How to run faster: Tips to aid your need for speed

Expert advice on how to increase both your pace and enjoyment.

As runners, we tend to have two targets: one, to actually put our shoes on and get out the door; and two, once we have done that, learn how to run faster. 

Before you say: “That’s not me”, allow me to disagree. Of course, not all of us are competitive and I accept that, but conversely each of us is looking to improve and increase our running speed.

It’s not about winning races, it’s about self-improvement and, more importantly, learning about your own body and what it can and can’t do. We can all benefit from learning how to be a faster runner. 

With that in mind, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how to run a faster 5k (or further) and what you can do to achieve this, be it improving your jog around the block (which I guarantee you secretly time) to running a Parkrun or local 10k just that bit quicker. 

An older black man running towards the camera in a parkCredit: pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/Shutterstock

4 ways to run faster

1. Give it time

It takes six weeks to see any change in your fitness, not because that’s a nice memorable number but because it’s roughly the time your body takes to adjust to the work you’ll be doing. However, older runners – those of us in our sixties and beyond – should add in a few more weeks to really see the benefits. Don’t be tempted to cram in all your training early.

2. Don’t run everything at the same pace

Varying your pace is a simple but highly effective way of fast-tracking your improvement. Go slower than you feel you should one day then go faster on another. The schedule will help you decide which days those should be, but always go with what your body is telling you. If you need to rest, then do so. 

Easy ways to vary your speed

  • After every two or three runs, simply run eight 15-second strides where you concentrate on perfect form, lifting your knees as you run and pumping your arms. Don’t push yourself too hard, instead aim to go a little quicker than your normal running pace. 
  • During your usual run, simply accelerate for 30 seconds or so, then go back down to a very easy jog, also for 30 seconds. Repeat those eight times.  
  • My own personal favourite tip is to run each segment of a run a minute quicker than the earlier section. So in a 15km (9.3-mile) outing, I aim to run 5km (3.1 miles) faster than the previous one. 

3. Make sure you reward yourself

This is often ignored, but it pays to remember you’re running as part of a long-term goal. Set yourself mini targets on the way, achieve them and reward yourself with whatever you wish.

Personally, I go to Starbucks after a run, and I don’t feel guilty in any way about having a pint on a Friday if I’ve done my three allotted runs for the week. Have fun. I’ve noticed more than ever before, the greatest runners you see on TV are the ones having the most fun. A 5km (3.1 miles) run is tough, but I can assure you it’s also amazingly enjoyable. 

4. Invest in the right kit

It may seem insignificant, but such is the technology and design of sports clothing and footwear today, it really does make a massive difference to your own performance.

Your running gear essentials will regulate temperature, allow your body to move efficiently, and can even help your muscles recover.  

Joss Baldwin, Runners Need buyer, says: “It’s important to wear the right running kit all year round. Your clothing and accessories will determine how successful your run can be.”  

Shoes

With that in mind, make sure your running shoes are made from breathable fabrics. Mesh vents on the uppers boost airflow and allow any moisture to escape your shoes, reducing your risk of blisters as well as wet, soggy feet.  

Socks

Invest in a good pair of technical running socks to keep your feet cool and any moisture away from your skin. Features to look out for are technical and sweat-wicking fabrics, mesh ventilation under the arch, as well as a snug fit.  

Clothing

When it comes to running clothes, always choose sweat-wicking, quick-drying, and breathable fabrics to keep you cool and running comfortably. Layering the right kit will keep the moisture continually moving away from your body and ensure you stay at the perfect temperature.

Look for mesh ventilation panels for airflow and seamless construction to avoid nasty rubbing, and UV protection to shield your skin from the suns harmful rays.  

Tops

Although it sounds counterintuitive, look for wool layers that are designed to keep you cooler. Wool is naturally sweat-wicking and quick-drying. It’s also antibacterial, so perfect for running on those hotter days. Similarly, long-sleeved base layers designed for colder winter days are great for spring running.   

Although we tend to think of short sleeves or vests to keep cool, tight, long-sleeved layers that resist moisture will keep you cool and have the added advantage of shielding your skin from the sun.  

Jackets

Clear blue skies one minute and pouring rain the next, our weather can be unpredictable. Dont get caught out and be left running in wet, uncomfortable fabric. Try a water-resistant yet breathable jacket to keep the rain out without trapping sweat in.  

Underwear

Avoid an uncomfortable run by steering clear of cotton to reduce your risk of chafing. When choosing your perfect sports bra, look for added mesh ventilation to keep cool. 

An older man and woman chatting and runningCredit: sitravelalot/Shutterstock
Running is a wonderfully social activity and very rewarding

What improving and running faster means

Running is great for your general health

There’s plenty of research to confirm physical activity is positively associated with mental health and quality of life. 

Running with a group or a few friends is much easier. It’s enjoyable for all the obvious reasons, like taking it in turns to lead, chatting while you run (which in turn regulates the speed you’ll run at), and learning from others. 

Having a defined target in running, like life, is hugely important. A main goal, prefaced by a series of mini goals, provides real meaning to anything you do and helps you create a plan you’ll stick to. 

Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins

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Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors. But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide.