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How to Improve Your Run Time


The need for speed is a common trait among runners. Each person, including me, wants to improve his or her speed. So, how do you do that? Here are a few simple tips to help you.

  1. Have a plan

  2. Benchmark your speed now and over time

  3. Consider running form and conditions

  4. Account for running conditions

  5. Improve your breathing

Let us take a closer look at each tip.

Have a plan

You cannot just go out and runs as fast as possible each time you work out. You must have a periodized plan that accounts for your current ability, varies training intensity at set intervals, and is progressive in nature, meaning it builds upon your abilities over time. The exact plan varies based on the person.

Such a plan will consider your current best time(s), work at percentages of that best time, accumulate volume at those lower percentages to build ability injury free, and then progressively increase paces of the program to eventually work beyond your current ability.

Benchmark performance now and over time

To create the plan, you must have an idea of your current bests. For example, if you are an 800-meter sprinter, knowing your top 800-meter time is essential. If you are a mile runner, knowing your best mile time is important. If you are a marathon runner, knowing your best marathon time is important. Generally, you will not want to know just a single metric. For example, the marathon runner will likely want to know his or her marathon time, half-marathon time, and their one-mile time. More than one marker should be used. The specific benchmarks used depends on the individual.

The logic behind knowing your best paces and total times for multiple distances is you will train different distances as part of your program. Knowing and tracking your best specific run time, such as the marathon time for the marathoner, is essential, but tracking other paces allows you to see if you are improving in other areas. Even if you target distance has not yet improved, if other paces are, then improvements in your target should be coming.

Consider running form

Form is important to any movement a person completes. Movements performed with poor form require more energy, are less efficient, and puts the performer at greater risk of injury than those performed correctly. Take a close look at your form or have a coach or other capable person do so.

For example, if your toes are turned out when running, you are not getting as much forward drive with each step, which results in loss of performance. At the same time, the outward turn places torque on the ankle, may stress the big toe and inside of the foot excessively, and this can lead to injury. Correcting the issue should help prevent injury and improve performance

Account for running conditions

Conditions of the running environment contribute to success. For example, running in extreme heat or cold takes a greater toll on a person, meaning her or she will not perform optimally. The same can be said when running on rough terrain. If you measure your speed for general purposes, such as personal knowledge, pick a track or similar running path and work under moderate weather conditions. If you want to run fast on rocky terrain, over hills, etc., pick a running path that provides this. The conditions trained should match the conditions tested.

The best way to improve a run under specific conditions is to train the distance run under those conditions. For example, if you are a trail runner, you want to test and work on your plan on trails, not on the road, a track, or the treadmill. In that same logic, if you plan to compete, and the conditions will be hot or high altitude, you want to train in the heat or high altitude to build up ability under the context conditions. This should lead to the best results, since you will be accustomed to the conditions come race time.

Improve your breathing

Everyone breaths, not everyone breathes well. Assess your current breathing pattern to determine if you are using the best approach for you, which is the approach that is most efficient. Being efficient in breathing means getting in the most air without losing form. This might sound odd to some but try taking the biggest breath possible through a wide open mouth while running and continue to do so for the entire run. This will prove difficult, especially during a hard run.

A short steady sustainable breathing pattern is what we want. The pace of the breath patterning should be based on step count at least initially. Once you have the rhythm in your head, step count may not matter, but might still prove helpful

Try to take one inhalation for two steps, following by one exhalation for two steps, which equals one full breath over four steps. Think of it as “inhale, 1,2; exhale 1, 2,” counting two steps each time you inhale and each time you exhale.

Breath in through your nose, if possible. Most people find this to be the most efficient, as it helps them control the breathing pattern more efficiently, get in quick breathes than when using the mouth, and does not lead to dry mouth caused by breathing through the mouth.

These are simple tips.

  1. Have a plan

  2. Benchmark your speed now and over time

  3. Consider running form and conditions

  4. Account for running conditions

  5. Improve your breathing

However, these will help you improve you run time if you are not thinking about them or if you are aware but have not yet optimized them. Even if you think you have, revisit regularly to be sure. Regular assessment will help ensure you run program and form are ideal to help you perform.



Nathan DeMetz holds degrees in Exercise Science, Business Administration, and Information Technology as well as certifications in strength and conditioning, sports nutrition, run coaching, and other areas. His credentials come from organizations such as Indiana Wesleyan University, Ivy Tech College, and the International Sports Sciences Association. Nathan has 17 years of personal and professional experience in the health and fitness world. He works with people from across the globe, including locations such as Kuwait, Australia, and the USA.

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