Sometimes, in life, it’s good to go a little faster. Those times include when you’re competing in your first mud run, running your hundredth 10K, or just upping your pace on your jogs around the block. We spoke with Scott Weiss, DPT, ATC, CSCS, and a member of the sports medical team for the London Olympics. Shaving seconds off your best time is his bread and butter, and here’s what he has to say about how to run faster:
1. Be Social
Not like on the PinFace or TweetBook. We mean—brace yourself—physically surrounding yourself with another person or a running group. “I find that the people who run with a partner or with a group last the longest versus those people who are self-motivated,” says Dr. Weiss. “And that’s because other runners feed off of each other…and most people need outside motivation. That camaraderie is important and can catapult you to another level.”
The right running partner(s) can help you maintain focus, serve as a distraction from fatigue, keep you from missing workouts, and call out flaws in your running form.
2. Get Outside Feedback
We’re guessing you’re no Prefontaine. And neither was he until coaches and trainers helped him train and hone his running form. “Some people only need a mirror to see what they’re doing wrong, while others need video or a coach that’s on the side yelling ‘Heels deeper!’ or ‘Knees higher!’” says Dr. Weiss.
Whichever camp you fall into, it’s extremely helpful for you to develop proper mechanics. “Biomechanics are crucial for preventing injury and good running experience,” he adds. “So finding an expert to do a running or gait analysis would be a great thing to do.”
3. Fill Your Plate with Carbs
If you’re not eating enough carbohydrates, you won’t have the energy to push yourself. That translates to a lackluster finish in a race. “Protein isn’t the body’s primary energy source. Carbohydrates are the main fuel for runners and your plate should be full of them. Runners are looking to get about three to five grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight per day on the days they’re running.”
For this, look toward long-lasting, complex carbohydrate sources that provide lasting energy. This includes brown rice, whole wheat pasta, lentils, starchy veggies. During or immediately after runs, simple carbs work better, such as bananas, grapes, or berries.
4. Don’t Run Every Day
The way you approach rest is as important as the way you approach training. Without adequate nutrition and recovery time you’ll compromise your body’s ability to perform at optimum levels.
“Running more than five days per week increases your chances of injury tremendously,” says Dr. Weiss. “Four days of running per week is ideal. I also suggest that people refrain from training a couple of days before a smaller race. Don’t exercise or run a day or two before the race. Just stretch. This way you’re going to the starting line with a day or two of rest and you’re feeling fresh.”
5. Run the Tangents
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. We know this because we passed third grade math with a D-. Oddly, it seems like people forget that information when they’re running—specifically with turns. “If you understand the course you’ll want to run the tangents—where you cut the corner to shave time. Going around a whole turn wastes time and energy. You can often cut significant time off your running course by choosing the shortest path through each turn.” Note: This doesn’t include cutting off the turn. That’s cheating.
6. Use Interval Training
“The latest research has been showing that interval training has a good crossover for running. Some days you’ll want to do your long, slower runs, and others you can use interval training. Use a 2:1 ratio where you sprint for 20 meters, jog 40 meters, sprint 20, jog 40, and so on. There is no set time for interval training but you’ll cover most of your bases by keeping all intervals three minutes or less.”
This type of varied training for runners is also called fartlek, which could possibly be the worst-best name in the exercise dictionary. It’s a Swedish word that literally translates into “speed play.”
7. Drink Every 20 Minutes
Studies show dehydrated athletes consistently underperform compared to athletes who are properly hydrated.
“There are so many recommendations as to how much water a person should drink, but runners should aim to consume about 300 ml of water every 20 minutes while they’re running,” Dr. Weiss suggests. That’s 10 ounces for all you non-metric folk.
8. Get Your Head in the Game
Remain focused and fresh before race day by adopting proper sleep. Doctors recommend using your bed only for sleep and sex. Engage in other activities—reading, watching TV, using your iPad—in other areas of your home.
“Your mind is your motor. Some people don’t realize that sleep and training go together because they’re on opposite sides of the spectrum, but rest and sleep are so important,” Dr. Weiss explains. “You’ll want to make sure you’re getting solid sleep to allow the body to repair its joints, muscles, and bones in the days leading up to the race.”