The feeling of accomplishing your first 5k, 10k, half marathon, or full marathon can be pretty blissful – and completing your second, third, and fourth feels great, too. But at a certain point, most beginner runners start to feel themselves transitioning out of that “beginner” phase and looking to find a new goal other than “just” finishing a race. They’re looking to not only finish the race, but also finish feeling fast and strong.

With a few adjustments to your runs and weekly workouts, you can become a stronger, fitter, and more well-rounded runner – leading to improved finish times and a faster pace for each mile. Some of my favorite tips for improving your running speed are below. Good luck, and run strong!

  1. Hit the track.

    I doubt there are any running coaches out there who wouldn’t endorse track work as a vital component of in-season race training. If you hit the track once a week, you’ll surely see results come race day. Not sure what to do on the track? Here are a few beginner tips: one lap around the track equals 400 meters, and 1600 meters (four laps around the track) is one mile. A good beginner’s workout, depending on your fitness level, could range from 6-12 400m sprints, with a minute rest (or longer, if you need it) in between repetitions. For more easy-to-tackle track workouts, try some mixed intervals, Yasso 800s, and ladder workouts. Don’t forget to bring a sports watch to record your times and see yourself improve!

  2. Change it up.

    If you’re doing the same routes and same mileage at the same pace every week, you’re not giving your body the variety it needs to improve. Switch up one run a week by throwing in a new, flatter route (and going for a faster pace), or choosing a tough hill to tackle eight times in a row. Grab a buddy and do a fartlek run together – this classic speed work exercise encourages you to incorporate sprints and faster segments into your everyday run. During a fartlek run, you and your friend can race to the next mailbox, pick up the pace until the next mile, or play any other speed “game” you like. In my opinion, fartleks are definitely more fun with a friend (and always fun to pronounce. Ha!)

  3. Use your gym membership.

    I know running is an addictive sport, but it’s important that you step out of your comfort zone to embrace other forms of exercise, too. Not only will this help you overcome mental burnout, but it will also strengthen and diversify your body’s capabilities – making you a stronger, less injury-prone, and ultimately faster runner. Some of the best cross-training exercises for runners that I know of are yoga, boot camp, and Pilates. These classes emphasize strength, flexibility, and work targeted muscle groups with an emphasis on core strength. Although you may not think so at first, running is a full-body sport that requires all-over strength and mobility. By focusing on areas that are often weakest in runner’s bodies (like hips, glutes, core, and hamstrings), you can build the right kind of muscle to make you a faster, fitter runner.

  4. Eat right.

    Running burns a ton of calories, but that (unfortunately) doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want and still set a PR in your next race. Clean up your diet, minimize the junk food, and make sure to get in as many well-balanced meals as you can, at least during the weekdays – and don’t feel too guilty indulging a bit after a long run or race. Lastly, make sure to stay hydrated and craft a proper fueling plan for your race (especially longer races). Dehydration during the last miles of a half marathon or marathon can really slow you down, or, even worse, stop you completely as you “hit the wall.”

  5. Get some rest.

    Like I said before, running can be an addictive sport – but you need to take some time off to become the best runner you can be. Even Olympians take rest days (or entire rest weeks) during their training and recovery periods to let their muscles properly recover. Make sure your training plan includes at least one day of rest every two weeks, with adjustments according to your fitness level and proneness to injury.

Mary Lambkin

Mary Lambkin is a Nashville-based writer, runner, and foodie. She's run seven marathons and ten half marathons, with lots of healthy (and occasionally unhealthy) food along the way. Follow her at her blog, minutes per mile.

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