10 Ways To Improve Your Run Time Without Extra Miles

For years I believed the only way to improve as a distance runner was to run faster, maybe longer, or some combination of both. I’ve sat back and watched the world’s elite runners spend an entire year of unimaginable high volume, high intensity training, just to shave fractions of a second off of their mile or 1500 meter time.

Fortunately, it doesn’t take that much effort for us mortals to improve. In fact, it may be possible for you to become significantly faster without having to do any more distance than you are already doing! Sound too good to be true? Here’s how!

1. Improve your running efficiency: If you are like most runners, you probably over stride and land hard on your heels. Try shortening your stride so your foot strikes a more of a glancing blow beneath your hips. Decreasing foot contact time with the ground makes you feel lighter on your feet and a smoother runner.

2. Increase your stride rate. Quicker leg turnover is necessary to compensate for your new, shorter stride length. Good runners take about 180 steps per minute, or 90 in 30 seconds. Count your number of strides for 30 seconds and try to hit 90 consistently.

3. Add some intensity to just one workout per week. Five or 6 intervals for 2 or 3 minutes at your 5 K pace ought to do it. Ideally this workout is done on a 400 meter track so you can time your intervals and monitor your progress; however you can also just use a watch and a flat stretch of road. Four to six of these workouts should be enough to make a difference in your 5K time.

4. Finish one of your usual easy runs with 4 or 5 striders. Striders are 50-75 meters run at your 5K pace that keep your leg muscles accustomed to faster turnover. Save this one for 2 or 3 days after your short interval workout.

5. Add a spin class, bike some hills, or climb some stairs once or twice a week, especially if your muscles are tired from running. These non-running workouts will boost your level of fitness and may add enough extra leg strength to make a difference in your running times. (Note: The Running Guy recommends the Airdyne exercise bike as the best option for cross-training.

6. Get in the habit of stretching key muscle groups, especially as you get older. The evidence is scare that stretching improves running, however as a runner you should stretch hamstrings, calf, gluts, and hip flexors almost daily to ensure good range of motion in your hips.

7. Lose weight if you need it! Extra body fat is like carrying lead in your pockets- it slows you down. Dropping just 2 or 3 pounds of body fat (not water!) by improving your eating habits will make a huge difference in your ability to run. Eliminate just one 12 oz soda or dessert per day and expect to lose a pound or 2 in less than a month!

8. Always take an easy day after your interval workout or any long runs you might be doing. Remember, only 1 hard session per week is all you need. Take the day off before running your next 5K so you are good and rested.

9. Try one or two 1-mile time trials in the weeks leading up to your 5K. This will help you understand pace, decrease anxiety, and even improve fitness. You can substitute this test for your usual short interval workout.

10. Fatigue can often be blamed on dehydration. It takes more than 1 day to ensure that you are fully hydrated, so keep that water bottle handy and sip throughout the day, especially before and after workouts.

BONUS: Smokers will notice improvement within days after quitting without doing anything else!

Dave Elger is a well respected authority within the running community having written hundreds of articles on the topics of running and wellness. You can contact him http://www.daveelger.com. He also supports the Okinawa Running Club.