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How Fast Can Humans Run? And How to Be a Faster Runner

Run Often, But Run Fast

In order to become fast, the runner has to run fast. This sounds obvious, but consistency is key here. It’s good a have a fast training run once a week, but this should be happening every week so that by the end of the month, the runner can start to see results by shaving time off their 5k time, for example.

Photo by Steven Erixon on Unsplash.

A great way to start is to run a 5k timing yourself. Then each week do one to two tempo runs, which includes a warm-up, then a pace that is slightly above the comfort level (you can’t talk, but not gasping for air), followed by a cool down. Also add in a fartlek workout at least once a week. Fartlek, which is the Swedish word for speed play, includes sprinting for a short period of time and slowing down a bit to recover. This isn’t structured like with interval training, but rather doing things like running fast to a stop sign and then pulling back to a comfortable pace.

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Take the Time to Stretch, Use Good Form, and Rest

We can all be lazy and sloppy at times, but if you want to get faster, the more consistent you can be, the better! You want to make sure that you’re taking the time to stretch…ideally, every day.

If you specifically target your hip flexors, you’ll increase your lower-body flexibility, which will improve your stride. Additionally, your muscles will just feel better from daily stretching, and you’ll reduce your risk of injuries. I read about one runner who never had an injury in 10 years, and it was likely due to daily stretching and a little bit of luck.

When we first start running, we probably try to work really hard on our form, but as we run more, it’s easier to get sloppy. Don’t do that! Make sure that your shoulders are facing forward and open, your face is forward, your hands are not tense, your arms are swinging forward, and your upper body is tall, yet relaxed.

Finally, make sure that you take a day or two per week to give your muscles time to rest and recover. When you run and work out, you break down muscle fibers. If you want them to get stronger, you have to give them time to heal, so don’t skimp on your rest days! You need them.

7. Dont Wear Your Shoes Out

Your running shoes will take a great deal of pounding across a wide range of surfaces and in all weathers, so they will need to be replaced fairly frequently. Generally you should replace a pair after 500-600 miles (800-960km). Exactly how often you need to buy new shoes will depend on your weight, running style and choice of terrain, but you should always avoid trying to squeeze a few extra weeks out of shoes that are evidently worn out, because the shoes won’t give you the protection you need and you’ll increase your chances of getting injured.

21. Eat The Right Carbs

“For any run lasting more than 90 minutes some easily digestible carbs – a smoothie, banana on toast or porridge with honey – in the hour or two before you start will improve performance,” says McGregor. “You should also ensure you eat enough carbs over the last 24 hours before the run so your muscles’ glycogen stores are filled. This is essential for longer, more intense runs so that your body has all the easy-to-use fuel it needs to perform consistently well for the whole session.”

RECOMMENDED: What To Eat Before A Run

6. Don’t forget to take breaks

Oftentimes, runners will skip recovery days out of fear they’re losing progress if not constantly running. “What you actually end up doing when you skip recovery days is slowly digging your own grave in terms of progress,” says Corkum. 

If you moderately work out everyday and don’t find yourself improving, Corkum says it’s probably because you aren’t resting: “A golden rule in running is to make the hard days hard and the easy days easy.” 

The reason you’re sore the day after a workout is because training causes microtears in your muscles. When you rest, those muscle fibers rebuild, slightly stronger than before. Without recovery days, your body is unable to rebuild itself.

According to Corkum, here are some signs you may be pushing too hard and skimping on recovery:

  • Your speed is not improving despite consistent training
  • You are constantly tired 
  • Your aerobic paces feel harder to maintain 
  • Your muscles feel weaker instead of stronger
  • You are frequently sick 

In extreme cases, skipping recovery can lead to injury, which will set your running schedule back more than any recovery would. “Running causes impact stress on your body and allowing your body to rest is a key component to avoiding overuse injuries and overtraining,” says Springer.

“If you do choose to exercise, it needs to be light enough that your body identifies it as rest and not work,” says Corkum. A few examples could include a really light run, swimming, or yoga

Overall, Springer suggests that runners take at least one or two days of rest each week in order to build speed. 

