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13 Tips For Becoming A Faster Runner

Tips and workouts that'll turn you into a speed(ier) demon.

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So, you want to become a faster runner.

For lots of newish runners, the step right after "start running regularly" is "try running faster." And it's actually not as complicated as you might think.

To explain how everyday runners can do this safely and effectively, BuzzFeed Health reached out to Toni Carey, RRCA-certified running coach and co-founder of Black Girls RUN!, and Jason Fitzgerald, USATF-certified running coach, 2:39 marathoner, and founder of Strength Running. Here are their tips:

1. Get ready for your weekly running schedule to get a bit more structured.

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As long as you run regularly and are injury-free, you're ready to start getting faster, says Fitzgerald. The first step will be to get a bit more strategic about your training schedule. For example, you'll start doing some targeted workouts and thinking more about intensity and recovery than simply piling on the miles.

Plan to run four to five times per week, says Fitzgerald. All of these runs should be done at an easy pace — like a 5 on a scale of 1-10. (Eventually you’ll make one of these runs a longer one and another one a speed workout — but more on that later.)

2. Find a 5K to train for.

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“When you’re training for speed it always helps to have a goal in mind,” says Carey. It'll give you a timeline to work with and a distance around which you’ll shape your workouts. And because 3.1 miles is so accessible to new runners and racers, there's always a ton to choose from, says Fitzgerald.

If you absolutely don’t want to enter a 5K race, consider choosing another pace goal and target date (again, the 5K distance is considered a great introduction to pace training).

3. Do one long run every week.

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Running longer builds your aerobic capacity, makes your cardiovascular system more efficient, and give your legs longer staying power, says Fitzgerald. And all of these are crucial for running faster. So, if you don’t already run a little longer one day of the week, now is the time to start.

Your longer run will be one of those three-to-five weekly runs that you do at an easy pace. To figure out what distance to start with, take an average run from your last few weeks of training and add 5-10 minutes to it. Depending on how your body is feeling, every couple of weeks you can add another 5-10 minutes.

4. Now you're ready for some strides: 100-meter accelerations tacked on to the end of an easy run.

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These are a great (not-too-intimidating) way to experience faster running before you transition to more formal speed workouts, according to Fitzgerald. They can also help beginners become more efficient runners.

Start with four strides at the end of your easy runs. To run a stride, start to jog and then gradually increase your pace until you’re running pretty much as fast as you can, and then gradually slow to a stop. Each stride should last 20-30 seconds total. After each stride, rest for 45-90 seconds.

5. Practice pushing yourself with fast finish workouts, where you end your run at a faster pace than it started.

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From here on out, you'll be doing one speed workout per week (replacing one of those weekly easy runs), and it all starts with fast finish runs.

To do a fast finish run, set out for the distance of a typical easy run — let’s say it’s five miles — and start out at your typical easy run pace. After the first two miles at your easy pace, do the last three miles faster — a 9.5-minute mile or 9-minute mile, for example. You can start doing these workouts after you've been doing strides for two to four weeks, says Fitzgerald.

Fast finish runs get your body used to pushing harder when you’re already tired, says Fitzgerald. Like other kinds of speedwork, they also let you practice one of the hardest parts of faster running — the mental discomfort of making yourself work harder.

6. Once you’ve been doing strides and fast finishes for a couple weeks, do a speed play workout that you customize for your pace and fitness level.

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Fartlek — I know, I know, it's hilarious — is a Swedish word meaning "speed play." Fartlek workouts are great for runners who are new to speedwork because they don't have a rigidly prescribed format — you customize them to your needs.

This fartlek workout is another of the once-weekly speed workouts. Depending on your fitness level, this might be six 30-second repeats with two minutes of easy jogging after each one. Or maybe it's 10 one-minute repeats with three minutes of rest after each one. As your body adapts to running faster, the time you take to recover from each one should decrease gradually, says Carey.

Keep in mind that these shouldn't be grueling or scary. And they should be pretty short: “Twenty minutes is all you need for your speedwork” in the beginning, says Carey. Speedwork is meant to give you a chance to practice running fast so that you can start getting used to the physiological and mental aspects of running harder, says Fitzgerald.

7. Now it’s time — bear with me — to learn about lactate threshold. Don’t be scared.

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Lactate is released into your blood when you exercise really hard. It makes your legs burn and feel heavy. "Each runner's individual lactate threshold represents the maximum amount of lactate they can process and clear from working muscles," says Fitzgerald. And the amount of lactate you can clear informs how long you can run fast without having to stop because everything hurts.

So, if you can boost your lactate threshold, you'll be able to run faster.

8. Start doing tempo runs to boost your lactate threshold.

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Your tempo run should become your once-weekly speed workout after you've been doing fartleks once a week for two to four weeks.

To do a tempo run, warm up for about a mile, run for 15-25 minutes, and spend another mile cooling down with a jog. Your pace for that main block of running should be pretty challenging but still do-able — about an 8 on the 1-10 scale or, if you're using a heart rate monitor, at about 85% to 90% of your maximum heart rate, says Fitzgerald.

He writes that this threshold pace "is the pace at which you’re producing the maximum amount of lactate that your body can clear from your muscles and blood stream." By training at (or close to) this pace, you get more efficient at clearing lactate.

9. Add a bit of strength training to your week.

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Strength training doesn’t just help make you faster and more powerful, it will change the way your body holds up during a race, says Carey. And as we’ve previously reported, it minimizes the risk of injury. She recommends spending time strengthening your lower body (hamstrings, quads, glutes) and your core.

And this doesn’t mean spending a ton of time pushing huge weights in the gym. Fitzgerald recommends this seven-minute bodyweight workout once or twice a week, and you can do it at home.

10. Give yourself some recovery runs as needed.

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After a hard workout — whether it’s your speed workout or a long run that took a lot out of you — turn a regularly scheduled easy run into a recovery run. Fitzgerald says that these should be your slowest runs of the week and should be done at a “very comfortable” effort — about a 2 or 3 on that 1-10 scale. The goals for these runs are “active recovery, maintaining mileage, and [spending] time on your feet."

11. Also, take some days of total rest.

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“It’s hard for runners to sit on the couch, but your body absolutely needs to repair those muscles,” says Carey. Recovering fully after workouts is the only way to get fitter and faster, and this can only happen if you really let your body rest. Proper rest also minimizes the risk of overtraining and injury.

12. Make sure you're fueling your body the right way.

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You don’t have to follow a special diet or do anything super specific. You just want to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet of mostly whole foods, says Carey.

“Your body needs quality foods. So, whatever your dietary regimen is, make sure you’re getting vegetables, fruits, and adequate protein,” she says.

And as you start to exercise more and harder, you might want to learn a bit more about the role of carbs, fat, and protein in your diet, and think about timing your snacks and meals to benefit your performance. Here’s more info about eating for workout results and performance.

13. Don't forget to actually track everything, so you can see — and celebrate! — yourself getting faster.

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Keep track of each workout — distance, time, pace, how it felt — so you can see what kind of progress you’re making over time. This will help you assess your training as you go. Carey says that for many people being able to look back at your progress can help motivate you to keep going when your can-do spirit lags.

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