Beginner’s Guide to Running Faster

The first goal of many new runners is to achieve a new distance. Often people will have started with Couch to 5k, which then means that running 6k or 10k becomes perceived as the next goal. Once that’s accomplished, the next challenge is running that same distance faster. Not always because you are competitive, but…

If you are new to running, you may feel overwhelmed by all of the various advice and complicated training “programmes”… When all you want to do is run a little faster, maybe a little further, and enjoy your running! Here is a simple guide to help you run a little faster. Enjoy!

The first goal of many new runners is to achieve a new distance. Often people will have started with Couch to 5k, which then means that running 6k or 10k becomes perceived as the next goal. Once that’s accomplished, the next challenge is running that same distance faster. Not always because you are competitive, but simply because you don’t have enough time to keep running further and further. Plus it can get boring! It is at the “run faster” stage that many runners start to investigate training plans. And they quickly discover that many of these “plans” are far too complicated and just focus on running sessions. But there is more to running faster than doing intervals! This beginner’s guide to running is a simple starting point that will teach you how to run faster.

What is running “form” and how do you improve it?

In straight forward terms, running forms describes the bio-mechanical actions that your body goes through in the act of running. Basically how to move in order to run! Whilst this may seem obvious; running is not just “walking fast”, it is a completely different action.

If you have poor running form then it WILL slow you down. Increasing fitness to overcome it is like pushing a car with the handbrake on. You will get it to move, but you will need a disproportionate amount of energy to achieve a relatively small performance improvement.

Becoming a faster runner demands that you develop your running form. In addition to going faster, better form will help you avoid injuries to an extent. There are many resources that delve deep into what good form looks like. But when you are starting out, just getting the basics right will have a huge impact.

The basics every runner should understand is that you need to lift your knees, drive your arms, and stand tall (when running on the flat). Keep your arms pumping forward and back so that you avoid crossing the vertical centerline of your upper body with your arms as you swing them. Below the waist, you want to avoid a kicking motion and focus on landing mid-foot underneath yourself (not in front of your body). Curiously, and often counter intuitively, what you do with your arms can often be more important than what you do with your legs!

  • Lift your knees and pump your arms.
  • Avoid crossing the vertical centerline of your upper body with your arms. Pump them forward and back at your sides.
  • Try to land your feet underneath your hips so that you’re ready to push off. This minimizes the amount of time you’re in contact with the ground.
  • Don’t try to implement all of this at once. Focus on one part of your body at a time.

Find the right running shoe

Did you know you can buy super light, super stiff Carbon running shoes? They are also super expensive! They offer extra speed, but only if you have the mechanics and strength to take full advantage of them. A new runner, will be going through a period of adaptation where the body has to become accustomed to moving in a new way and the physical demands of a new exercise regime. For this reason, I would suggest that you stick with a good quality pair of basic road or trail shoes (depending on the surface you run on). You should invest in running specific shoes though, as fashion trainers will not support you correctly. 

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 distance 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. Consult an expert (most running shops will do a gait analysis for you to help you find a shoe that works for your style) and be prepared to spend upwards of £100 on running shoes. And bear in mind that running shoes have a “life” of about 500 to 700 kilometres (but this will vary on how you run). Whilst buying your new footwear, don’t forget to buy a pair of technical run specific socks – they are a lifesaver and will make your running much more comfortable!

  • Shoes should fit snugly, but with no tight spots. Think about buying wide fit shoes if necessary. 
  • Make sure your heels don’t slip this will lead to rubbing and painful blisters.
  • Make sure there is a bit of room at the front of the shoe. A thumb width gives you enough room to splay your toes and allow for enough 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 stilts or running on wooden planks. Over time you will discover the right “feel” for you, what feels right in the shop will be a different story after a few 10k runs.

How to train to run faster

You have your shoes. You know how your body should move. Now it’s time to actually put it all together and start running properly and get faster!

Many new runners believe that running faster and harder more often will get them results faster. This is just not true and is often a route to people falling out of love with running. Similarly many novices (and the club expert) will talk about no pain / no gain. Again this is just rubbish and will not deliver results. That is not how you train every day for running races — every day is not a race in which you need to finish your goal mileage in record-setting time. The mentality of a endurance runner is one of long-term sustainability that builds towards incremental improvements. Running faster as an endurance runner (distances more than 3k) is not the same as training to run faster as a sprinter. You need to become consistent and accept that becoming faster is a gradual process.

A good philosophy for distance running is to focus on making easy runs easy, hard runs hard. This means that there is very little room for “grey days”, which is where many less experienced runners spend all of their time. Too hard but not hard enough – it achieves nothing other than making you tired! The goal is consistency from the start, and understanding that an easy run has as much value as a hard one. Your hard days should have an intention, focus, and direction. Each week you should focus on increasing volume, intensity, or duration. But this should be gradual!

You should follow a training plan for the same reason you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day. As humans, our bodies work best with a consistent rhythm, and the same goes for run training. This is why following a simple plan that you stick to is important. The key being that you stick to it, rather than what’s actually in the plan! Running hard on back-to-back days is seldom a good plan, can lead to injury, and hold you back from achieving your goals efficiently. Having said that, in some instances there is a good reason for doing it. But the key is having that reason in mind and doing it purposefully, rather than in the mistaken belief that more is better. A great rule of thumb is building your mileage and minutes of intensity by no more than 10% per week for 3 continuous weeks before you take a recovery week of lower mileage and intensity (note LOWER not ZERO). Here’s a look at how to structure your training. 

If you are new into running (just finished couch to 5k), going out every day isn’t a sustainable practice until you’ve built up your fitness and strength. But whilst running every day does not work for new runners, adding in Cross Training ( strength training, swimming, or cycling) is a very smart way to build fitness and improve your running. If you’re looking to add mileage or add a day of running, add another short run into the schedule and slowly use your weekend to add in a slightly longer run. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t run more than 25% of your weekly mileage in your long run.

If you would like some suggestions as to how to schedule your runs and a simple plan that is right for you, then get in touch and I will be pleased to help you. A bespoke running program is far less expensive than you think! No two runners are the same, and therefore simply publishing a random plan here will be the least helpful thing I could do to improve your running.

How to become a faster runner

As you get started looking for tips and advice online, you will find resources that say you need to change your nutrition and add strength training and speedwork to your running program. These are all important parts of training, and are valuable, but can overcomplicate the simple idea of running when you’re first getting started. Start simple, and remember that the most important thing is to develop a training habit so that you become consistent over the months and years. YES – I did say years! Start by looking at your form and mechanics. Even though these will take time to perfect, the first step is to understand what you are trying to achieve in terms of good form. Make sure you have the essential equipment in place, spend money on the things that matter not the trinkets and latest gizmo. Slowly increase your training load. Slowly and consistently, remember you improve when you rest not when you are under training stress. Once you have these fundamentals in place then you are best placed to take advantage of the more sophisticated refinements. 

Getting faster as an Endurance runner is ultimately about having a long-term perspective. You will initially make big jumps in your fitness that are exciting and very motivating, but the process of building your body into a running “machine” just takes time and consistence. Just remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and to have fun along the way. After all that is why we all started – right?


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