How to Run Faster, According to a Running Trainer
If you’ve taken up running this January, you’re probably wondering how to run faster. The transition from a gentle jog around the park to a full-on running pace can seem daunting, but it’s easier to step up the pace than you’re probably envisioning. Whether you want to up the speed to boost the calorie burn of your runs (and you know, get them over and done with quicker) or you’re training for a race and want to get a time you can happily #humblebrag about, you’re in the right place.
We called on Nike Run Club coach Becs Gentry for her expert tips on how to speed up on your next run. Interestingly, some of the tips involve chilling in front of Netflix and a pre-run cup of hot coffee, so it’s not all bad, we promise. And not only is running fast a great mood boost, it helps lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and gets our circulation going, which can lead to glowing skin. Keep scrolling to find out how to pick up the pace with these seven simple tricks…
#1 GET THE RIGHT KIT
Now, look, there is definitely a balance. You don’t want to be that person in the park—you know the one with all the gear and no idea—but the right kit can transform your run. “For any runner, the first obstacle is getting out there, and it is mostly in the mind. However, you do need to have the kit to support you, especially training in these bleak winter months,” says Gentry.
“Being warm, reflective and dry is super important to keep safe and ward off injury and illness,” she adds. “That much-loved oversize band tee, cosy sweatshirt and joggers may be really comfortable, but they will not allow you to perform to your best ability. Investing in a quality kit designed for athletes isn’t going to make you Paula Radcliffe, but it is going to point you in the right direction to being the best you can be,” adds Gentry.
“Nike has a strong collection in store at the moment, including the phenomenal Zonal Strength Running Tights (£110), which provide warmth, dri-fit technology (to wick away sweat and keep you dry) and compression technology, which keeps your blood flowing, and in turn helps you keep going longer. While the new Air VaporMax (£170) has been seven years in the making and combines a comfy Flyknit upper with a durable and seriously lightweight sole that will take you anywhere from 5k to a marathon distance. (You can check out the shoe below) Running can hurt sometimes, so hopefully you will find some happiness in knowing you look pretty cool doing it!” says Gentry.
#2 ACTIVATE YOUR LAZY GLUTES
Yep, we called your glutes lazy. Most people’s glutes, especially if you sit at a desk all day, are not picking up their fair share of the slack. “Before heading into any speed running session, I will work with my clients on drills and activations, to make sure their glutes are firing. These are our laziest muscles in our bodies and also part of the group we rely on to drive our knees up and move ourselves forward at a quicker pace,” explains Gentry.
“Using a mini band, pop it around your ankles and complete 10 steps left and then 10 steps right. Keep your legs straight, and do not use your upper body for momentum. Repeat this, but with legs bent, in a squat position.
“The second set of drills would be a reverse lunge. Take an elongated step backwards so you feel a slight stretch into your hip flexor, then drive that back leg forwards sending your knee up in front of you. Repeat this 10 times on each side. As you increase your power, you can add a single leg jump into that move as you bring the knee in front of you—it is a great quad burner!
“The final drill would be moving from steady on-the-spot running to very fast high-knee on-the-spot running. You want to imagine climbing up five gears—one being slow and five being as fast as you can go—and then back down to a slow jog on the spot. Take around 20 seconds per gear, up and down. This will get the arms and legs working in conjunction with one another and get the heart-rate up ready for you to start a speed interval session.”
#3 DO SPEED SESSIONS
It sounds incredibly simple, but if you want to run faster, you have to run faster. Lightbulb moment! “So for any runner looking to get faster over any distance, your go-to is completing speed sessions,” says Gentry. “When my clients want to knock time off their previous race result, I get them incorporating speed sessions into their training at least twice a week.
“I set out short, sharp interval sessions where clients will run intervals for anything between 100 metres and 1600 metres, at a faster pace with recovery in between. After a while, we will incorporate this into consistent longer run! However, to start, if your goal is to simply get faster and get more comfortable when your legs are turning over at a greater pace, then your interval sessions should be relatively simple. Try out 30 seconds at your fastest speed (unable to talk at all) and then recover for one minute by either gently jogging or walking. Repeat this 6 to 10 times, depending on your personal fitness levels.
