Train yourself to run faster: improve your performance with interval running and speed training

After a certain amount of time, runners can reach a plateau, unable to improve on past track times. If you're finding this is the case, speed and interval training will boost your fitness and give you motivation to push yourself on future runs.

As the saying goes, ‘if you want to run faster, you have to run faster.’ You can do this through interval running and speed training, which will help you build fitness and power – as well as speed.

Running at intervals is one of the best types of training you can do. This is because if you always run at a steady, comfortable pace at any distance, that is all you will be able to achieve.

Interval running gives you the opportunity to really see what you can do, potentially smashing personal records on the way. It also tones you up quickly by increasing muscle mass, improves your cardiovascular fitness and helps you shed any unwanted pounds more quickly than your regular run will achieve. Your muscles start to use your oxygen-rich blood more efficiently, strengthening and toning your body.

What is it?

Sometimes referred to as high intensity interval training, (HITT), interval training simply means running faster than you normally would during short, intense bursts or sprints.

Speed training is meant to be practiced in short intervals that really test your fitness and endurance and can be treated as a training form on their own, or incorporated into your regular runs.

The key to speed training is forcing yourself to push your body to go faster, but ensuring you give yourself sufficient time to recover. Beginners and intermediates will need more time to recover than more experienced runners.

Aim to schedule one interval session per week as part of your training and you will see impressive results.

Be safe

Speedwork is great for boosting performance, but it can cause an increase in injury, so those attempting to run intense intervals should have a good mileage base behind them. A good base to start from is running about four times a week and being able to run for at least 50 minutes at a steady pace on your long run.

However, beginner runners can benefit from interval training, too. Just bear in mind that you’ve worked up to running slowly, so treat your progression with speedwork in the same manner.

How to do it

Try one of these interval training techniques to run faster:

Run at a brisk pace for 3 minutes, walk for 1 minute. Repeat 3 times.

Incorporate 1-minute sprints into your 30-minute run.

Sprint for 1 minute, jog recovery for 3 min. Repeat 6 times.

Run 1 min uphill, jog down. Repeat 6 times.

Over time, as you become fitter and stronger, you can increase the number of repeats you do, and lengthen the distance you sprint.

Top tips

When first starting out, take it slowly and ease into your new regime. Make sure you have at least three months of running behind you before attempting interval training.

Focus. Interval training is about concentrating on putting in a hard effort – not making yourself feel sick or picking up an injury. Make sure you spread your effort and energy evenly throughout your speed session.

Warm up, and ensure you include a warm down so your muscles can recover. This will help to avoid injury. Try to include a 10-minute jog before and after interval training.

Don’t overdo it – interval training works best in small but high quality sessions, once or twice a week, or once every 10 days if you are just starting out.

Try incorporating your speedwork with hill training. Running uphill reduces the impact on your legs, therefore reducing the rick of sprains or pulls. Hill running also builds muscle. Over time, aim for steeper hills and longer speed intervals.

Go off track and try intervals on the trails for a more challenging workout that hones your agility and coordination as well as strength. Even running on grass will serve to heighten your coordination skills and the added friction beneath your feed will help boost your fitness and muscle strength even further.


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