The Busy Runner's Guide to Getting Faster

Even if you're pushed for training time, you can still be a fleet-footed runner

by Liz Plosser

getting faster. running training

Developing speed is ideal for time-pressed runners because getting faster requires short, targeted efforts.

"Quick bursts improve your ability to produce energy without using oxygen, while strengthening muscles - both of which help improve your speed," says Jason Karp, an online running coach in San Diego, US (

If you're new to speedwork or coming back after injury, reduce the number of intervals in the following workouts by half and spend more time warming up, recovering and cooling down. Add an interval every other week until you're up to speed.

Pace Calculator

You need to know your 5K and 10K race paces to do many of the workouts on the following pages. To gauge them, run one mile fast at an even pace. Note the time. To get your 5K race pace, add 40-55 seconds. For your 10K pace, add 1:00-1:15 minutes.

You've got...20 minutes

You should: Run short sprints
"It's the best workout in terms of getting bang for your buck," says Karp. "Sprints will help to improve your neuromuscular ability to produce force and power, which can improve your running economy and help delay muscle fatigue."

Here's how
Run 100m all out then walk for three minutes until you have recovered and caught your breath. Repeat three times. Start and end the workout with a five-minute jog.

You've got...30 minutes

You should: Do one-minute repeats
When you run faster, "your stride length increases, and your stride turnover and arm-pumping motions change", says   Karp. "Running these high-intensity repeats teaches your body how to  maintain good form and how to run smoothly, quickly and efficiently."

Here's how

Run one minute as fast as you can then jog for two minutes. Repeat seven times. Warm up for five minutes and cool down for four minutes.

You've got...45 minutes

You should: Run half-mile repeats
"Longer repeats increase muscle-fibre recruitment, which in turn enhances force production and delays fatigue," says Karp. "It also improves your heart's ability to pump blood and oxygen to your muscles."

Here's how

Alternate fast and slow running for 35 minutes, alternate three minutes of running 15 seconds per mile faster than 5K pace with three minutes' slow jogging. Warm up and cool down for four minutes each.

You've got...An hour (or more)

You should: Do a tempo run
"Regularly incorporating tempo runs into your training will increase your aerobic capacity, allowing you to run at a faster pace for longer," says Karp. And when fatigue sets in, "you'll have the reserves   to power through it".

Here's how
Run at 30 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace. Hold this pace for a 40-minute run. Warm up and cool down for 10 minutes each.

When to work an event into your schedule

Just because you're short on training time doesn't mean you can't toe a starting line. "Races are barometers of fitness," says Susan Paul, programme director for Track Shack's Fitness Club in Orlando, US. "They help you assess your strengths and weaknesses so you can adjust your training appropriately." Here's how long it takes to work up to various race distances, according to the time you can commit to training.

Running 2 days a week: 10 weeks
Running 3 days a week: 8 weeks
Running 4 days a week: 7 weeks
Running 5+ days a week: 6 weeks

Running 2 days a week: 12 weeks
Running 3 days a week: 10 weeks
Running 4 days a week: 9 weeks
Running 5+ days a week: 8 weeks

Running 2 days a week: 18 weeks
Running 3 days a week: 16 weeks
Running 4 days a week: 14 weeks
Running 5+ days a week: 12 weeks

Running 2 days a week: Not advisable
Running 3 days a week: 22 weeks
Running 4 days a week: 18 weeks
Running 5+ days a week: 16 weeks

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Power Surge: Target Your Peak Performance

speedwork, racing

Discuss this article

For 100m all out sprints wouldn't it be advisable to do something more than a jog in the warm-up?  Maybe another five minutes and then strides working your way up to near the expected pace to get everything warm?  Otherwise something might go twang!

800m repeats six times is 4.8k, at about 3k pace?  Although saying half-mile repeats and then prescribing 3 minutes is a little confusing.  I prefer the 3 minutes, but really, 35 mins of 3k intervals?  Wow.  This really is aimed at the advanced VO2max improver.

5k pace + 30s is about 10k pace according to the little prescription at the start.  So 10k pace for about 40 minutes?  For quite a few runners that's a bit further than 10k, and even for a decent 50 minute 10k runner that's one hell of a session!  So this one is aimed at a completely different group of runners to the half mile intervals?

I'm a little stumped on the intent of the exercises, and whether they are applicable to all grades of runner, or whether you should work slowly up to everything suggested, regardless of starting fitness.

Posted: 07/07/2011 at 12:11

I need to read everything you've said quite carefully.

Point 1 - warms ups:
I run 4x round the track then do dynamic stretches before any track work, yes this includes strides - 3x approx 100 mtres building up pace - no way can I run my first set of strides fast it just doesn't happen but that may just be me.
So I agree something more than a jog warm-up.

Point 2 - 800m reps:
I don't know what my 3k pace or time is. I'm still very new to running. All I know is that the only time I've timed 800m this was 3mins and my 400m time was 80s. I'm fairly sure that the last 400m reps session I did was 400x8 with 2 min recovery. I know that I died toward the end of this session as it was the hardest I've done (recovery wise) with a new coach - much harder sessions than before.

I have never done a timed mile either. Maybe I should, it wouldn't be hard.

Point 3 - 5k pace +:
I had read that 10k pace was 5k pace + 15 sec, hm pace 5k pace + 30 secs. This sounds about right for me - ish, if all things were equal. Obviously I'm not as fast as you 40 mins at 10k pace for me would not be 10k. (10k  - 42mins) For a session I think that would be to hard for me.
30 secs slower than 5k pace is hm pace and 40mins @hm pace is doable.

I'm interested as I'd like to get my 5k, 10k & hm pbs down. Also am pants at sprinting. The shorter the distance the 'slower' I am. ie 400m I can run faster than others that I run with and keep this up for longer, 300m is similar, 200m and I'm dropping back, 100m and just about everyone can out pace me.

Posted: 08/07/2011 at 13:05

Posted: 30/07/2011 at 22:34

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