“As you get more comfortable doing this faster speed for 30 seconds, increase the time of the hard work until you are running at your fastest speed for one minute with one minute rest.”
#4 EDIT YOUR PLAYLIST
You might be one of those people who loves running without music, podcasts or audio books, but music can really help spur on your speed. “When you’re out on a mission to get faster and stronger, you need some energetic and lively tracks to motivate you. You want to look for songs with a high BPM (that’s beats per minute),” explains Gentry.
“Apple Music has some awesome curated playlists for running, and Nike+ have downloadable playlists on there and Spotify, too. My personal favourite has to be ’90s hip-hop and cheesy ’90s pop—the old tunes that I know a great deal of the words to (yes, cringe!) are often the ones that help me forget I’m training, and I just start having fun.”
#5 TRAIN FOR STRENGTH
“Alongside all this running, it is super important to get power and strength into your body. It is plain science and logic that running is a repetitive sport: A runner travels in one plane of movement, and the body is continuously going through the same motion, albeit sometimes faster and sometimes slower. In order to avoid injury as much as possible, we need to enter the gym and head towards the smell of cast iron and lift some weights,” says Gentry.
“Those tiny tendons and ligaments supporting our muscles and bones need to be well-oiled machines, and the best way to keep them running happy is to focus on single leg work; as a runner, you never have both feet on the ground… unless they've stopped running, right?!
“My go-to moves are single-leg Romanian dead lifts, single-leg squats, weighted step-ups, walking lunges and round-the-world lunges. You need to have some weight involved in these moves, as the force of impact vibrating throughout your body with every run step is insane—sometimes up to seven times your body weight with each step. The stronger you can make your legs, the longer you’ll hopefully run, injury-free. And no, lifting weights does not make you instantly bulk up!”
With all that running and strength training it’s so important to rest. “Giving your body the chance to rest, recover and rejuvenate will also work towards making you a faster, more fluid runner,” assures Gentry. “Light recovery runs are great to keep the legs ticking over, however at least one complete rest day per week is a must.
“We live in a world of FOMO. Thanks to social media, we feel we have to work out in order to post it online and let everyone know how healthy we are. The funny thing is, the people I see ‘training’ every day, missing hours of sleep every night in order to make that important class at that fashionable studio, are the ones getting injured relentlessly and, frankly, appear exhausted in reality. Allowing yourself a day a week of Netflix and chill, reading, taking a long bath, or simply just snoozing is awesome! You will not see adaptations in your training if your body and mind cannot catch up with one another. Your cortisol levels need to stabilise, and homoeostasis needs to be reestablished within your body for your whole system to function to its best ability,” explains Gentry.
“So next time you catch yourself signing up to as many classes as possible all weekend, after going to the gym or running every day of the week, just take a moment’s pause. Often when you reassess, you’ll know that more goodness will be reaped from staying out of the Lycra.”
#7 EAT RIGHT
“I see a lot of instances where people start to run and they act as though it is a green light to forget about healthy eating and instead binge things like pizza, pasta and bread. Yes, running does burn off calories; however, if you want to be quicker, you also want to be light and agile,” says Gentry. “The reason runners began eating heavy carb diets decades ago was due to nutritional education available to them that associated those foods with energy. We know now that those carbohydrates are laden with sugar, amongst other ingredients, which actually slow the human body down.
“So when it comes to eating for running, think complex slow-release carbs like sweet potato, dark gluten-free ryebread and oats, and make sure you’re eating lean protein and good fats to support your muscles and bones. If you’re lacking energy before a speed session, have an espresso to give you a boost and it can also help burn some fat too! I certainly like a caffeine hit before my interval session. As I am completing only a couple of these sessions a week, it keeps my caffeine intake in check.”