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How to run faster — 7 mistakes you’re probably making

how to run faster
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’ve been slogging away on the treadmill at your gym, or lacing up your running shoes every few days but not seeing any improvements, the chances are you’ve hit a bit of a plateau with your training.

How to run faster is a common question many runners will face at one point or another, and if you’re not speeding up despite consistent training, there might be a few different things at play. 

Whether you’re training for a 5K or a marathon, if getting faster is your ultimate goal when you lace up your running shoes, here’s why you might not be getting any quicker, and what you can do to speed up your times.

1. You’re not running enough

If you’re only running once a week, it’s unlikely you’re going to see any significant changes in your running speed that quickly. Whatever your goal, if you take a look at any running training plan, you’ll see that the mileage gradually increases week by week. You need to be careful not to dramatically increase your weekly mileage with the hope of speeding up, as you’re more likely to injure yourself. The idea is to very gradually increase the load on your body to help build your endurance and to get stronger and faster.

Check out our guides on how to train for a half marathon and how to train for a marathon for more advice.

2. You’re not doing any speedwork  

While running more miles will help build your endurance, it’s speedwork that will really help you get quicker. There are a number of different ways to add speedwork to your training plan: 

Tempo runs: Tempo runs are where the pace changes mid-run, to help you work on increasing and controlling your pace. This can be as simple as warming up for a mile, then increasing your speed for two miles, then dropping it back for the final mile, or trying a progression run — where you gradually increase your pace throughout the duration of the run. 

Interval training: Interval training involves running harder and faster for a shorter distance or time, followed by a longer period of recovery. Most running coaches will usually recommend heading to a running track, or making a specific route around your local park for an interval run, to avoid having to stop for traffic. An example of an interval session would be 400m repeats on a track, where you run at an 80% effort and repeat four times, or run for two minutes at 85% effort and jogging slowly for three minutes, then repeating five times. 

Fartlek: Fartlek is a Swedish word for ‘speed play’, and that really is the goal of a Fartlek session. Unlike interval training or tempo runs, Fartlek is unstructured and moves between easy and moderate-to-difficult paces throughout a run; for example, sprinting between two lampposts or running quickly for one lap around the block. You don’t stop, you just vary your pace during the workout. 

3. You’re not practicing on hills 

If you live in a flat part of town, or you actively avoid running up and down hills, you’re missing out on an important part of your running training if you’re trying to get faster. Hill work helps runners build on their VO2 max — how much oxygen a person can utilize during a workout. The higher a runner’s VO2 max, the faster and longer they’ll be able to run. 

A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that after six weeks of high-intensity uphill running intervals, runners were 2% faster in a 5K time trial. “Runners can assume that any form of high-intensity uphill interval training will benefit 5-km time-trial performance,” concluded the authors.

4. You’re not making strength training a priority 

Runners: it’s time to pick up the weights! Strength training can help you run faster, avoid injuries and work on your form. If getting faster is the goal, focus on a sprinter’s workout of plyometric movements, like jump squats or box jumps, that work on the explosive power in your muscles. 

If you’re a long-distance runner, weight training is beneficial when it comes to your form and running stronger and faster, so start working kettlebells, dumbbells and barbells into your strength training routine. Core strength is also an important part of running quickly and efficiently — think Russian twists, deadbugs, and planks (here’s how long you need to hold a plank to see results).  

5. You’re not listening to your body  

If you’re finding you constantly need to take time off with niggles and injuries, the chances are you’re not listening to your body and letting it recover. Skipping rest days and overloading the body is a sure-fire way to get injured, meaning you’ll miss more running days in the long run.  

6. You’re not fuelling your miles properly 

Your diet plays a big role in how well you run. If you’re fuelling your runs with processed or sugary foods, or indeed, skipping meals, the chances are you’re not going to be training at your best. Try and eat a balanced diet of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and stay hydrated before and after your runs.  

7. You’re not running with the right gear

A small study conducted in 2019 found that runners who ran in the Nike Vaporfly Next% showed improvements in their running economy. While your training is arguably more important than the shoes you’re running in, if you’re trying to get faster in old, worn shoes, upgrading them might make a big difference. Looking for inspiration? We’ve rounded up the best running shoes here.  

Jane McGuire

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past four years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.