Pulling It All Together

If you are looking to improve your running, there are some simple things you can do.

Getting the right gear, committing to your plan, and mixing up your workouts are the top things we suggest to make your goals happen.

Speed Drills

Another way to increase speed is to add speed drills to a run. Add speed drills at the end of an easy run. Do not do these during a long run because there is no energy left to push faster when needing to go the distance.

Speed drills consist of moves that focus on form. These are exaggerated movements that increase the range of motion and help to make the feet move quicker. Incorporate moves like butt kicks, high knees, and straight-leg shuffles to the end of a run.

How to Find the Right Running Shoe

Carbon racing shoes are expensive but they offer free speed, right? Yes, but only if you have the mechanics and strength to take full advantage of them. New runners, on the other hand, are going through a period of adaptation where their body has to get up to speed with their new training routine. For this reason, I urge my new athletes to stick with basic road and trail trainers. 

Running shoes are your connection to the ground and are designed to protect your foot and to correct minor foot mechanic errors. As you build mileage and more regularly integrate speed work, the need for different kinds of shoes will grow. If you are just starting, then choose a shoe based first on comfort. Budget 60-90 minutes for a trip to your running specialty store to get a good fit. Consult an expert and spend good money on shoes ? you can expect to pay over $100 for a quality pair of running shoes that will last for 500-750 miles. Don?t forget a great pair of technical socks – they are a lifesaver! You should look at these shoes as training tools, so avoid wearing them around town in order to prevent unnecessary wear and tear. 

The Perfect Shoe:

  • Shoes should fit snugly, but with no tight spots. 
  • Make sure your heels don?t slip ? blisters and hot spots indicate improper fit.
  • Keep a good bit of room in the front of the shoe. A standard thumb width gives you enough room to splay your toes and allow for just enough foot movement during downhills.
  • Look for a shoe that is a good mix of cushion and ground ?feel?. You want to avoid feeling like you?re on mini-stilts or running on 2x4s. That Goldilocks shoe might take trying on between eight and ten pairs to get it just right!
  • Here is a resource to learn more about running shoe terms and types.

Doing Just a Little Bit More Each Run

If making progress is your goal, then doing a little bit more, or a little bit better, on each hard workout might seem a little obvious. But I’ve found it to be helpful. You’re going to make the greatest improvements by small things that you do consistently every day, so start good habits.

This may not mean that every run is faster than the previous one, but try to push yourself in at least some small way each time. That might mean running just a little bit harder at the finish or going a little bit further.

Each time, the little bit more will gradually increase until you find yourself several months later able to do something that you never expected to do. Slow and steady will pay off!

Another great way to do a little bit more is running with a faster friend every so often. It shouldn’t be someone who is too much faster than you, but anyone with a pace that is 30 to 60 seconds faster than yours is a good partner to push you during a speed workout.

How Do I Train Myself To Be a Better Runner?

If you ask yourself how to be a better runner, there are some running tips to follow. 

  1. Make a plan. Having a training plan that incorporates all of the specific things you intend to do is a great step in the right direction.
  2. Find support. This could be a training partner, someone to hold you accountable, or a running group. I meet a weekly running group every Saturday. I have a friend who always joins a training group when preparing for a distance event or race day. That way, she knows that the long run for the week always gets done. 
  3. Get The Right Shoes and Good Gear. This can include many different things. You need everything from running shoes that fit well to wicking socks that keep your feet comfortable and happy. 
  4. Strength Training Matters! Working on your strength is way more important than many people give it credit for. If you are time or money-limited, recognize that there are things you can do in the comfort of your own home with little to no equipment. Here’s our brief article on what muscle groups to target. You can accomplish the perfect strength session if you buy nothing but a kettlebell, resistance bands, and a yoga mat.
  5. Work on your form. Spending some time on drills, lunges, speed work, interval training, or with a coach to perfect your running form. That is time well spent. 
  6. Mix up your training. More on that later. 
  7. Fuel your body. Eat to live rather than live to eat. 
  8. Cross-training. Don’t just rely on running to build cardiovascular strength. 
  9. Always warm-up and cool down. Jumping right into very vigorous activity is a mistake. Take the time to get your body ready to move. 
  10. Honor your rest. This includes getting enough sleep as well as honoring rest days and recovery time.

