Improve your pace

By: proctor - August 25, 2006
In order to run faster, you have to run faster. Sounds simple, right? Well, there are many theories from running experts as to how a runner should improve their speed safely without risking injury. Read on to learn how and start trying out the different methods for yourself.

Tempo runs

Tempo runs are steady runs at a pace that is just past your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold is the point at which your muscles produce lactic acid faster than your body can get rid of it. Many runners define this pace as "comfortably hard." You may have a slight cramp in your side threatening to slow you down, but try to keep that pace up without letting the cramp get the best of you. Relax your muscles and let your legs carry you, keeping your breath full and steady. These runs should be at a pace that you could keep up only for about an hour (or slightly less if you are running much faster than normal), and should include a 10 minute warm-up and cool-down.


Intervals include running at your race pace in shorter segments, followed by recovery breaks of slower running. Mimic your goal race. If you want to run a 5k at a 7 minute per mile pace, start with running half a mile in 3:30, run at a slower pace (8 min/mile-8:30 min/mile) for 3-4 minutes, then repeat that three more times. The next week, add a 5th interval, the third week add a 6th interval; that way you cover the distance of a 5k at your race pace, with 2 or 3 minute rest breaks between each interval. Coach Ed Eyestone, a Runner's World contributing editor, suggests that you run at an RPE of 7-8 on a scale of 1-10.* The more practiced you become with intervals, the faster your "comfortable" pace will be.

*RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion, and is based on a scale of 1-10: 1 is as easy as laying down and watching tv, and 10 is an all-out effort that you can keep up for only 15 seconds.


Strides are quick, short bursts of maximal effort running interspersed in your tempo runs. After you are warmed-up and have picked up your pace, begin your first stride. Accelerate for 20-30 yards, then hold a fast pace for 30-40 yards, then slow your pace over the next 20-30 yards. Coach Eyestone says, "Don't strain anything; just enjoy the feeling of running faster."


Cross-training with weights, plyometrics and balance can help develop the strength your body needs in order to power your legs to move faster. Weight lifting will help your muscles be able to use less energy to do more work, the stronger they are, so having upper body strength will actually help your running improve, because your arms will be able to help pump your legs and counter balance their motion, especially during speedwork. Plyometrics, explosive training involving jumps, will help build the strength in your joints so they can withstand the stress of longer runs. Plyometrics can be as simple as jumping 1-2 feet in front of you, then jump back to your starting position, or as difficult as holding a medicine ball in your hands as you jump onto a platform 1-2 feet off the ground. Training your balance strengthens your joints and their stabilizing muscles in order to have stronger, less wobbly knees, ankles, and hips. This can actually help prevent injury as well as make you more graceful through your daily activities (take it from me, a natural klutz-if I didn't do balance exercises, I'd spend half my time rubbing my head and elbows after bumping into things). Balance doesn't have to be a specific position. Just get one foot off the floor, position it bent or straight in front of you, to your side, or behind you, then be as still as you can for as long as you can. If you reach 30 seconds and still are not wobbling, pick a harder pose. Try it on a straight leg, then a bent leg.


Stretching is for everyone, not just those who want to be able to touch their toes. Spend a minimum of 10 minutes stretching after each run in order to recover faster and prevent cramps and injury. Stretching will also help you run right off of your plateau and get faster. Think of this: if your hips and thighs are tight, that may be preventing you from picking up your knees high enough and getting your heels close enough to your glutes, two moves that you need in order to lengthen your stride and ultimately run faster. Stretches should be held for 30 seconds on each leg, then repeated once more. The top five stretches for runners are: quad stretch, hamstring stretch, glutes stretch, calf stretch, and adductor stretch.*

*Quad stretch: pull your heel towards your hip with your hips neutral; hamstring stretch: lay on your back with your leg straight and propped up on the wall; glutes stretch: sit on the floor with one leg straight and the other foot crossed over the opposite thigh, hugging that leg towards your chest; calf stretch: push against the wall with your back leg straight and feet parallel; adductor stretch: sit with your back on a wall and your legs straigh, as far apart as you can get them comfortably, then lean right and hold, then left.

Guidelines to Abide By

Remember to follow the 10 minute rule: Begin your run with 10 minutes of walking then slow running to prepare your body for the work ahead. This will allow your body to loosen up and warm up enough to push itself to a faster speed without risking injury. Also follow the same rule when ending your run; slow down to a light jog for 5 minutes, and end with about 5 minutes of walking. If you are running on a hot day, it is okay to shorten your warm-up by a few minutes.

Avoid new foods. According to Colorado sports dietitian and marathoner Cindy Dallow, Ph.D., your body becomes used to a certain mix of nutrients. If you add new food to that mix, it may upset your digestive system and affect your running, possibly causing cramps. Even changing brands of energy bars or energy gel can cause an upset stomach or nausea. So, once you find one that works with your stomach, stick with it.

Check your chat.
During speedwork and intervals, talking should be difficult. If you can speak more than 4 or 5 words, pick up your pace. Your body needs to be pushed just past its' comfort zone.

Pick a fast day. Running fast should not be a daily practice. It should happen once a week, or at most once every 5 days. You should never do speedwork if your legs feel heavy or sore. Intense exercise like speedwork damages your muscles. Your muscles then need adaquate time to repair and get stronger before another speed day, which damages them further. Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a veteran marathoner and graduate of Harvard University and Baylor Medical School.

Get some sleep. Sleep one extra minute per night for each mile per week that you train. So, if you are running 25 miles per week, sleep an extra 25 minutes each night. If your body is deprived of sleep, your recovery and repair time is decreased, therefore can negatively affect your runs and workouts.

Sources for article: Gabe Mirkin's website drmirkin.com; Runner's World: 25 Golden Rules of Running; Runner's World, August 2006

About the Submitter


I have been an ACE certified personal trainer since 2000 who has trained over 3000 hours. I specialize in pre- and post-natal fitness, stretching, running, and weight loss. Yoga is also a passion for me and a way of life. I received my Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in India and love to share the calmness, strength, and openness that yoga offers to people of all ages and abilities.

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