10 tips for improving your speed

One of the most common questions I am asked is “how can I improve my 5k/10k/half marathon time?”

Well, have you tried these things?

(1)Warm up

If I have learned anything from running with Bristol & West AC, it is that you must do a proper warm up. It is something that most runners neglect, but it makes such a big difference.

Before you run, you should do a couple of minutes of light jogging followed by some dynamic stretching (see post). The point of this is to warm up your muscles so that when you start your run, your muscles are elastic and ready to go.

You should not do any static stretching until you have finished your run.

(2)Intervals

This is where the magic happens. Interval training is a form of high intensity sprinting involving short, sharp bursts of speed (also known as “efforts”) with minimal recovery. Not only does it feel good to go a bit quicker than normal, it teaches your legs to move quickly which you’ll remember when you’re sprinting for the finish line of your next race.

If you don’t have a local athletics track close by, then you can start with this simple exercise:

  • 5 minute warm up jog, followed by dynamic stretching
  • 30 second effort with 60 second slow jog recovery (no walking!)
  • repeat 9 more times
  • 5 minute cooldown jog

The key is consistency, so don’t go all out on the first effort. Save a bit back for the last few. when you’ve done that a few times, try increasing the effort to 60 seconds with 90 seconds recovery. You can play around with the variables – there are loads of example sessions online.

(3)Hill work

Try repeating a similar session to your interval session above, but on a hill. You do the effort up the hill and you jog back down. Try not to stand around when you get to the bottom – go straight into your next effort. Believe me, the session will be over before you know it and you’ll feel great!

You need to pick a hill which is just the right gradient and length. If you’re new to hill running, start with a short hill and build up to a longer one. Also remember to shorten your stride, pump your arms and keep your core strong.

(4)Posture

Are you running properly? By that I mean:

  • keep your head up
  • keep your shoulders relaxed and low
  • keep your hips facing forward
  • keep your stride short
  • try to land midfoot
  • keep your torso and back straight – don’t slouch
  • dont clench your fists (like me, oops)
  • keep your arms free and straight (socket to pocket), not moving across your body

Yes, this is an extremely long list and you’re not going to remember all of it. Try using a treadmill in front of a mirror or get someone to film you running to see where your problem areas are. Focus on fixing one thing at a time. If you have a weak core (like most of us, particularly those with office jobs), then you may struggle with all of the things on the list above. If so, see the post below for how to improve this.

(5)Strength and conditioning

It is a common misconception that in order to get faster, you need to run more. Whilst there is some truth in that, it’s actually about training smarter, which is not necessary always going to be further.

If you think about it, your body needs to be strong in order to cope with the load you’re putting through it.

There are SO many exercises you can do to keep your body strong and prevent injuries. I’m talking about simple things like calf raises, leg raises, squats, lunges etc. The most important area for runners to focus on is the core and legs/ankles. And you don’t need to go to the gym to do them. There are lots of articles online and in magazines like Runners World which show you the best ones.

(6)Cross train

Your body may get bored of doing the same thing after a while. To keep things interesting, try doing a bit of cross training once or twice a week. It can be ANYTHING you like but some of the most popular ones that compliment running include:

  • Plyometrics
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Circuits

(7)Mindful recovery

If you’re adding all of these extra things into your training, you need to make sure you’re giving your body enough time to recover. The real gains are made when you’re having a bit of a rest. Try doing some of these things to aid your recovery:

  • Yoga/pilates
  • Foam roller
  • Static stretching

(8)Drop the weight

And no, I don’t mean lose weight (although it is true that the lighter you are, the faster you are). What I mean is, are you running with too much gear or too many clothes on? It sounds so simple, but I used to run wearing a jacket, gloves, hat – all whilst carrying a water bottle. Try running with less weight. You don’t need water if you’re running for less than an hour. You don’t need a jacket unless you’re doing a steady run in the winter. Why do you think elites wear skimpy shorts and crops?!

(9)Variety 

This means mixing it up. Don’t keep doing the same route at the same speed. Try your favourite route in reverse or download Strava and scope out some new routes (they have this amazing heat map setting so you can see which routes are popular).

Your week should involve at least the following:

  • Speed session
  • Easy run
  • Long run
  • Rest

(10)Hydration and nutrition

Now, I’m not going to give you a lecture on what you’re eating or drinking. I am not an expert, or a dietician and I don’t claim to be. And really, this should be a given – but some people don’t feed their bodies what it needs before they run and that can have a negative impact on their performance.

It sounds obvious but in order to fuel your body, you need to drink lots of water and eat a balanced diet with lots of good carbs. Avoid foods that are high in fibre right before a run as it can cause digestive problems.