At the very least, crosstraining gives you a mental break from running. So when you lace up your shoes and hit the pavement again, you're ready to give it your all.

21

Run With a Group

Running with a group will not only keep you motivated to train, but most people push themselves harder when they train with others.

There are different ways to find a running group, but you can often find one in your neighborhood for free. Ask about running groups at your local running store, at work, or at your health club.

Not only will you feel motivated by the challenge of running with others, but many running groups include coached interval training workouts and other targeted programs.

22

Finish Strong

If you want to learn how to run faster at races, you should occassionally train like you are racing. That means including a fast sprint to the finish at the end of your runs.

Picking up the pace for the last few miles of your long runs is good practice for race day conditions and it all improve your endurance. Try picking up your long run pace by about 20-30 seconds for the last few miles.

23

Race to Win

Most runners don't sign up for races intending to cross the finish line first, but you can reach a personal record, and that's a win that is just as valuable.

After you sign up for a race, set a realistic goal to determine your finish time.

Then train using the pace improvement strategies listed above. On race day, use smart strategies to shave valuable seconds off your finish time.

  • Study the course: Get as much information about the course as you can, so you'll know to pace properly or be prepared mentally for tough sections, like hills. Most races post the course map and often an elevation map on the race website. If you're running a local race, take advantage of your home field advantage and run the course or parts of the course during your training.
  • Don't start out too fast: One of the biggest mistakes in racing is starting out too fast in the beginning of the race. The problem is that if you go out too fast, you'll burn through your stored energy too quickly and your muscles will fatigue faster, leaving you feeling tired and depleted toward the end of your race.
  • Run the tangents: Even though race courses are measured accurately, many racers run a longer distance (and therefore a slower finish time) by following every curve in the road. A tangent is a straight line that just touches a curve, so the concept of "running the tangents" is to run the shortest distance possible by running straight from one curve to the next.
  • Check your form: Every mile or so, check your running form from head to toe, so you can prevent wasting energy as a result of bad form. Look ahead (not down), keep your shoulders relaxed, arms swinging back and forth (not side to side), and your hands gently clenched. Keep your hips under your shoulders and make sure your stride is short, with your feet close to the ground.
  • Run through water stops: Make sure you line up properly at the start, so you don't spend time and energy weaving around slower runners or walkers. At the water stops, if you don't want water, run straight down the middle, so you don't get caught up in traffic. If you want to grab water, don't stop at the first table -- it's always the most crowded. Go to a table towards the end and on the left-hand side, if there are tables on both sides of the street. (Most people are right-handed and naturally go to the tables on the right side.)
  • Avoid bathroom stops: Don't waste time stopping at the port-a-potties. Make sure you get to the race start early so you have plenty of time to go before you start running. Follow tips on how to avoid runner's trots and having to stop to urinate.
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