How to Run Faster & Take a Minute Off Your Mile!
All of that changed last fall when I made the decision that I could indeed become a runner. It is amazing how much our mindset plays a role in our fitness endeavors whether you are looking to run faster, lift heavier, or lose weight. First, I had to work to not hate running in my head, then I would work to love it. The underlying goal here was that I wanted to be more fit and to me fit also meant fast. Lining out my goal really made a difference! After all, the 1 mile run is a benchmark of cardiovascular fitness. One of the things I love about running in general is that the barrier to entry is low. Barring injuries, most people are able to get out and run... or at least walk. Over time, I have developed an appreciation for running. Dare I say that I even like running now? Ok, so it is not all unicorns and rainbows with my relationship to running, but it is certainly a lot better than where I started.
It started for me with some research that I wanted to share with you. These awesome tips how to run faster and take a minute off your mile run time are inspired by what I have read from the good people at Mizuno USA, one of my favorite running shoe brands. Hopefully these tips help you run faster and take a minute off your mile run time!
Breathing is everything when you are trying to run faster. Delivering oxygen more efficiently to your working muscles will help them work stronger longer. Have you ever heard of “Belly Breathing” before? Basically you train yourself to shift the demand of oxygen intake from your chest muscles to your diaphragm in order to maximize oxygen consumption and decrease accessory muscle activity. WHAT?! Basically that means your body gets more air for less energy. To begin your quest on how to run faster and take a minute off your mile run, perform “Belly Breathing” by filling your stomach with air, not your chest. As you take a deep breath focus on driving your belly, not your chest, outwards. This causes a contraction of your diaphragm instead of your chest muscles and thereby increases oxygen intake. Sometimes I recommend a progression of performing this exercise first laying, then sitting, and finally standing to ensure you get it down correctly.
Now that you have stationary breathing under control, you can make serious headway toward your goal to take a minute off your mile run by incorporating that breathing into your running. Most of us breathe on a 4-count cadence while running. This simply means that on average we inhale for 2 steps and exhale for 2 steps. This pattern of breathing actually results in us using only 50-60% of the available air we take in (we’re turning it over too quickly and not maximizing all of it). More breathing with less efficient oxygen delivery means more work breathing and less energy to our legs. What I advise people is to try to change from a 4-count cadence to a 5-count. That means you’ll take 3 steps during inhalation and 2 steps while exhaling. This not only draws more air into your lungs, but it also keeps it there for longer; thereby helping your body to absorb more oxygen. This is vital in avoiding the “wall” that all of us have hit at one point or another. Go try it – it’s a little difficult to get down, but I promise it will be well worth it!
Proper running form is key to maximizing energy expenditure. If you’re running with poor form chances are you’re spending a lot more energy on a lot of extraneous motion which will keep you from running faster. You should have your head up, looking straight ahead. Your body should be held tall but relaxed with your shoulders back. Your arm swing should be forward/backward and not side-to-side (a problem I encounter a lot in the female population). Another big problem I encounter is people landing on their heel with their foot way out in front of them while running. This is essentially results in a negative ground reaction force – you’re “putting the brakes on” during your run. If you keep your initial contact with the ground centered more directly under you, that will assist in propelling you forward throughout the running motion giving you an edge as you learn how to run faster.
Track running is a great way to increase speed. Some things you need to know – one lap around the track is 400 meters or ~1/4 mile. 4 times around a standard track = 1 mile. Many schools open their tracks after school is over; summer is a great season to take advantage of your local track. Take some sort of stopwatch with you and practice running faster laps. Try to make each subsequent lap faster than the one previous until you can’t do it anymore. Another great idea is to run the straights at a much faster speed than you normally would, but walk/jog the turns. This type of interval running is a great way to get your body used to running at faster speeds.
Hill running is a great way to increase leg strength and cardiovascular endurance. If you really want to increase your mile run speed and run faster then try incorporating “hill repeats” if you haven’t done it yet. Here’s how you do it: Find a fairly steep hill that’s about 100 meters long. Start at the bottom and run hard (80% max effort) to the top of the hill. You’ll then slowly jog back down only to start running hard up the hill again. Start with 3-4 hill repeats/week; eventually you want to work up to 6-7 per week.
A great way to start running faster and to improve your mile run time is to start running faster (rocket science, I know!)! Tempo runs are a great way to build speed and strength as well as your anaerobic (lactate) threshold. After a 5-10 minute warm-up, run 15-20 minutes at a “comfortably hard” pace (a little faster than you would normally run). Finish with a 5-10 minute cool down. Start with 1-2 tempo runs/week and increase up to 3-4 (anything more than this might be too much and actually cause more injury than good).
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “You want me to do what? One of your tips to run faster is to not run?” I know, right- crazy. But here’s the truth: running hard every day will not make you faster. Rest is critical to recovery and injury prevention. You need to take one day each week where you don’t run at all. Your body uses this time to build and repair areas that have been broken down so you actually come back stronger from your rest than you would have otherwise. Trust me on this one – one day off.
One of the biggest problems I see in the running community and among people that really want to learn how to run faster or take a minute off the mile run is that they ONLY run. When I ask people in the clinic what they do for training while running and their answer is always the same… “I just run”. What many people don’t realize is this one simple fact: you’ve gotta be strong to run!! It’s a high-impact, repetitive activity that causes a lot of breakdown if not done correctly. Strengthen key muscles in your core and legs including quads, hips, butt, back, and stomach to stay healthy and strong while running. Strengthening these areas is vital to helping carry you the distance and keep you on the strong track to the finish line. If you want to really run faster, then you have to cross train and that includes a good balance of strength training.