7. Now it’s time — bear with me — to learn about lactate threshold. Don’t be scared

Lzf / Getty Images Lactate is released into your blood when you exercise really hard. It makes your legs burn and feel heavy. “Each runner’s individual lactate threshold represents the maximum amount of lactate they can process and clear from working muscles,” says Fitzgerald. And the amount of lactate you can clear informs how long you can run fast without having to stop because everything hurts. So, if you can boost your lactate threshold, you’ll be able to run faster.

3. Introduce interval training

Interval training is a type of running workout where you alternate between short, intense bursts of running and a brief recovery. The goal of interval training is to maintain the same speed on your first interval as your last one. A 2016 medical review published in The Journal of Physiology found that running sprint intervals builds muscle as well as aerobic endurance. 

Another 2018 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research assessed 16 trail runners that added interval training to their routine. Each runner completed six interval training sessions over the course of two weeks with two days of recovery between each session. After the training program, the runners were able to run an average of 3.6 more meters in 30 seconds. The study also found that participants increased their speed by an average of 6% in a 3000 meter run.  

“Once you begin to incorporate interval training into your workout plan, you will notice your longer runs will become easier and faster,” says Corkum. 

When you first start interval training, Springer suggests sticking to once a week. The bursts in interval training can be measured by time or distance. Here are two types of interval training workouts that Corkum recommends for running on a track:

  • Sprint the 100m straightaways on a track and walk or lightly jog the 100m curves. Repeat this four times around the track, so you end up with eight total sprints. 
  • Run for two minutes at 85% effort then take a one minute recovery. Repeat this four times. 

Can I ever become a fast runner?

Well, you can…

In fact, anyone can become a fast or at least a faster runner, if they put in the effort.

Keep in mind the above points and put in the training.

Also, just focus on the current week, don’t think too much about the distant future.

For me, if I overthink this, I tend to stop in tracks.

It better works for me if I just focus on the current run.

Try it out…

It may help you to stick with your running plan better.

And this is most important…

You follow a plan…

This will give you a base to which you can measure your performance.

If you don’t have one handy try out the below one.

This is a basic plan which any beginner can follow and will help you to run a half marathon with decent speed in 24 weeks.

Related: Zero To Half-Marathon Training Plan For Beginners On Couch

10. Give yourself some recovery runs as needed

Instagram: @herohenning / Via instagram.com After a hard workout — whether it’s your speed workout or a long run that took a lot out of you — turn a regularly scheduled easy run into a recovery run. Fitzgerald says that these should be your slowest runs of the week and should be done at a “very comfortable” effort — about a 2 or 3 on that 1-10 scale. The goals for these runs are “active recovery, maintaining mileage, and [spending] time on your feet.”

Lose Unwanted Bodyweight

Like our first tip about the potential speed gains from reducing shoe weight, it’s proven that reducing excess bodyweight can help make runners faster—but only to a point. “Each runner has an optimal racing weight,” writes Matt Fitzgerald, the author of Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance. “I define this as the weight at which a runner performs best in races. Because runners are more often above their optimal racing weight than right at it, they tend to associate losing weight with gaining performance. This association leads some runners to make weight loss their primary focus and to push performance into the background.” Simply put, losing a few pounds could make you faster, but losing too much weight will make you slower, and potentially lead to other health issues.

RELATED: The Great Race Weight Debate

Stop Running

Perhaps you’re reading this story because you’re feeling a bit desperate to get faster. You’re hitting your target mileage, and sometimes more, every week. You give your all in speed work and other demanding training sessions, but without seeing the results you’re hoping to achieve. If those scenarios sound familiar you are a prime candidate for becoming overtrained. “While the signs and symptoms of overtraining aren’t overt, it is possible to identify which activities present the greatest danger to overtraining, recognize subtle signs that suggest you’re approaching the precipice, and discuss how to come back if you believe you are overtrained,” writes running coach and author Jeff Gaudette.

RELATED: How Much Training is Too Much Training?

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