Ask the Expert: How Do I Run Faster?

A Cambridge Running Club coach tells us how we can speed up by adding sprints to our everyday run.

Sprinter image via Shutterstock.

Sprinter image via Shutterstock.

As the weather slowly cools down and fall approaches, running outside is becoming more tolerable. But even though you may be excited to step out of the gym, creating a running schedule can be confusing. Should you do short, fast runs? Or longer, slower runs? Should you incorporate sprints into your run if you want to improve your race times? We asked Scott Cody, a running coach at the Cambridge Running Club, about adding sprints into our running routines.

Will adding sprints to my runs make me faster? Why?

Sprints help a runner to improve in terms of speed and power. Running eight or 10 30-meter sprints with six or eight minutes of active recovery between sprints is a great way to improve your speed and form, and then following this with a four or five mile run is good for your endurance. The speed needs to be done at the beginning of a run, though, so that your legs are fresh and you can run fast. Doing sprints at the beginning of a workout (after a warm up, of course) can also help to lengthen your stride slightly, which can lead to a significant improvement in terms of speed. I’d recommend adding this sprinting routine to your workouts only every 10 days or so, though.

I also suggest that runners do strides after easy runs at least once a week. Strides are basically running at about 85 to 90 percent effort for about 100 meters, and you should do five or 10 of these after an easy run. This helps improve endurance and is an excellent opportunity to work on form and foot strike, and it’s also is a form of dynamic stretching. A lot of runners do this to get rid of some residual stiffness, too.

The best way to get faster, though, isn’t just with sprints. The best thing to do is to train at a specific pace. I suggest that runners do the “Astrand field test”, which is running two miles as hard as they can. Based on the time you run, you can set up a training program to get faster. Workouts should be based upon a runner’s current level of fitness— so many runners think ‘the faster the better’ and they end up running too hard.

Once you have your two mile time, you know fast you should be training. If you can run two miles in 15 minutes, for example, that is a 7:30 mile pace. Your easy runs should be run at 70 percent of that. To work on improving speed, you should run three one mile sets at your two mile pace. Jog the same amount of time in between each mile for recovery. I would do the two mile every three weeks, too, to monitor your progress and adjust your pace. It takes about five or six months to attain an aerobic peak, so patience is very important with this.