Beth Shepard by Beth Shepard

RunningThere are many factors affecting running speed in distance events. Here are a few ideas for shaving time off your personal record and increasing your running speed:

  1. Scale back the mileage. Distance runners often feel they need to pile on the miles with every workout, and that’s not the best approach if you’re interested in speed. One progressively longer run each week, with occasional recovery weeks in which the long run is a few miles shorter is usually enough to build endurance without running yourself into the ground. As a trade-off, you’ll have more time and energy for speed-boosting workouts.
  2. Turn up the heat. To perform faster, you have to train faster, and this means including speed work in your weekly running plan. While these high-intensity training methods are very effective for improving fitness and performance, they’re also higher-risk activities and not right for everyone. Check with your health care provider before beginning speed work, and include it in your training plan no more than once a week to reduce your risk of injury. There are all kinds of options for speed work. Here are a few :

    • Interval training is a great way to boost fitness — and speed. Warm up with a slow jog for about 10 minutes, and then aim for a high-intensity effort for 2-5 minutes, followed by a recovery period of equal length at a low-to-moderate intensity. Repeat speed-recovery intervals 4-6 times to complete your workout.
    • Tabata training is getting a lot of press these days. As a high-intensity form of interval training shown to significantly boost both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, it involves doing 20-second maximal efforts followed by 10 seconds of recovery repeated 7-8 times.  Bring on the sweat!
    • Tempo training is a classic way to boost the lactate threshold — the point at which your body fatigues at a given pace. Run at tempo pace (comfortably hard, just under race pace) for a few minutes, and then recover with an easy pace for several minutes. Repeat, gradually working up to 20 minutes or more at tempo pace.
    • Hill training boosts lower body strength and challenges your cardiorespiratory system. It’s an essential part of training for race courses that aren’t flat and a great way to train for speed. Look for hills similar in length and incline to those you’ll encounter during your race. Gut it out as you run up the hill, and take an easy jog back down. Repeat for several cycles and gradually add more.
  3. Streamline your stride. Faster runners have a higher stride frequency — so as you run, work on increasing your steps per minute. Use a pedometer or an on-body monitoring device to track your progress.
  4. Allow adequate time for rest and recovery. Take at least one day off from vigorous exercise each week to allow your body to rest and recover. Progressing too quickly sets you up for overtraining and burnout, and works against your goal of getting faster.
  5. Relaxing before — and during — your run. A fascinating study found that distance runners who underwent relaxation training sessions (progressive muscular relaxation and centering)  followed by treadmill running with biofeedback were able to significantly decrease their exercise heart rates, peak oxygen consumption and breathing rates at given submaximal workloads. Use your heart rate monitor as a simple method for reducing exercise heart rate via biofeedback, and train yourself to become more mindful.
  6. Achieve and maintain your best body weight. It’s a matter of physics — extra mass slows you down. If you’re carrying a few extra pounds or more, seek advice from a registered dietitian, ACE-certified Health Coach or other qualified weight management professional to help you lose weight while maintaining the energy you need for your active lifestyle.
  7. Optimize nutrition. “I’m a distance runner, so I don’t have to watch what I eat.” Wrong! Good nutrition is essential for reaching your performance goals. Take time to learn about sports nutrition. A couple of recommended resources are Nancy Clark’s Guide to Sports Nutrition (4th edition) and 101 Sports Nutrition Tips by Susan Kundrat. You can also look for a registered dietitian in your area who specializes in sports nutrition.
  8. Dress for success. If you’re going for speed, you may as well leverage any potential advantage. Loose workout clothing or hair that flaps in the wind creates drag that will slow you down. Even a 2% reduction in wind resistance translates into a significant gain in lead distance on the race course without much of an effort. For best results, wear short socks and smooth, close-fitting apparel, and smooth down shoelaces with duct tape. Every little bit helps!

For more tips on training for half marathons, marathons and other distance events, check out ACE Fit Facts for valuable how-to information and tips to help you on your health and fitness journey!


  • ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 6th edition, American College of Sports Medicine, Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 2010 pp. 645-647
  • Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Ex, 1996 Oct; 28(10):1327-30.
  • Caird SJ, McKenzie AD, Sleivert GG, Biofeedback and relaxation techniques improve running economy in sub-elite long distance runners, Med Sci Sports Ex, 1999, Vol. 31(5)717-722.
  • Kyle C, Caiozzo V, Effect of athletic clothing dynamics on running speed, Med Sci Sports Ex, 1986, Vol. 18(5)509-515.

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