The last couple of years have been a lot. I know we all feel this. Thankfully, running—my unbreakable habit, my life partner, my ride-or-die—has been there for me every step (hey there, pun) of the way, even for the steps that have felt slow and belabored.
For quite a while now I haven’t done many races or attached any sort of goal around my runs, and that’s been just about right for my capacity. My frequent rotation of leisurely runs has been good for my mind, body and soul—but lately I’ve been feeling ready for a new season. I’ve got the itch to see if I can push a little harder and get a little faster.
There are many reasons to pursue an increase in speed. Maybe you want to cross the finish line a couple of minutes sooner in your next race. Maybe you want to get stronger. Maybe, like me, you want to give your body and your mind a challenge, to see what you’re capable of, and enjoy riding high on the extra burst of endorphins that comes with those tougher efforts.
Whatever your motivation, the steps below can help you get there.
Run with a speedy friend
If you make a plan to run with a friend who’s a little faster, you’ll go a little faster, too. If you’re feeling taxed, make your speedy friend do the talking. It’ll help the miles fly by.
Speed work makes the dream work
Try adding a weekly speed-focused workout to your running repertoire. You could try a track workout (Google “running track workouts” for suggestions), which keeps you on the track’s level, slightly springy surface with clearly marked distances.
Basic track workouts include 100-meter repeats (run hard for 100 meters, run easy for 100 meters, repeating that pattern 6–8 times), 200-meter repeats (the same thing, but with 200 meters of running hard followed by 200 meters easy, 6–8 times), or 400-meter repeats (run one lap hard around the track followed by an easy lap, repeat 6 or so times).
Remember to sandwich every speed workout between a warm-up and cool-down. (Read Runner’s World article “The Ultimate Guide to Track Running for Beginners” by Ashley Mateo for more ideas.)
Or for a fun, non-track option, try a fartlek run. A fartlek (“speed play” in Swedish) is a run where you pepper your average pace with irregular bursts of speed. For instance, run a couple of blocks at your typical pace, then make a race-pace push to a landmark like a mailbox. The key with a fartlek is to keep things playful and not super regimented.
Sign up for some races
Self-directed speed workouts aren’t your thing? Skip the midweek speed workout and sign up for a series of weekend races instead. You’ll push yourself on the race course (thanks, race-day adrenaline!), avoid the drudgery of the track, and get a finisher’s medal or t-shirt to boot.
With a stronger core, upper body, and lower body, you’ll simply have more of what it takes to push harder and feel good doing it. Consider adding full-body strength training into your routine a couple of days a week. (FitnessBlender.com is a great, free resource.)
Check your gait
Go in for a gait analysis with your physical therapist or at a knowledgeable running store like Fleet Feet. They’ll study your gait and assess all sorts of metrics about your stride, which will help you determine if there are ways you can hone your form for a better performance.
Last but not least, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and taking days off. Rest is a critical part of getting faster and stronger—and avoiding injury.
On non-rest days, avoid the temptation to make every run a hard run. You’ll benefit more by having a weekly speed workout surrounded by some more average-paced runs and rest days than if you push the pace every single time.
Originally published as “The Need for Speed” in the May-June 2022 print issue.