How Do I Become a Faster Runner?

Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, center, runs along with other participants in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 2, 2014.

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

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Answer by Steven Walling, product manager:

Mechanically, there are only two ways to run faster: Increase the length of your stride, or increase your number of steps. That’s really it. The hard part is doing this correctly. To accomplish both of these things you need:

  • Strength, especially in your core, lower body, and even your feet (yes, your feet). Having bulky muscles doesn’t matter really and can actually hurt your speed, but you should cross-train with resistance training of some kind.
  • Aerobic fitness, as measured by something like VO2 max. This basically means your heart and lungs need to keep up with your pace. If you’re breathing hard with every single footfall, this is a sign you need to work on this.
  • Flexibility, especially in your joints. Flexibility of the hips is actually something that sets elite runners apart, but it’s important in unexpected places like your shoulders too.
  • Good running form, aka your gait. Good runners don’t waste energy flopping their arms around excessively. They run very upright (not leaning forward too much) and pay attention to the pronation of their feet. This is complex to assess, and you really need a partner or coach to tell you how to improve. You should pick shoes that help correct your gait and provide the right kind of support for your experience level or goals.

Try interval training and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to increase your strength and aerobic fitness. Also do squats and other exercises (you don’t need weights) to increase the strength of your legs and glutes.

It’s not uncommon for beginners to think it’s strength and stepping more quickly alone that leads to speed. However, a long, efficient stride is also really important.

Dennis Kimetto is a good example. The guy is only 5 feet 7 inches, but he’s got good posture and a long stride, and his arm movement helps him keep up a quick pace while staying balanced.

Be careful when trying to increase the length of your stride. You can injure yourself if you don’t have the flexibility. Don’t just step forward a lot to increase your stride, either. This can add a lot of vertical movement, which is less efficient and harder on your knees. Pay attention to how much you’re bouncing with each stride.

Concentrate on pushing off with your forefoot and big toe—this doesn’t actually generate a lot more momentum, but will help lengthen the back of your stride. You can see the left-hand runner in this photo doing this.

My caveat is that my experience is with amateur road running, not sprinting, ultramarathons, or track-and-field sports. Keep in mind that good advice might be different depending on what you want to accomplish in terms of distance, etc.

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